The often empty promise of social media shopping

New data from the Federal Trade Commission shows that scams originating on social media have accounted for $2.7 billion in reported losses since 2021, more than any other contact method …

Reports during the first half of [2023] show that the most frequently reported scams on social media are related to online shopping, with 44 percent of reports pointing to fraud related to buying or selling products online.1

Social media shopping has grown huge: 67% of shoppers in 2022 purchased through social media channels2 and this course we’re on shows no signs of changing. And while it’s easy to see why people do it (among the reasons: more time spent on social media than with traditional media, the simulated, relaxed feeling of a community and the ease-of-purchase), it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t see if what we’re doing is in our best interests. Or at least ask, ‘can we do it better?’


Problem number one, as described by Amanda Mull writing for the Atlantic3 is that social media shopping has made us into indiscriminate buyers:

The [Instagram] order took maybe 15 seconds, Mull writes. I selected my size and put the shoes in my cart, and my phone automatically filled in my login credentials and added my new credit-card number. You can always return them, I thought to myself as I tapped the “Buy” button. Almost as soon as I’d paid, I snapped out of the mania that had briefly overtaken me, $190 … poorer but with one pair of Jetsons-looking shoes on their way to my apartment. It’s always a little horrifying to realize that advertising has worked on you, but this felt more like I had just watched the velociraptor in Jurassic Park learn to use the doorknob. I had completed some version of the online checkout process a million times before, but never could I remember it being quite so spontaneous and thoughtless. If it’s going to be that easy all the time, I thought to myself, I’m cooked.

Welcome to the evolution: from trading with our neighbors to ordering from catalogs, to going to the supermarket to shopping at department stores, malls and then big-box discounters (Spag’s was a tourist attraction) till now we’ve got interactive ads that are honed to get us to rationalize our decisions to make that nearly thought-free purchase.

With social media shopping, we second-guess these impulsive purchases a lot and for a variety of reasons. The reasons for this buyer’s remorse include 54% of social media shoppers who admitted feeling concerned that the companies they bought from weren’t legitimate4.

Crooks take note

We are easy marks. And it would have been enough if we just emptied our virtual wallets with our actual pay to some legitimate sellers, but social media (and its entertainment corollaries like YouTube and TikTok) have grown so fast and furious that these companies’ policy-violation police cannot stanch the tide of criminals eager to use our impulses against us.

According to Time Magazine: there are thousands of sites being created by just a handful of powerful, centralized organizations … one of the largest known shopping scam networks [is run by a] Chinese company: the publicly traded TIZA Information Industry Corporation INC … these networks buy domain names en masse, all with vaguely English but largely nonsensical names—GoShoesNC, KidsManShop, BoldWon—so that when one becomes compromised, it will get shut down and replaced by another. Their interchangeability makes it extremely hard for authorities to take action5.

The scams typically involve imitating legitimate products and/or branding and charging our cards without providing the products we purchased.

So, what steps can be taken to avoid these scammers?

  • Slow down and adopt a self-protective attitude with all sellers
  • Stick with reputable companies whose authenticity can be verified
  • Look for a misspelled or almost-right domain name, and steer clear
  • If a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is

Convenience or security? Convenience or security? Hmm

Sharpen the saw. It’s the journey, not the destination. There’s no shortcut to success.

I can think of only one reason we need adages to remind us about the perils of the quick answer: we want it! Every time.

Which reminds me of one I heard from a master painter many years ago: everybody wants to be taken care of, you’ve got to fight it with everything you got. The promise of convenience is a way of being taken care of. “One-Click.” “Buy Now.” “No interest.” “Order today.” Fight the urge.

And don’t forget that sometimes when we click a malicious link we risk losing more than a few dollars. It’s not uncommon for criminals to use a malicious link to install malware on a computer, which can be exploited on the machine in several ways. And if an infected computer is allowed to join a network, that threat can be transferred to the network. Does your organization have a Bring-Your-Own-Device policy? If so, that infection can be introduced to your organization’s network. It’s another reason for you and your employees to be wary of social media’s shopping perils.

Bryley can provide employees with security awareness training to improve the chances they’ll be careful out there




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