Beware of consumer problems caused by social media! Not only teens but also middle-aged and senior adults get involved in
In line with the growth of social media users, local consumer affairs centers and the like across Japan have received an annually increasing number of inquiries about problems caused by social media. While the annual number of such inquiries was 3143 in FY2010, the number in FY2019 through the end of February 2020 was 19251, about six-fold compared to that in FY2010. An age breakdown shows that problems faced by consumers aged 50 or more sharply increased, over 30-fold growth. Not only teenagers but also middle-aged and senior adults are becoming more prone to problems caused by social media. There are three types of problems faced by individual age groups: (1) problems triggered by seeing social media ads; (2) problems stemmed from solicitation by a social media acquaintance; (3) problems in personal transactions with a social media acquaintance.
Diagram: Number of social media related inquiries registered with PIO-NET*
The number in the same month in FY2018 (data at the end of February 2019) was 14,160.
- * PIO-NET is a database that collects information on inquiries concerning consumer affairs by linking NCAC with local consumer affairs centers and similar organizations across Japan via an online network. The above data shows the number of inquiries registered with PIO-NET through the end of February 2020. Inquiries referred to NCAC are not included.
Sampling of inquiries and complaints
- [Case1] An ad said, "Ten applicants will be given 1,200,000 yen". Actually, applicants were supposed to apply for an automated FX trading app.
- I saw a free gift offer on social media which said, "10,000 yen will be offered to the first 2,000 applicants. Of these, 10 applicants will be given 1,200,000 yen." I applied for it and later I received a message "You won 1,200,000 yen." I thought the money would be given in cash, but actually applicants were supposed to apply for an automated FX trading app worth 1,200,000 yen. I was told to wait for a while because already 7,000 persons were on a waiting list. I was also induced to install a free trial app and I did so. I didn't know much about the mechanism, but 10,000 yen was charged to the app every day. Then I thought it would be possible to earn 300,000 yen in a month.
At a later date, a URL was sent to me through social media. When I accessed the URL, I was suddenly demanded to pay about 100,000 yen for security. The screen showed a message "Final call for entries! Make payment by tomorrow," so I hurried into paying it with a credit card. I haven't downloaded the app, so I want to cancel the contract.
Problems triggered by seeing social media ads
- Seeing a social media ad, I decided to buy a health food product just once. Later I found that the contract I made was for regular purchase.
- I passed an audition advertised on social media. Later I was persistently persuaded to make a contract for an expensive training course, and finally I did so.
- Seeing a social media ad, I booked a hair removal service at a beauty salon. The availability and the treatment duration are different from the ad.
Problems stemmed from solicitation by a social media acquaintance
- I received a message "Are you interested in becoming an apparel buyer?" and I signed a contract for resale business. In fact, I can't earn money from reselling apparel products.
- I exchanged messages with a woman through social media. I have spent 3,700,000 yen for communication so far, but I can't meet her in person.
Problems in personal transactions with a social media acquaintance
- Seeing a message "I will hand over a ticket," I decided to buy the ticket and paid for it. However, the ticket has not been delivered to me yet.
- Through social media I requested purchase of goods sold at a concert venue and transmitted money. However, the goods have not been delivered to me yet.
Advice for consumers
While social media are useful communication tools, users may unexpectedly get involved in trouble. In order to use social media safely, recognize risks in using social media and remember the following tips.
- Carefully determine if your social media acquaintance is trustworthy or not.
- Don't blindly accept big discounts or messages saying "It's surely profitable."
- Talk with family members about how social media should be used. Parental control and filtering options are useful.
- Never disclose information on identification cards. Refrain from posting personal information, your photos and any other identifying information.
- In case of trouble or concern, consult your local consumer affairs center right away.