Commissioner's Blog: Can you spot a scam on social media?

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With Acting Commissioner for Consumer Protection David Hillyard 

Consumer Protection WA is a proud supporter of Fraud Week, which this year starts on the 15th of May and aims to help social media users learn how to spot a scam.

Social media profiles often display a lot of personal information, such as your photos, where you have been lately, a record of life events, who you’re connected to and more. All of these details give scammers the flexibility to shape their methods and communications to match your interests and use of social media. This means that their bogus offers and approaches can be harder for you to spot than scam emails and phone calls.

Social media is a common first point of contact for romance scammers. They may have a fake profile they use to send you a friend request. The initial message may compliment your picture or suggest they have something in common with you based on their snooping of your profile. The scam then proceeds with quick expressions of affection, a desire to meet, then complications (a reason preventing them from seeing you) and finally, a request for money.

Scammers also draw on the advertising potential in social media to target victims. Fake trader scammers set up temporary business profiles advertising very cheap products and linking through to their phoney shopping website. You buy goods thinking you’ve grabbed a bargain but you never receive anything or if you do, it’s fake and of poor quality. They might also create fake versions of real businesses and use these to run competitions or surveys to collect your personal information. If you share these scam promotions you are putting friends and family you’re connected with on social media at risk.

It can be hard to tell the difference between genuine profiles or ads on social media and the fake profiles or bogus traders you may encounter. So, here are some tips:

  • Check the profile of new friend requests. Look out for:
    • newly-created profiles with limited content
    • hidden friend lists or friend lists full of people of the opposite gender
    • profiles that read like a description you would find on a dating website
    • grammar and spelling errors
    • a profile you thought you were already friends with – is it a cloned account?
    • a profile of someone you have never met and do not know – what is their motive for ‘friending’ you and how can you trust them with your information?
  • 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.
  • People may be able to see more about you than you realise on social media. Be careful who you connect with and learn how to use privacy and security settings.
  • If you have been scammed online, take steps to secure your account and be sure to report the conduct to the platform.
  • Be sceptical if you’re asked to send money. Transferring funds to someone you only know online could mean the money’s going towards criminal activity.
  • Check reviews before buying online. Try to find how reputable a seller is by searching for reviews.
  • Check the website URL (for example, you are redirected to is the genuine website of the trader.
  • If the product doesn’t arrive, contact your bank or financial institution asap.

Visit the nationally-run (ACCC) Scamwatch website or Consumer Protection’s WA ScamNet for more on how to protect yourself from social media scams and what to do if you’ve been scammed.

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.

Consumer Protection
Department News
12 May 2017

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