Holiday shoppers, prepare to be bombarded with social media ads — and scams.
Highly targeted advertising on social media sites like Instagram and Facebook makes it easier than ever for brands to get in front of their target market. But these ads also make it easier for shady brands to dupe eager scrollers and shoppers with glossy images, only to deliver low-quality goods or nothing at all.
Scams originating on social media have skyrocketed in recent years. According to data from the Federal Trade Commission, complaints of fraud that started on social media jumped from nearly 28,900 in 2019 to more than 71,500 in 2020. And that figure is on pace to double again in 2021, with nearly 76,000 reports of social media fraud filed in the first half of this year, resulting in $292 million lost by consumers.
“While these advertising platforms try to weed out obvious bad actors via their automated algorithms, it is literally impossible for them to fully protect end consumers from sketchy companies,” says Oleg Donets, co-founder and chief marketing officer for Real Estate Bees, a marketing platform for the real estate industry. “Most of the time, the responsibility of vetting advertisers falls on the shoulders of end customers.”
But how do you know which brands to trust? These five steps will help you separate the gems from the fakes.
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1. Search for independent reviews, complaints
Reviews on a company’s website can be cherry-picked, or worse, completely fabricated. So look for customer feedback on independent sites, like Trustpilot and Google My Business, and search for complaints on the Better Business Bureau’s scam tracker.
You can also tap friends, family and your broader social network for insight. They’ve likely been served the same ads as you, and odds are good that someone pulled the trigger and can tell you if the product is as advertised.
“I have friends who have had success ordering clothing via [Instagram] ads, so I go to them for recommendations on which brands they trust,” says Andrea Woroch, a consumer savings expert based in Bakersfield, California.
Not finding any reviews? Consider that a red flag.
2. Research the domain history
One clue to a business’s legitimacy is how long its website has been around. To find out when a website was created, simply plug the URL into the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers’ lookup tool.
Sketchy companies pop up and disappear faster than the moles in the arcade game, creating a new domain name every time they resurface, so be …….