There are a lot of new brand partner scams on Instagram, and scams on Instagram of fake brands looking for influencers with small followings. If you’re looking for how to protect yourself online or how to protect your children from social media scams, I hope this article adds to your awareness and helps keep you safe from online scammers in some small way.
So I finally signed up for Instagram recently. I posted one pic of my baby and the next thing I knew, I was getting these super-flattering comments about how cute he was and how he had been “spotted” by a “talent spotter” acting on behalf of a brand (there were a few different brands that all said this).
They all said I had to follow the “main account” linked from the commenter’s Insta bio, and then I had to DM the “main account” and tell them who referred me.
I responded positively to the first one; I wanted to get further along in the process (the investigative reporter in me) and as soon as I did, Instagram started showing me boatloads of adverts from “brands” looking for “influencers”.
Let’s be brutally honest (sorry), if you have 100-ish followers on Instagram (as my account has), or any other platform, it’s stretching the imagination to think a brand might want you to represent them on that specific platform. However, let’s assume that they do, because stranger things have happened (like the company that wanted to send me squirrel eyelash strips to review for this blog… ick, and they totally missed the point of my blog, which is that I curate the content and my opinion is not for sale).
Let’s assume, for the sake of progressing this article, that these are real companies who have seen my Youtube channel or checked the Alexa ranking of my blog and decided that was sufficient platform to follow me.
The instructions said to DM (send a direct message to) their main account. So I looked at their account and saw a website.
I visited the website and saw a lot of very expensive-looking baby clothes in what was allegedly a boutique. Having lived in China, I was more than a little suspicious, especially of the fact the website was a .ca domain, which raised the question of why they’d want an Irish Instagrammer to spread the word about their products.
The site looked legit so I replied the next day saying I had been referred by a certain person and I got a very long response. They basically said I could have 50% discount on any clothes in the store, and that I would then have a discount code of 25% to give to my followers if they bought anything in the store.
This seems great until you realize that you, dear Instagrammer or other social media user, are the customer. The clothes on the sites running these kind of operations are very overpriced so you think you got a great deal, but it’s basically a new and insidious form of MLM (multi-level marketing). Sales from people using your referral code are icing on the cake, you are the main consumer.
It is obviously very flattering to be “spotted” on social media, especially if you have a small following, which is why these fraudsters target people with a small following. And some people (usually those working for an MLM scheme) will argue that, if you chose the items, it’s not a scam.
But it is. Because if you are buying the items on false pretences, and if you weren’t already in the market for those exact items, at that exact price point, then you have been scammed. Instagrammers have been sold expensive clothes and other products under false pretences. Sometimes, they are using money they didn’t have, or borrowing money from a parent or someone else, in the hope that this is their big break that will lead to them living the high-income influencer lifestyle they crave. I know many beauty bloggers and fashion bloggers can end up spending a lot of money trying to keep up with trends in the hope of getting noticed, especially when they are starting out.
And that’s why this is a problem.
If you are asked to partner with a brand, or contacted about any kind of brand partnership, please, please, please do your research. Be sure that you wanted the products you bought, and could afford them, even if you get zero likes on your posts for the brand, and even if you don’t gain the additional followers they’ve claimed you’ll get.
It’s not a discount if no customer anywhere actually pays the “full” price.
In addition, I’d be leery about shopping online from a link you clicked on Instagram. Open a separate browser tab and type the address in manually. Browsers have layers of protection that spot some (not all) scams such as phishing (stealing your details to spend your money later or take out loans in your name). If the URL of the payment screen doesn’t match the URL of the site alleged to belong to the Instagram business, then it’s a scam. If possible, use Paypal as then the store doesn’t get your full credit/debit card details. If you can’t use Paypal, a prepaid debit card like the Vanilla One Visa or Vanilla One Mastercard are a good choice as you can add $20 of credit and if a scammer tries to use it, there won’t be any more money for them to take.
This is part of a series on online Influencer scams, I am also going to write about a couple of recent email scams I received, which is also something to be aware of, especially if you YouTube.
Tips to keep safe on Instagram:
- Don’t give anyone your personal details even in a DM.
- Don’t give any company your bank details. EVER.
- Don’t use your personal email address for your business, that way if it gets hacked you don’t get your Paypal account emptied or other similar issues.
- Always pay via Paypal, Alipay, WePay or another official, well-known payment platform if possible. Avoid paying unfamiliar companies with your credit card.
- Check if they have set up a recurring payment instead of taking a one-off payment. In Paypal you can search their help pages for instructions on how to do this.
- Don’t use your real name or date of birth publicly online. This used to be standard in the nineties but these days (thanks to Facebook’s creepy expectation that all your personal data should be out there on their servers) people think it’s normal to use their real name and other personal details for blogging and social media. It’s not, and it’s not safe. If you use a diminutive of your name, or a fake name (such as Mama Adventure), you will know where someone got your details from right away. The Sun (a UK newspaper) once hacked my details from the info I used to register this blog and they actually doorstepped me (waited on my doorstep until I talked to them) over an article I wrote on this blog about a popular issue that week. I also got a barrage of phone calls from TV channels and other big publications. People can find you no matter how many privacy settings you have in place and most companies have no respect for the GDPR; the only way to be safe online is to never use your real details.
- If you’re under 18, tell a trusted adult or get them to double check if you are asked to partner with a brand. Choose your adult wisely, some of them are lacking in critical sense (see also: stage door moms).
- Don’t give a company your name, address and credit card details via an online store from a link you clicked on Instagram. It is really, really easy to disguise a link or use a “redirect” to make a link look safe when it isn’t, and your anti-virus software only *thinks* it can protect you from this.
- Remember these scammers are nothing to do with Instagram or other social media sites, they do not represent Instagram or other social media sites, and these people are just using that platform to separate you from your money.
- Know your rights. Look up your buyer rights in your country, and remember you have buyer protection and you can do a chargeback on your debit card or credit card if necessary.
- Check how long a company has been in business. If they only launched recently, there’s a chance they are regularly changing their website name to avoid angry customers suing them.
Have you been the victim of a social media scam? Let me know in the comments.