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AARP AARP States Tennessee Scams & Fraud

How Scammers Target Victims on Social Media

A mysterious scammer hacks into private information through a computer and smart phone.

Social media is a good way to stay in touch with distant friends and family members. But users are frequently finding themselves joined by somebody else: scam artists.

“What would scammers do back in the old days?” asks Chadwick Jackson, the lead financial crimes prosecutor in the Davidson County District Attorney’s Office. “They’d go through a phone book.” Now, he says, criminals can easily find their prey on social media or on dating sites.

And by the time their victims talk to Jackson, it’s usually too late. With these types of scams, he says, it’s almost impossible to catch the criminals — many of whom are overseas — or recover stolen money.

One Nashville woman in her 50s, he says, was defrauded out of $50,000 after befriending a man on Facebook. She wrote him thousands of dollars in checks and even dropped off a large sum of cash at a roadside diner in North Carolina. Another woman called Jackson after she lost at least $10,000 because she thought that a man she’d met on the dating app Tinder could help her make money through Bitcoin.

These fraud victims have plenty of company.

In 2022, the Volunteer State ranked 11th nationally in per capita reports of fraud and other complaints collected by the Federal Trade Commission. That same year, Tennessee victims reported losing $108.5 million to fraud. That amount may be higher because many victims do not want to report the crime, says Mia McNeil, AARP Tennessee state director.

“There are plenty of people who feel ashamed because they’ve been defrauded somehow,” she says.

AARP Tennessee’s focus on fraud, she adds, is driven by the reality that there are so many victims — and because scammers keep changing their tactics.

Criminals prey on job hunters

This year, the FTC reported that con artists have fine-tuned their scams to target laid-off workers. They’ve gone so far as to set up fake websites, post phony employment ads and even conduct fake job interviews. It’s all in service of getting personal and financial information out of job seekers.

Social media, however, remains one of the most popular ways criminals find their victims, federal officials say. Social networking sites are a “gold mine” for scammers, the FTC said in 2022, noting that such fraud reports jumped from 5,000 to more than 95,000 in the five years ending in 2021. More than 1 in 4 people who reported losing money to fraud in 2021 said the scams started on social media, it added.

Con artists are increasingly preying on people looking for love online — a type of fraud that has skyrocketed in recent years. Such “romance scams” are perpetrated by criminals who post phony profiles with pictures of attractive people designed to lure in victims.

To avoid being the victim of a scam online, the FTC says:

  • Never send money to someone you haven’t met in person.
  • Restrict social media accounts so only friends and family can communicate with you and see your posts.
  • Check out a company before buying. Is it legitimate? Have there been scam reports?

Jackson, the prosecutor, says prevention can save people from the devastation of losing money by fraud. He remembers vainly trying to help the woman who drove to the North Carolina diner.

“That money just disappeared,” Jackson says. “We don’t have the identity of the person who was there at the diner. And there’s no paper trail to follow.”

For more on fraud, visit the AARP Fraud Watch Network at, or call 877-908-3360.

Sheila Burke is a writer living in Nashville.

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