With the rising popularity of social media, it’s no surprise that social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook (also known as Meta) have become popular platforms for scammers. It’s easier than ever for fraudsters to perpetrate imposter scams online given the ease of creating a fake social media profile or a company website. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported an increase of $264 million in losses due to imposter scams between 2021 and 2022. This trend will almost certainly continue into the holiday season as fraudsters launch new scams.
So, what social media scams should you be watching out for this holiday season?
“Secret Santa” Gift Exchanges
You’ve probably seen posts that invite friends to take part in a “secret santa” gift exchange by commenting with their name, mailing address and/or email address. The idea is that by sending one “secret Santa” gift to another person in the thread, you will be put into a pool to receive between 6-36 gifts from others in the exchange. Unfortunately, the Better Business Bureau has confirmed that this is an illegal pyramid scheme.
At best, you’ll be out the cost of the gift you mail to your secret giftee. At worst, scammers may use your personal details to commit identity theft or fraud.
Gift Card Scams
Because of their versatility and the fact that they can be purchased online or in person, gift cards are many people’s go-to present during the holidays. Unfortunately, scammers also like to utilize gift cards for low-risk money laundering. While credit and debit card payments can be tracked, and in most cases, reversed, gift card purchases leave no trail and are the ideal payment method for scammers.
Most often, fraudsters initiate gift card scams over the phone. They’ll call the victim claiming to be from a government agency (usually the IRS or Social Security Administration), from a utility company, or even from tech support for a company like Apple or Microsoft, and claim that the victim owes an overdue payment. The caller usually pressures the victim to pay the fraudulent charges immediately, and they may suggest doing so by gift card. If so, you can be sure it’s a scam– no legitimate company or government organization will ever ask you to pay by gift card.
Alternatively, the scammer may reach out pretending to be a family member or friend in an emergency. Often, they’ll ask for the funds to post bail or pay a medical bill. If the caller asks for the funds on a gift card, it’s a scam. Even if they suggest a bank transfer or credit card payment, don’t pay immediately. Instead, reach out to the friend or family member directly to ask if they’re in a legitimate crisis.
Targeted Advertisement Scams
Even if you protect your personal information on social media, companies may be able to track your interests through posts, likes, and search engine activity, and they can use that data to deliver targeted advertisements to you. Most of the products advertised are legitimate, but it’s impossible for social media admins to completely filter out the fakes.
If the product being advertised is out of stock or difficult to find, be cautious. It may be a fraudster trying to take advantage of consumers impacted by the supply chain shortage. If you can buy the same item from a vetted company like Amazon, Target or Walmart (ideally making the purchase through the company’s app or website), it’s significantly safer. Alternatively, you can Google the company name with the keyword “fraud” or “scam” to see if anyone else has reported issues. Also, make sure the website or email address matches the company name. Scammers will often purchase domain names that are close to the real ones, such as FedX.com instead of FedEx.com.
If the seller requests that you pay through a gift card, it’s almost certainly a scam. (See above for more information on gift card scams).
Fake Charities & GoFundMe Campaigns
Whether your goal is to spread goodwill or simply to take advantage of the tax breaks, year-end giving is a holiday tradition for many– and social media scammers are ready and waiting to plug their own fake charities. Fortunately, there are plenty of resources available for consumers to vet nonprofits before they give, including the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving, Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, as well as your state’s charity regulation website or the IRS’s Tax Exempt Organization Search. If the charity isn’t listed on any of the aforementioned websites, it may be a scam.
If the post links to a GoFundMe campaign, be wary. Although GoFundMe has fail-safes in place to protect against fraud, you should always message the friend who shared the need to confirm that the post wasn’t spoofed by a scammer.
What To Do If You’re Scammed
If you find yourself the victim of an online shopping scam, read our post on how to minimize the damage. Additionally, here are some general tips to deal with the fallout from social media scams:
- Immediately change your passwords on any accounts involved in the fraud.
- Report the fraudulent advertisement or post directly to the social media platform’s customer service team.
- Report the fraud to the FTC at IdentityTheft.gov.
- If applicable, cancel the debit or credit card used in the fraudulent transaction.
The holiday season can be stressful, but AAA Identity Champion is ready to ease your anxiety with services like social media monitoring, identity restoration support, and identity theft insurance1. Take a look at our plans to see how some extra protection can bring you peace of mind, especially during the season of giving – and online shopping!
The content provided in this blog post is for informational purposes only, and is not intended to be an offer to sell any Identity Champion product or service.
1The Identity Theft Insurance is underwritten and administered by American Bankers Insurance Company of Florida, an Assurant company under group or blanket policy(ies). The description herein is a summary and intended for informational purposes only and does not include all terms, conditions and exclusions of the policies described. Please refer to the actual policies for terms, conditions, and exclusions of coverage. Coverage may not be available in all jurisdictions. Review the Summary of Benefits.