Social media scams

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Forget fake news, it’s all about scams on social media

Social media scams continue to cause problems for both consumers and enterprises today. While businesses recognize the need to leverage social media as a sales tool and connect with customers, the problems that come with it can be too overwhelming for them.

Over the years, social media scams have been increasing, with victims losing more than just funds. In fact, researchers from Group -IB see that the scam industry is becoming more structured and involves more and more parties divided into hierarchical groups. The number of such groups jumped to a record high of 390, which is 3.5 times more than last year when the maximum number of active groups was close to 110.

With the rise of SaaS (Scam-as-a-Service) in 2021, the number of cybercriminals in one scam gang increased 10 times compared to 2020 and now reaches 100. Group-IB researchers emphasize that the number of websites used for purchasing and providing “gray” and illegal traffic and that lure victims into fraudulent schemes has increased by 1.5 times.

As the number of social media users and unique mobile phone users growing, it has reached 4.62 billion. In the Asia Pacific region, according to Group-IB Digital Risk Protection team’s findings, social media became the number one channel for the distribution of scams – 75.4% of all scams analyzed by Group-IB were observed in social media. Instagram turned out to be the scammers’ favorite platform in APAC.

In 2022, scammers are going on a new level of scam attack automation. These social media scams focus less on non-targeted users and are now attracting specific groups of victims to increase conversion rates. And it is becoming a big problem, especially with social media more often becoming the first point of contact between scammers and their potential victims.

Group-IB’s findings show that despite more Internet users falling victim to cybercrime every day, fraudsters prefer good old techniques such as phishing (18%), scams and fraud (57%), and malware infections and reputational attacks (25%). The number of brand-impersonating scam resources created per month also increased. In the Middle East, the Asia Pacific, and Europe, Group-IB analysts noted an increase of 150%, 83%, and 89% respectively.

“A strong trend that we observed in 2021 was no-frills scammers merging into groups controlled by highly technically skilled villains,” says Ilia Rozhnov, Head of Digital Risk Protection team in APAC at Group-IB.

Rozhnov added that SaaS helped grow not only fraudsters’ appetites but also the industry itself. In 2021 Group-IB’s DRP system tracked 350 groups, reaching up to 390 scam groups at the peak time. The number of cybercriminals in fraudulent groups has increased dramatically, averaging between 100 and 1,000 per group. In turn, Rozhnov said their infrastructure has grown proportionally with the average number of scam links per group being between 2,000 and 3,000.

Scams beyond social media

Group-IB reported that the number of websites used for purchasing and providing “gray” and illegal traffic increased by 1.5 times. Scammers refused to create and maintain their own resources. Their task was only to attract traffic to third-party resources owned by other scammers for a fee when the theft of money was successful.

“Scammers are now focused on attracting targeted traffic. In the past, their schemes were aimed at unsuitable users who were brought to a fraudulent resource, but since 2021 the strategy has changed drastically. Scammers now attract specific groups of victims to increase conversion rates. The only platform for selling “gray” and illegal traffic earns on average $2,758 per week from one offer to sell illegal traffic,” added Rozhnov.

Interestingly, the statistics relating to grey and illegal traffic on one platform, which was taken as an example by Group-IB DRP analysts, showed that India, the US, and Vietnam are the main countries where the platform is distributed.

At the same time, Group-IB experts noted a strong trend toward the use of improved URL targeting. Personalized URLs usually include not only a timestamp and hash, but also geolocation information, the OS version, the browser type, and the name of the Internet provider. There was also no weak content personalization. Fraudsters used improved content personalization with auto-completed web forms on a page with a user’s personal data, extracted from browser cookies.

For Jorij Abraham, General Manager at Global Anti-Scam Alliance & Scamadviser, scammers were quickly becoming more and more professional, and the number of reported scams had increased from 139 to 266 million (93%).

“The number of cybercrimes is growing every year. We must stay ahead of scammers. To do so, anyone involved in the cybersecurity market must share their knowledge and data with each other. Only in this way will we be able to win. With the appearance of more data and new technologies such as deepfakes, scams have become very difficult to identify,” commented Abraham.

While social media scams are on the rise, the hype in the public space worldwide for metaverses has been also been growing. Group-IB DRP analysts expect the amount of scams in metaverses to increase as well in the future. The same situation also applies to cryptocurrencies and NFTs, where scams are already highly popular.