Social media users are paying up to £2,000 to regain access to hacked accounts, the police have warned as figures show that reported scams almost doubled during the pandemic.

The City of London Police’s National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) said more than £4 million was lost by people and businesses as a result of hacked social media accounts over the past year.

Reports of social media fraud also rocketed by 88 per cent to more than 15,000 in the 12 months from February.

Social media fraud often entails scammers breaking into and taking over people’s accounts by sending them “phishing” messages with links that contain malware. Fraudsters then either used the hacked accounts to send scam messages to the victim’s friends and followers or sensitive personal material to blackmail the target.

The NFIB said hacked Facebook accounts were most commonly used to send fraudulent messages, whereas Instagram and Snapchat accounts were often used for “sextortion” by threatening to publish their intimate images.

The police said almost a quarter of the victims were between the ages of 21 and 29. The figures showed that the bulk of the money lost to social media fraudsters, £3.8 million, was in the 1,741 incidents reported by business and charities, compared to £283,500 lost in the 13,473 reports from individuals.

However, police warned victims were often forced into paying large sums to regain control of their accounts, with one paying over £2,000 to get their social media and email profiles back.

Supt Sanjay Andersen, head of the NFIB, suggested having “two-factor authentication enabled. Not only will it prevent hackers accessing your accounts even if they have your password, but it will also keep your valuable information out of the hands of criminals”.


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