Content fraud levels continue to rise in 2021

The pandemic has ushered in a new level of scams and misinformation

Content fraud levels that spiked at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic aren't dropping off as the world recovers. In fact, they're getting worse, according to a report released today by fraud prevention company Sift. 

The company analyzed content that it blocked on over 34,000 websites, including forums, marketplaces, and social media channels. It found that while fraudulent content spiked by 77% in Q1 last year, just as the pandemic took hold, it did not revert this quarter. Year-on-year figures for Q1 2021 show the average rate of fraudulent content it blocked rose another 18%. 

The continuing rise in online fraud stems in part from changing commerce patterns as transactions move online, the company said in its report. This has accelerated as retailers and other businesses find ways to survive during the pandemic. 

Sift, which also polled adults nationwide in May, found that 59.4% of blocked posts attempted to scam users, while 22.2% were marked “irrelevant.” Almost one in five (18.3%) posts were labeled toxic, meaning they harassed other users and often contained hate speech. 

User-generated content has become a go-to method for defrauding consumers, the company warned, as criminals use various online channels to post scam content. The fraud ranges from romance and employment scams to fake marketplace listings and artificially boosted reviews. 

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Social media channels were the most popular avenue for content fraud, as 61% of respondents ranked it highly. Next came online classifieds at 28%, dating sites at 24%, marketplaces at 21%, and crowdfunding sites at 15%. These figures also include misinformation, such as anti-vaccination conspiracy theories. 

Over a quarter of respondents said they have run across fraudulent content at least weekly. The types of fraudulent content encountered most frequently were spam and scam at around 50% each. Misinformation was a close third at 43%. 

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