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Scammers find a way to worm their way into just about anything. Unfortunately, influencer marketing isn’t exempt. Fake brands, counterfeit products, fraudulent investment schemes and cybercrime plague social media. Instagram scams cost brands, influencers and consumers big bucks in the United States and around the globe. 

Research shows that influencer marketing fraud costs brands more than a billion dollars every year — $1.3 billion in 2019 alone. Data also suggests that 15 percent or more of advertiser spending is lost to fraud every year. For influencers, Instagram scams can cost them lucrative social media gigs in addition to having a deep impact on their following and their reputations. To help you better protect yourself from Instagram scams, we’ve rounded up some of the most common scenarios and red flags to watch out for.

Slide Into the DMs: When a Direct Message is Really a Questionable Offer

Brands have to watch out for influencers with fake followers. Influencers have to keep an eye out for fake brands. As an influencer, your integrity is everything. But a single scam can seriously damage your personal brand. Along with fake brands come fake products. Recent research suggests that up to 20 percent of Instagram’s fashion product posts feature counterfeit knockoffs.

Counterfeit fashions and knockoff goods cost nearly $2 trillion every year. Beyond product quality, there’s also a concern that fake brands could have more nefarious intentions. For example, in 2017, a study revealed that nearly 50,000 accounts were actually headed by Islamic State supporters. Their real purpose was to spread propaganda. 

Red Flags

Fake brands try to use your credibility to pull one over on consumers. Safeguard your reputation by keeping your eye out for situations like these: 

  • They slide into your DMs or comment on a picture asking you to DM them. Bots typically send out bulk messages, but legitimate brands almost always communicate via email. 
  • The brand isn’t engaged with you or following you.
  • You aren’t able to find any information about them online and the brand isn’t upfront when you ask questions for more details.
  • They don’t communicate from the official brand email or they don’t provide credentials.
  • Communication is filled with overly cutesy language that lacks a professional tone.

Protect Yourself

Research, research, research. Do your due diligence to make sure brands are legitimate before you agree to collaborate. Better yet, leverage the power of IZEA’s innovative platform for influencers, which connects you with industry leaders and helps those brands find you.

Show Me the Money: The Instagram Scam That Doesn’t Pay You 

If you’re a seasoned influencer, an offer to promote products without set compensation may not faze you. But if you’re just starting out, you might be tempted to take any offer. For many newer influencers, offers that pay you in exposure or require YOU to buy pricey products before promoting them wouldn’t be cause for alarm. 

Last year, a variety of influencers got scammed by a company that promised them payment in the amount of $525. They just had to buy the product at a discount. The influencers checked out the website, which was basic but clean. The brand had more than 12,000 Instagram followers and many positive comments on each of its posts.

Seems like it checks out, right? Well, seven influencers paid for the product and delivered images and content to the brand only to be completed ghosted. Nothing new was posted to the brand’s Instagram page and comments were disabled. Because they only paid around $50 for the product, the influencers decided against taking action. 

Red Flags

In that example, the brand made money on the sales without having to pay for anything — a perfect example of this scam in action. What should you watch out for?

  • The brand is asking you to pay for products. Affiliate programs often require affiliates to buy products to demo and then earn sales commissions from. But legitimate brands offer payment or free products. 
  • The brand offers to pay you in exposure. Again, legitimate offers would at least provide you with free products, if not payment. You might have seen the headlines about Pink Lily’s decision to offer smaller influencers the option to partner in exchange for small commissions and exposure. There’s been massive pushback. Because you shouldn’t ever work for free or for an unclear, vague payout. 
  • Brands ask you to buy very expensive products as part of a “charity” campaign. They claim the proceeds go to the charity. (Hint: It doesn’t)

Protect Yourself

There are steps you can take to avoid falling for these types of Instagram scams. For example:

  • Get it in writing. Contracts protect both you and the brand you’re working with.
  • Research the brand, keeping a close eye out for other influencers who’ve possibly been duped in the past.
  • Ask lots of questions. In many cases, scammers will become evasive or disappear entirely when you press for more information. 

You’ve Been Hacked: Instagram Scammers Pretending to Be You

Everyone thinks, “It could happen… but it won’t happen to me.” But it can. In fact, it’s happening more and more by hackers who are getting more sophisticated and tricky in their workarounds. 

For example, one influencer had her account hacked by Ukranian extortionists despite taking safety measures. She regularly took a few precautions, including periodically changing her password and using two-step verification for logging into Instagram. But when she received an email from a brand asking about her rates for a possible collaboration on Instagram, neither protection saved her account.

The hackers were using a real brand name and Instagram handle in the email, making it appear legit. The influencer clicked the link to the brand’s Instagram page and responded with her rates. She was never asked to log into her account because she was already logged into Instagram. And that’s all it took — she realized her mistake quickly but it was too late. When she raced to change her password, she was already logged out and none of her credentials were associated with the account anymore.

Red Flags

Later, the influencer re-reviewed the fateful email that set everything in motion. She noticed three red flags that she should have heeded:

  • The sender’s email address was an odd name and personal gmail address, not a brand or corporate email
  • The Instagram link’s format was atypical
  • The screenshot looked legit, but if she had taken time to hover over the URL she would have noticed that it was a phishing link

Protect Yourself

You’ve built up trust and credibility with your followers. That’s something that hackers desperately want. If they’re able to take your account over, they get access to those trusting followers. How can you protect yourself?

  • Watch out for emails and other communications with red flags
  • Use strong passwords and multi-layer authentication 
  • Consider using a VPN and encrypting your data
  • Be aware of recent threats and suspicious activity
  • Remain careful about what you share by protecting any personal info

When you know what to watch out for, you can keep yourself and your Instagram account safer. Staying on top of the latest threats and scams is important. So is making sure you work with legitimate brands and collaborate on goods and services you can feel good about recommending to your followers. 

Avoid unwittingly partnering with Instagram scammers by leveraging the benefits of connecting with brands through IZEAx. This innovative platform makes connecting with leading brands fast and simple, allowing you the peace of mind you need to create great content. Better yet, it protects influencers and brands alike, providing more freedom from fraud.