Almost 50% of social media users have been victims of online shopping scams, says survey

Ruth C. | November 24, 2022

While many online shops are legitimate, scammers often take advantage of the anonymous nature of the internet to exploit unsuspecting victims by setting up fake ones. And with the rise of social media e-commerce, shopping scams are increasingly taking place on social platforms.

According to the data presented by the Atlas VPN team, 47% of social media users have fallen victim to online shopping scams before. 

Social media sites offer an easy and low-cost way to set up fake online shops. With the help of social media ads, these scam schemes can reach millions of consumers worldwide.

The numbers are based on the GoodFirms online survey with 560 social media users. The survey was conducted between the 1st and the 8th of June, 2022.

Phishing link and gift card scams are also frequent fraud schemes that end up costing social media users money or their data. In fact, 37% of surveyees reported being a victim of each of the scam types. 

In phishing link scams, cybercriminals send malicious URLs to potential victims via social media designed to steal personal data or infect the victim’s device with malware. Meanwhile, gift card schemes involve cybercriminals offering fake gift cards in exchange for money or personal information. 

Additionally, over 33% of surveyed social media users reported being victims of help scams. In help scams, cybercriminals pretend to be acquaintances of their potential victims that happen to be in an emergency situation. To help solve the emergency situation, they ask for money. Fraudsters may also impersonate charitable organizations and ask for donations.

Next up are job scams, with 30% of users having been lured by one. When it comes to job scams, fraudsters post fake job ads and send out phony recruitment emails in hopes of stealing the victim’s information or may offer their victims fake jobs for a fee.  

Targeted advertising scams occupy the fifth spot on the list. A total of 27% of surveyed social media users have suffered from such fraud schemes. Targeted advertising scams involve fraudsters setting up ads on social media that lead to websites that pose as fake online shops or require users to input personal information, which is then stolen.

Other scams social media users frequently fall for include cloned and hacked account scams (23%), investment scams (17%), lottery scams (13%), impersonation with fake account scams (13%), quiz and polling scams (7%), romance scams (7%), and fake ticket scams (2%).

While social media scam techniques may vary, the end goal is typically the same. The fraudsters hope to score the victim’s money, personal data, or both. 

How to protect yourself when shopping online

With Black Friday and Cyber Monday around the corner, we have prepared some tips to help you stay secure when shopping online.

  1. Avoid too-good-to-be-true offers. Good deals do exist. However, if the product or service is advertised at an incredibly low price and seems too good to be true, it is likely a scam.

  2. Inspect the website or profile. Whether it is an actual website or a social media profile, take your time to inspect it. Does it come across as professional, or does it look sloppy? Spelling mistakes, poor design, broken links, lack of contact details, terms of service, or other essential information can indicate a website might be a scam. If it is a social media profile, additionally look up its creation date, as fraudulent accounts are more likely to be created recently. 

  3. Check the website’s URL. Look for websites that start with “https” instead of “http.” It means the site is secured using an SSL Certificate (the s stands for secure). The site should also have a padlock icon in the address bar.

  4. Read the reviews. If the online shop exists, chances are someone has already tried to purchase from it. Look for any reviews about the online shop submitted by former clients. Negative reviews are obviously bad news. However, no reviews should also be a red flag.

  5. Do not use public Wi-Fi for online shopping. Most public Wi-Fi networks lack basic security measures and can easily be accessed by cybercriminals. Yet if you do decide to do your shopping while on public Wi-Fi, make sure to use a VPN. A virtual private network like Atlas VPN encrypts your traffic so no one can intercept it and steal your data. 

  6. Shop at well-known brands. Shopping at reputable and well-known brands is an easy way to avoid shopping scams. Even then, check the websites’ URLs to see if they vary slightly. Fraudsters often use look-alike domains to trick victims into thinking they are shopping on a legitimate site. 

  7. Do not click on links or images in promotional emails. Or any other emails, for that matter. Scammers often use phishing techniques where they replicate retailers’ emails and websites in hopes of stealing your data. Therefore, opening your browser and manually typing the website’s URL is always safer. Better yet, keep your favorite brands’ official websites in your bookmarks. 

  8. Use secure payment methods. When shopping, go for sites that accept secure payment methods such as credit card or PayPal. These payment methods offer you added defense if your order never arrives. 

  9. Do not reuse passwords. When you reuse the same credentials across different online accounts, and one of your accounts gets hacked, so can others. Always use unique and complex passwords for each of your accounts. If you are afraid you will not remember that many passwords, you can always employ a password manager to keep track of all your login credentials. 

  10. Be careful about shopping apps. Shopping apps can be convenient. However, when downloading apps, only do so from official sources such as Google Play and App Store. Apps from unofficial websites can include malware designed to steal your personal information.

    Have a safe online journey!

Ruth C.

Ruth C.

Cybersecurity Researcher and Publisher at Atlas VPN. Interested in cybercrime, online security, and privacy-related topics.


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