Social media boosts effectiveness of financial scams, research finds

By James Langton | October 1, 2019 | Last updated on October 1, 2019
2 min read

Social media isn’t just an effective tool for spreading memes and sharing information. New research finds that it’s an effective tool for fraud, too.

According to research from the FINRA Investor Education Foundation, BBB Institute for Marketplace Trust and the Stanford Center on Longevity, people who come into contact with attempted fraud through social media are more likely to lose money than those contacted by phone or email.

The research, based on a survey of 1,000 Americans and Canadians who had been targeted by scammers and reported the fraud to the BBB, found that, when social media was involved, 91% of respondents engaged and 53% lost money.

Similarly, when the fraud was conducted through a website, 81% engaged and 50% lost money.

When phone and email were used by scammers to target consumers, relatively few consumers engaged with the scammers or lost money.

The research also found a social component to financial fraud.

“Social isolation appears to play a role in fraud victimization,” the FINRA Foundation said in a release. For example, fraud victims were less likely to be married and more likely to be widowed or divorced.

“Generally, those who engaged, and those who lost money, reported significantly higher feelings of loneliness,” the release said.

Conversely, the study found that frontline financial industry personnel helped many avoid becoming victims.

“Cashiers, bank tellers, employees of wire transfer services and other financial services companies where consumers were about to send money to a scammer, served as an important last line of defense,” the release said.

The survey also found that those under financial strain were more likely to be victims, as were younger consumers and people with poor financial literacy.

“The path to victimization begins with engagement,” said FINRA Foundation president, Gerri Walsh, in the release.

“However, we now know that there are a number of steps consumers can take to protect themselves ahead of time, as well as in the moment, such as talking to people who have no stake in the outcome and doing additional research before sending any money or sharing personally identifiable information,” she said.

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James Langton

James is a senior reporter for and its sister publication, Investment Executive. He has been reporting on regulation, securities law, industry news and more since 1994.