Social media scammers stole at least $770 million in 2021

Scams originating on social media have 'soared,' according to a new report from the FTC.

Dado Ruvic / reuters

The last year has been a boon for social media scammers, according to a new report from the FTC. The agency says more than 95,000 people lost $770 million to scammers who found them via social media platforms in 2021. That’s more than double the $258 million they say scammers made off with in 2020.

The report doesn’t speculate on why there was such a big increase in 2021, but it notes that reports of scams have “soared” over the last five years. It also states that there was a “massive surge” in scams related to “bogus cryptocurrency investments” and that investment scams accounted for nearly $285 million — more than third — of the $770 million lost last year.

Romance scams have also “climbed to record highs in recent years,” according to the report. “These scams often start with a seemingly innocent friend request from a stranger, followed by sweet talk, and then, inevitably, a request for money,” the FTC says. Also prevalent are scams related to online shopping, most of which involve “undelivered goods” that were purchased as the result of an ad on social media.

Of note, Facebook and Instagram are the only two platforms named in the report. “More than a third of people who said they lost money to an online romance scam in 2021 said it began on Facebook or Instagram,” the report states. Likewise, the FTC says that Facebook and Instagram were the most commonly cited platform for reports of undelivered good, with the two apps cited in 9 out of 10 reports where a service was identified.

“We put significant resources towards tackling this kind of fraud and abuse,” a spokesperson for Meta said in a statement. “We also go beyond suspending and deleting accounts, Pages, and ads. We take legal action against those responsible when we can and always encourage people to report this behavior when they see it.”

Interestingly one of the FTC’s recommendations is that users try to opt out of targeted advertising when possible as scammers can “easily use the tools available to advertisers on social media platforms to systematically target people with bogus ads based on personal details such as their age, interests, or past purchases.” The agency also recommends users lock down their privacy settings and to be wary of any messages asking for money, especially in the form of cryptocurrency or gift cards.