Social media is a modern phenomenon, revolutionising the way that consumers seek information, communicate with one another and interact with businesses. There are three billion active users of social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Instagram, with numbers increasing at an estimated one million each day. The widespread use of social media provides plentiful opportunities for criminals to connect with consumers and commit fraud, using a range of tactics. Scammers are constantly devising new and innovative ways to trick people out of money or harvest personal data, which can be used for financial gain. Social media scams have the potential to cause significant harm to consumers in terms of financial loss, emotional wellbeing and degradation of trust. Urgent action is needed to protect consumers and minimize detriment.
In the absence of consistent and comparable data at a global level, Consumers International undertook this pioneering study to better understand the consumer experience, identify good practice in tackling the issues and recommend solutions. They monitored public online conversations about social media scams in nine countries for two years, supplementing this with interviews of consumer protection and enforcement agencies about national trends. The findings suggest that the volume and impact of social media scams is increasing rapidly. Impostor scams – where criminals pose as authentic brands, authorities or friends to deceive victims – are most common, followed by e-commerce scams – where scammers fail to provide goods that consumers have bought, or send goods which are counterfeit or substandard quality.
It is clear that social media scams present complex challenges for consumers and those charged with protecting them. This report highlights the global nature of scams and suggests ways that all stakeholders in this diverse space – from consumer protection organisations to government agencies, industry and social media platforms – can work together to enhance safety and minimise harm. The key recommendations of this report are to: develop consistent rules for consumer protection; drive increased liability of social media platforms; define good practice for business; explore the potential of digital tools to detect fraud; facilitate consistent and effective reporting of social media scams; improve stakeholder cooperation; and raise consumer awareness.
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