Can you spot a scam on social media?

In 2016 Scamwatch received more reports than ever of scammers approaching their victims through social networking sites. Victims reported losing over $9.5 million to social media scams last year – almost three times more than in 2015. During this Fraud Week, the Australasian Consumer Fraud Taskforce wants to help social media users learn how to spot a scam.

There are many tactics scammers use to trick their victims through social media. Social media profiles often display a lot of personal information which gives scammers the flexibility to shape their methods and communications to match your interests and use of social media. This means that their offers and approaches can be harder for you to spot than in more traditional media forms like emails and phone calls.

This personal information and flexibility of communication is why social media is becoming a common first point of contact for dating and romance scammers. According to Scamwatch reports, dating and romance scams which occurred through social media cost Australians over $7.5 million in 2016, more than any year previously. These scammers might friend large groups of people hoping to get a few of them interested. The scam then proceeds with quick expressions of affection, a desire to meet, then complications and finally, a request for money.

Certain groups of people also seem to be at a higher risk, according to Scamwatch reports. These scammers often target females, who lost over $4.8 million to dating scams on social media last year and Australians over 55 for who lost over $3.3 million.

Scammers also draw on the advertising potential in social media to target victims. Last year, fake trader scams were the second most reported type of scam occurring through social media, according to Scamwatch reports. Scammers set up temporary business profiles advertising very cheap products and linking through to their fake shopping website. You buy these goods thinking you’ve grabbed a bargain, but you never receive anything or they arrive but are fake and of poor quality.  They might also make fake versions of real businesses and use these to run competitions to collect your personal information.

Fake trader scams were reported more by 18 to 34 year olds, who may use social media for more than communicating with friends and family.

With so many strategies available to scammers it can be hard to tell the difference between genuine profiles or ads on social media and the fake profiles or fake traders you may encounter. So here are some tips for staying safe and spotting social media scams.

– Check the profile of new friend requests, especially if you have only met the person online. Look out for:

– new profiles with limited content

– hidden friend lists or friend lists full of people of the opposite gender

– profiles that read like a dating profile

– grammar and spelling errors.

– Don’t send money to someone you’ve never met in person.

– Be cautious when sharing personal pictures or videos with someone, especially if you’ve never met them before in person. Scammers are known to blackmail their targets using compromising material.

– Check reviews before buying online. Try to find how reputable a seller is by searching for reviews.

– If the product doesn’t arrive, contact your bank or financial institution as soon as possible.

– Check the website URL (for example, www.example.com.au) that you are redirected to is the genuine website of the trader.

– People may be able to see more about you than you realise on social media. When you use social networking sites, be careful who you connect with and learn how to use your privacy and security settings to ensure you stay safe.

– If you have been scammed online, take steps to secure your account and be sure to report the conduct to the platform.

Fraud Week is an annual initiative of the Australasian Consumer Fraud Taskforce, a group of government regulatory agencies and departments in Australia and New Zealand that work alongside private sector, community and non-government partners to prevent fraud.

Visit the Scamwatch website www.scamwatch.gov.au/fraudweek2017 for more information about social media scams, how to protect yourself and what to do if you’ve been scammed. You can also keep up to date by following the Scamwatch Twitter @Scamwatch_gov.

Consumer Action Law Centre is a proud member/partner of the ACFT and Fraud Week.

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