Don’t be too quick to buy from these social media ads, warns the Better Business Bureau.

3 minute read

How many ads do you see as you scroll down your Facebook page? Chances are that your page is filled with them. In fact, just about every time you visit a retail site or even type the product name during an online search, you might instantly find an ad for the product posted on your social media page.

Whether you like social media ads or detest them, the fact that you see them all the time has a desensitizing effect. We’re so used to seeing these ads that we often trust them more than we should. At least, that’s true of many consumer victims of misleading social media ads.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) Scam Tracker has received “thousands” of complaints from consumers who were tricked or cheated by deceptive Facebook and Instagram ads, according to a recent warning issued by the BBB about social media scams.

In 2020, online purchase scams were reported most frequently and affected the most victims, according to the 2020 BBB Scam Tracker Risk Report. Online purchase scams have spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic, says the BBB.

Here are the 5 most common social media scams reported to the BBB Scam Tracer and how to avoid them.

1. Products claiming to support a charity

When you see a product or merchandise you like advertised on Facebook or Instagram, it’s hard to resist clicking for more information. And if the business claims to donate part of the proceeds of the sale to an animal rescue organization, children’s hospital or another worthy organization or cause, that makes the deal even sweeter.

Be careful, though. The charity donation ad could be a scam. “When your merchandise never gets delivered, the doubts start to build,” says the BBB. “When you contact the company about your purchase, they are suddenly unreachable or reply with an autoresponder. In reality, the product never existed. It was all a ploy to get your money.”

Find out: Watch Out for These Red Flags of a Moving Scam

2. Free trial offers

If you’re scrolling through Facebook and see an ad featuring a celebrity with flawless skin endorsing a skin care product or dietary supplement you can order and pay only “shipping fees” to receive, that’s a hard offer to pass up. However, hidden in the fine print of the “terms and conditions” that you accepted (without reading carefully) may be monthly shipments in excess of $70 to $100, says the BBB.

Before signing up for any “limited time offer,” research the company selling the product. Are there other consumer complaints about the offer or product found during an online search? Read any terms and conditions carefully before agreeing to them and be careful when checking any boxes on the website. No terms and conditions? That’s a big red flag, warns the BBB.

Find out: 7 Red Flags That Paid Survey May Be a Scam

3. Merchandise knockoffs

Be wary of social media ads for designer handbags and clothing priced significantly lower than the usual prices for these items. When you purchase low-priced merchandise that’s typically expensive, you run the risk of receiving counterfeit merchandise. Red flags that the ad could be a counterfeit product scam include prices much lower than what other retailers charge, poor quality images and spelling errors or typos.

Find out: 7 Signs Your Online Soul Mate May Be Out to Scam You

4. Impressive ads for cheap products

You may be so impressed by an enticing social media ad for trendy clothing or other products that you make the purchase without much thought. Impulse buying with a social media ad is a big mistake, however. When you make a purchase without researching the company, you could end up with no product and no response from the company’s customer service number or email.

Do an online search, typing the business name and the terms “complaints,” “scam” and “reviews” in the search box to find other customers’ experiences with the business. On the company’s website, look for “about us” or “contact us” customer service links to make sure it’s possible to contact the business if you’re not happy with your order or product.

Is the only way to contact the company through a form? That’s a red flag, says the BBB.

Find out: Don’t Fall for These Sneaky Package Delivery Scams

5. “Free” apps from unknown sources

When you’re scrolling through your social media feed and see an ad for a free app you think you might like, beware. When you download the app, you could be unwittingly signing up for recurring subscription fees, says the BBB. In fact, some consumers reported to the BBB Scam Tracker that they were charged fees as high as $99 a week.

Before you sign up for an app, read online customer reviews and the app description carefully. Make sure the developer’s website is a working website. Also read the app’s terms and conditions thoroughly before agreeing to them.

Find out: Don’t Be Sideswiped By These Online Car Buying Scams

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About the Author

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp is a full-time freelance writer based in Kansas City, Mo. Deb went from being unable to get approved for a credit card or loan 20 years ago to having excellent credit today and becoming a homeowner. Deb learned her lessons about money the hard way. Now she wants to share them to help you pay down debt, fix your credit and quit being broke all the time. Deb's personal finance and credit articles have been published at Credit Karma and The Huffington Post.

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