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Social Media Shopping Scams Plague Young Adults

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By Adam Duggan, Esq. | Last updated on

You'd think that with young adults using so much social media, they'd be pretty Tweet-smart by now. After all, even Millennials have been lauded for shaking things up in the workforce with their tech savvy. But America's youth are falling for social media shopping scams at an alarming pace.

Just ask Jessica Longoria, a 30-year-old from California. Excited about a limited-time sale she saw in a TikTok ad, Ms. Longoria purchased what was pictured as a sophisticated shoe organizer composed of separate box compartments. After waiting for her delivery for two months, what she got in the mail was a single, large cloth bag.

Young Adults Are Most Likely to Fall for Online Shopping Scams

Ms. Longoria isn't alone. The FTC reports that compared to older adults, younger adults are almost twice as likely to fall for scams relate to online shopping or fake checks, more than three times as likely to fall for investment scams, and more than four times as likely to fall for job scams. And you thought your grandma was bad with technology.

Among other types of scams, younger adults are about three times likelier to fall for an online shopping scam than other types of scams. These online scams typically start with an online ad on a social media platform. And more often than not, the order never arrives.

Scammers are also skilled at creating fake websites and apps that mimic real ones. The scammers entice users to input their payment information that is then stored on the website or app.

As for the fake apps, they can contain malware. When downloaded, the malware can lock the user's phone until a ransom is paid and even expose personal information from a user's social media or email accounts.

These types of social media-based shopping scams have risen exponentially over the past several years, prompting the FTC to issues orders to major social media platforms to aid in investigating the problem.

These scams aren't limited to the U.S. Britain, for example, has suffered from an epidemic of online shopping scams. This has prompted British lawmakers to force Big Tech companies to put a stop to fraudulent ads.

With nearly all of young adults reporting social media use, the trend shows no signs of slowing.

Safe Shopping Is Just a Few Steps Away

There are several steps you should take to prevent online shopping scams.

  • Opt out of targeted advertising. Targeted ads are designed to take personal information (such as age, gender, and shopping history) and create ads tailored to the user. Scammers use these targeted ads to prey on the vulnerable.
  • Check the company before you buy. Before you go through with your purchase, the FTC recommends conducting a web search with the name of the company plus the word "scam" or "complaint." State and local governmental agencies often maintain online databases that allow users to search for companies that have been known to conduct scams in the past.
  • Make sure you are always on a safe site. If the social media ad takes you to a separate website, ensure that the website URL begins with "https://". Also check to the left of the URL for the icon of a little closed padlock—it should look something like the screenshot in the photo at the top of this article. These are two signs of a secure website, as they indicate that the website is encrypted.
  • Read impartial reviews. There are countless websites dedicated to providing customer reviews for a wide variety of products. In vetting the authenticity of consumer reviews, consider: who wrote the review; other reviews by that person; and whether there are signs that the reviewer is being compensated.
  • Review return and refund policies. Just as important as knowing what you are buying is understanding when it can be returned, replaced, or refunded.
  • Pay with a credit card or third-party platform. If you pay with a debit card, the money leaves your back account and can be harder to claw back. With a credit card, you can dispute the charge, ask your credit card company to freeze new purchases, and even have the charge cancelled. Additionally, third-party payment platform, such as PayPal, is another sign that the website is safe. Typically, only reputable websites use these payment platforms. And like credit cards, it is possible to freeze the payment with these third-party platforms.
  • Keep records. While keeping records won't stop a scam, it can make it easier to remedy the problem after the purchase. At minimum, you should keep records showing the name of the company and URL of their site, with screenshots. You should also document evidence of what was ordered, when it was ordered, the purchase price, and other financial information, as well as any other communications with the company.

Reporting Online Shopping Scams is Simple

Because online shopping scams are so widespread, there are many agencies that allow you to report a scam.

The FTC maintains an entire website dedicated to reporting fraud. The website is simple to use . If you kept records of your purchase, the process takes only a few minutes.

Every state maintains a consumer protection office, and most of these offices have reporting mechanisms. For example, Georgia allows consumer fraud to be reported online, by phone, or mail.

Social media shopping scams are expected to rise in the coming years. By being proactive, you can reduce the likelihood of being scammed.

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