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Social media users and scams

Social media users are seriously underestimating their chances of falling victim to online fraud and suffering devastating emotional and financial consequences because tech giants are not doing enough to warn and protect them, the consumer campaign group Which? is warning.

Its latest research using an online community of Facebook users showed that a majority were lulled into a false sense of security by the platform’s social nature. They mistakenly assumed they could spot fraud and that the company’s systems would protect them effectively. Which? found a third of participants did not know that fake products might be advertised on the site – putting them at risk of falling victim to purchase scams. A quarter did not spot an investment scam advert with a fake endorsement from a celebrity.

Which?’s report suggests that regularly encountering content that platform users dislike has been normalised, ‘becoming viewed as part and parcel of using social media. As such, users often meet it with resigned acceptance and there is some evidence to suggest that exposure to suspect content builds a sense of complacency’.

Which? is calling on the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to include online scams in its upcoming Online Harms Bill. The campaigners ask that ‘platforms should also be made legally responsible for the design of their systems to prevent illegal activities, including scams and fraud’; and ‘a legal requirement for transparency about illegal activity on their sites and to report to relevant regulators and law enforcement bodies should also be applied to platforms’.

Which? carried out research with an online community of Facebook users over 10 days, and also conducted a nationally representative online survey including 1,700 Facebook users, as part of its new policy report ‘Connecting the world to fraudsters? Protecting social media users from scams’.

The research found that older social media users are often more concerned about scams, and perceived as being at greater risk by their fellow users. But the findings suggested that younger people may actually be more susceptible to scams as they are more persuadable and more likely to take risks, such as taking part in online shopping and quizzes used by some fraudsters.

Rocio Concha, Director of Policy and Advocacy at Which?, said: “The financial and emotional toll of scams can be devastating and it is clear that social media firms such as Facebook are failing to step up and properly protect users from fraudsters on their sites.

“The time for serious action on online scams is now. If the government doesn’t grasp the opportunity to deliver this in the upcoming online harms bill, it must urgently come forward with new proposals to stem the growing tide of sophisticated scams by criminals online.”

As for Facebook’s scam ad reporting tool (arising from a legal settlement with Martin Lewis), the researchers found that online users ‘lacked motivation to use the tool for reasons including doubts about the usefulness of reporting suspicious content due to a lack of confidence that reports would be acted upon’.

Read more at https://www.which.co.uk/policy/digitisation/6514/connectingfraudsters.

Facebook told Which? that globally it has over 35,000 people at work on online safety and security, and is spending on AI and machine learning. In June, it launched a UK Scam Ad Alert system with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to help tackle scam ads.


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