Why do people do social media scams?

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Social media scams are becoming more prevalent as the use of social media increasingly becomes a part of our everyday lives. Industries are using social media to promote and provide their own services, whether it’s shopping or banking or dating, and this can make people vulnerable to being conned through these services.  

If you aren’t the kind of person who would scam someone (and if you’re reading this, we sure hope you aren’t!), it can be hard to figure out why someone would want to scam people through social media. Victims of social media scams are often totally unknown to the perpetrators, meaning it can be hard to discern any kind of personal motive. 

We’ve had a look at some of the most common social media scams and examined what the purpose of these scams are. Have a look at the list below, and hopefully it can help you become less susceptible to being conned. 


1.      Money

As the old saying goes, money is the root of all evil – or at least, the root of lots of social media scams. The ‘Nigerian prince’ scam, where a spam email promised millions of dollars from a deposed Nigerian prince in exchange for an initial transfer of funds, was the most famous online scam of the early 2000s, and a version of this has continued into the 2010s.  

A recent New York Times piece focused on military scams, where US citizens are targeted by Facebook profiles purporting to belong to active service members. These profiles befriend or seduce their targets, building up relationships with them so they can ask for large sums of money, sent either through gift cards or wire transfers to make its recipient harder to track. 

A simple rule to avoid being swindled? Don’t engage with anyone on social media who you have not met in real life, and even then, be wary if you’re being asked for money, especially if the method of transfer is unusual. 

2.     Love

One of the biggest cultural products of the 21st century is the film and subsequent tv show Catfish. The film which kicked off the cultural phenomenon focused on Nev Schulman, a man who was tricked over social media into falling in love with a person who was not who they claimed to be. 

Nev’s experience inspired him to both investigate cases around the country in which people were being tricked by potential romantic partners. The name of the film and TV show have entered the cultural lexicon: ‘catfish’, as both a noun and verb, means someone on social media who is pretending to be someone else. 

The motivation of a ‘catfish’ varies. Yes, sometimes it is a simple attempt to trick the other person, but in other cases adopting a false identity online stems from low self esteem and a belief that they won’t be able to find love as their authentic selves.   


3.     Trolling

Occasionally a social media scam will emerge where the scammer’s end goal is not obvious. Recently, a slew of Instagram users including celebrities like P!nk, Taraji P. Henson and Rob Lowe shared a memewhich claimed to prevent Instagram from being able to use your images, particularly ‘in litigation against you’. 

The content of the meme, of course, was fake. But the purpose of the scam is opaque. The creator of the scam isn’t asking for money or anything of the sort – indeed, no one has claimed authorship of the meme. Given that the scam seemed to catch some fairly high profile prey, it’s possible that the motivation may have been to troll. 

While this category of scam lacks material consequences, it can still be embarrassing. When something like that pops up on your social media feed, try and do some research. In the above example, ‘Channel 13 news’ is an incredibly vague source of information. Look for information that comes from viable sources – if it’s about Instagram terms of services, usually Instagram will make the announcement themselves. 


4.     Personal information

As we increasingly use the internet for financial matters, social media scams can open up our bank accounts to scammers more easily. Many social media scams are aiming to get people’s personal information, whether that’s passwords, account names or answers to security questions on your social media or online banking accounts. 

These types of scams are sometimes referred to as ‘phishing’ scams. Phishing on social media can come in the form of links posted on timelines or through direct messages, or by people creating fake social media profiles to impersonate real institutions like banks or other companies.  

There are a few easy ways of telling whether or not a social media post is phishing. Remember that usually companies are verified on social media, so if someone is claiming to be a certain organisation, the lack of a blue tick is a good signal that they aren’t who they say. Another easy check? A real company, bank or government body will never ask for your personal information over social media. 





Emma Bartlett