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Securing social media against scams and fraud – new research points to more cooperation needed

03 June 2019

Our major new study indicates that the volume and impact of scams shared through adverts and posts on social media platforms is increasing rapidly across the globe.

In the absence of comparable data at a global level, we monitored public online conversations about social media scams in nine countries over two years. We supplemented this with interviews of consumer activists, digital rights organisations and consumer protection authorities.

The research revealed:

  • 3 million consumers shared warnings and information about social media scams in the US over the last two years, 188,900 in the UK, 144,500 in Nigeria and 51,400 in Spain.
  • Almost a third of social media scams in the US originated through Facebook (27%), while WhatsApp was the most reported platform in Spain (29%).
  • Consumers are most vocal about impostor scams, where scammers pose as brands, authorities or even friends in order to deceive victims into parting with their money. The next most talked about social media scam are e-commerce scams, which primarily take place on Facebook Marketplace and WhatsApp.
  • The most common type of e-commerce scam is receiving items of a far lower quality than what is advertised.
  • Many social media scams are a cross-border border problem for consumers - they often originate from another country where the same language is spoken. Consumer protection authorities and consumer organisations we interviewed agree that social media platforms should work with stakeholders take a more decisive action to tackle fraudulent, harmful or illegal content on their platforms that can spread across borders.
  • In the countries we analysed, social media users are most vocal about scams shared through WhatsApp and Facebook.
  • Consumers International found that all types of social media scams are severely underreported. This is due to a range of reasons, including embarrassment, apathy and consumers being uncertain of where and how to report online scams. Consumer education to ‘normalise’ scams could help to overcome the stigma wrongly attached to it.
Social media scams Understanding the consumer experience to create a safer digital world View research

Key recommendations

Based on interviews with experts from around the world, we suggest several solutions for working together to tackle this growing problem:

  • Better reporting: Comprehensive systems need to be in place to record and analyse online scam incidents, including their channels of origin. Social media platforms can make it easy for consumers to flag scams, and other harmful content. For example, Facebook’s UK operations are developing a new ‘scam ads’ reporting tool as part of a recent legal settlement. Establishing better collaboration and cooperation between all stakeholders at a global level is essential to providing an effective solution to the growing problem of social media scams.
  • Increasing responsibility for social media platforms: Social media platforms have a responsibility to protect consumers by detecting and taking swift and effective action against fraudulent users, accounts, posts and advertisements. As scams operate cross-border, where possible, platforms should standardise their systems, policies and procedures across border so that all consumers benefit from the same practices. Tech companies must continue to innovate digital tools to spot evolving misleading advertising and posts for offers that are too good to be true.
  • Defining good practices for businesses: Businesses such as financial service providers, online retailers and intermediary sites are well placed to disseminate timely and relevant information to warn consumers of potential threats, and evidence we found points to successful initiatives. Authentication systems for advertisements, sharing best practice for redress protocols for banks and credit card companies and developing new international standards businesses can adopt are all ways that consumers can be protected online from scams.
  • Raising consumer awareness: There is an urgent need to address the low levels of scam reporting and encourage conversations and consumer education campaigns to reduce the level of risk to consumers falling victim. Consumer organisations, consumer protection authorities, enforcement agencies, private sector organisations, like banks, and social media platforms have a shared responsibility for working together and educating consumers.