Officials Report Meta Abandons Hacking Victims, Further Straining Law Enforcement Resources

Dell Cameron

Forty-one state attorneys general penned a letter to Meta’s top attorney on Wednesday saying complaints are skyrocketing across the United States about Facebook and Instagram user accounts being stolen, and declaring “immediate action” necessary to mitigate the rolling threat.

The coalition of top law enforcement officials, spearheaded by New York attorney general Letitia James, says the “dramatic and persistent spike” in complaints concerning account takeovers amounts to a “substantial drain” on governmental resources, as many stolen accounts are also tied to financial crimes—some of which allegedly profits Meta directly.

Lily Hay Newman

“We have received a number of complaints of threat actors fraudulently charging thousands of dollars to stored credit cards,” says the letter addressed to Meta’s chief legal officer, Jennifer Newstead. “Furthermore, we have received reports of threat actors buying advertisements to run on Meta.”

“We refuse to operate as the customer service representatives of your company,” the officials add. “Proper investment in response and mitigation is mandatory.”

In addition to New York, the letter is signed by attorneys general from Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming, and the District of Columbia.

“Scammers use every platform available to them and constantly adapt to evade enforcement. We invest heavily in our trained enforcement and review teams and have specialized detection tools to identify compromised accounts and other fraudulent activity,” Meta says in a statement provided by spokesperson Erin McPike. “We regularly share tips and tools people can use to protect themselves, provide a means to report potential violations, work with law enforcement, and take legal action.”

Account takeovers can occur as a result of phishing as well as other more sophisticated and targeted techniques. Once an attacker gains access to an account, the owner can be easily locked out by changing passwords and contact information. Private messages and personal information are left up for grabs for a variety of nefarious purposes, from impersonation and fraud to pushing misinformation.

“It’s basically a case of identity theft and Facebook is doing nothing about it,” said one user whose complaint was cited in the letter to Meta’s Newstead.

The state officials said the accounts that were stolen to run ads on Facebook often run afoul of its rules while doing so, leading them to be permanently suspended, punishing the victims—often small business owners—twice over.

“Having your social media account taken over by a scammer can feel like having someone sneak into your home and change all of the locks,” New York’s James said in a statement. “Social media is how millions of Americans connect with family, friends, and people throughout their communities and the world. To have Meta fail to properly protect users from scammers trying to hijack accounts and lock rightful owners out is unacceptable.”

Andy Greenberg

Caroline Haskins

Matt Simon

Amanda Hoover

Other complaints sent to Newstead reveal hacking victims voicing frustration at Meta’s lack of response. Often, users report the company taking no actions. Some express that the company asks users to report such issues but fails to reply, leaving them stranded from rescuing their accounts or their businesses established there.

One user, defrauded of $500 post-hacking, complained that their means to connect with their clientele had been “completely disrupted”, adding that Meta never responded to their report, although they had adhered to the guidelines provided by the company for assistance.

A user wrote, “I’m unable to get any help from Meta. There is no one available to talk to and in the meantime all my personal photos are being misused. My contacts are getting false information from the hacker.”

Another user articulated, “This is my business account, which holds considerable importance in my life. I have spent my life, time, money, and soul on this account. All efforts to get in touch and acquire a response from Meta company, including Instagram and Facebook, were completely unsuccessful, because the company decidedly ignores letters.”

Figures provided by James’ office in New York show a tenfold increase in complaints between 2019 and 2023—from 73 complaints to more than 780 last year. In January alone, more than 128 complaints were received, James’ office says. Other states saw similar spikes in complaints during that period, according to the letter, with Pennsylvania recording a 270 percent increase, a 330 percent jump in North Carolina, and a 740 percent surge in Vermont.

The letter notes that, while the officials cannot be “certain of any connection,” the drastic increase in complaints occurred “around the same time” as layoffs at Meta affecting roughly 11,000 employees in November 2022, around 13 percent of its staff at the time.

Update 3/6/2024, 11:15 am EST: Added statement from Meta.

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