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Meta urged by US states to combat Facebook, Instagram account hijackings

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Forty U.S. states and Washington, D.C. called on Meta Platforms to crack down on scammers who hijack Facebook and Instagram accounts, to address a "dramatic" surge in account takeovers.

In a letter to Meta's chief lawyer, states led by New York Attorney General Letitia James said fraudsters are "winning the war and running rampant on Meta," after the company in November 2022 announced thousands of job cuts focused on security and privacy.

The states said New York has since 2019 received a 1,000% increase in complaints about scammers who access accounts and change passwords, enabling them to read private messages and pose as actual users to deceive contacts and the public.

Four of the states -- Illinois, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Vermont -- reported increases in complaints exceeding 250% in the last year alone.

"Social media is how millions of Americans connect," James said in a statement. "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."

The states urged Meta to spend more money to prevent account takeovers, including through increased staffing, and to work more closely with people whose accounts are hacked.

In an emailed statement, a Meta spokeswoman said the Menlo Park, California-based company invests "heavily" in technology and staffing to identify compromised accounts, and shares tips with users and law enforcement to address the problem.

Also signing the letter were Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

In October, 41 states and Washington, D.C. sued Meta, claiming the company designed its platforms to addict children, damaging their mental health.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Bill Berkrot)