Understanding Influencer Scams: 9 Red Flags and How to Spot Them

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As the influencer landscape continues to flourish, so too do the opportunities for bad actors to prey on the trust and aspirations of social media users and budding content creators. Sometimes, these influencer scams are so obvious it’s almost laughable. Other times, the devil is truly in the details. 
In this blog, we’ll show you some common scams to be on the lookout for and some red flags to help identify them. With these tools, you’ll be much better equipped to separate fiction from reality and avoid any setbacks to your finances, reputation—or even just your ego.  

What are influencer scams?

Influencer scams involve deceptive practices where malicious individuals or entities prey on social media users. Anyone can be the target of an influencer scam, but these bad actors most commonly prey on smaller creators within the influencer community.

What kind of influencer scams are out there?

There are no limits to the type of schemes these scammers can cook up. However, there are a few common types of influencer scams to be on the lookout for:

Collaboration scams and fake sponsorships

Sometimes scammers posing as a brand or influencer will reach out to smaller creators pretending to be interested in collaborating. They may then request payment for “collaboration fees” (not a real thing), promising exposure or growth only to disappear after receiving the money.

@theperfumedon

$10,000 a month isn’t crazy. However, if they have an ask for any analytics and they haven’t build a relationship with you at all and they were just randomly offering that amount it’s weird run. #microinfluencertips#microinfluencer#influencertips

♬ original sound – PerfumeDon | Midwest Creator

Phishing scams

Phishing refers to scammers’ fraudulent attempts to get sensitive information or money from you by posing as a source you trust. This is a common tactic via email and social media. But sophisticated scammers may reach out via text, WhatsApp, or messengers like Telegram.

Feel like you may have been approached by a GRIN imposer? Here’s what to do.

False promotion services

Scammers often pose as influencers offering promotional services or “coaching” to smaller creators. Typically, this involves claims to boost the victim’s follower count or engagement. After receiving payment, the scammers bolt.

Money in exchange for post or video likes

Some influencer scams involve an individual—posing as a reputable company or person—reaching out to social media users promising cash payments in exchange for linking TikTok or YouTube videos. Typically, this kind of “opportunity” will require some sort of upfront deposit from the victim which the scammer will then pocket and disappear.  

Stolen content and impersonation

Bad actors might steal content (social media photos, videos, and so forth) and create fake profiles to deceive followers.  

What do I do if someone steals my content?

If someone steals your content, reach out to the platform where it exists right away (Instagram, TikTok, etc.). Take plenty of screenshots to document the evidence, and be as detailed as possible in your report. Also, consider posting on your real account to notify your followers there is a scammer on the loose.

Woman frustrated by influencer scams on her phone

Is it a scam? Here are 9 red flags to watch out for.

1. Requests for upfront payment

Scammers may insist on upfront payments for the aforementioned “collaboration fees.” They will probably even claim such a thing is standard practice (it is not).
Authentic collaborations involve clear terms and payment agreements. Most of the time, payments will be processed after the agreed-upon services have been delivered.
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2. ‘To good to be true’ offers

Does the offer seem too good to be true? Then it probably is. Exaggerated promises of rapid growth, huge exposure, or unrealistically high payment amounts should set off your alarm bells. 

3. Poorly written or generic communication

Not everyone is a wordsmith. But scammers will often contact you with laughably bad outreach—almost as if it is coming straight from an online translator. Legit brands and influencers will maintain clear and professional communication even if their language is pretty casual.
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4. Lack of online presence

Be wary of brands and influencers without much online footprint. Check for a website or social media profile. Scammers often have limited or inconsistent presences, with a lack of genuine engagement. 

5. Pressure tactics

Legitimate brands and creators won’t pressure you into taking an action. If there is ever a sense of urgency to secure a collaboration or payment quickly, it’s best to back off. Real opportunities allow for thoughtful consideration and discussion. 

6. Requests for sensitive information

Reject requests for sensitive information like personal details, bank account information, or login credentials. Legit collaborations shouldn’t require any of that. 

7. Inconsistent branding

Look for mismatched logos or poorly designed materials. Scammers usually can’t be bothered to invest the time and effort necessary to maintain a cohesive brand image. 

8. Lack of clear terms and agreements

Legitimate collaborations involve clear terms and agreements outlining deliverables, timelines, and compensation. Ask for more information if these details are vague or unclear. Be very cautious If the person you’re speaking with seems unwilling to elaborate.
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9. Sudden changes in agreement terms

Watch out for sudden changes in collaboration terms or requests for additional payments after an agreement has been made. Legitimate collaborations maintain transparency and honor agreed-upon terms.

What you can do to make sure everything is legit: a checklist

You’ve had someone reach out to you about a collaboration. It seems like it could be legit, but you have some concerns. Here are the steps you can follow to ensure everything checks out before you proceed. 

  1. Google the brand or individual. Examine the potential collaborator’s social media profiles, website, and other online platforms. You’re looking for consistent branding and a well-maintained online presence. 
  2. Look at followers and engagement. Be wary of accounts that follow a lot more people than follow them. A high follower count and super low engagement is also a red flag.   
  3. Verify contact information. Make sure any contact information provided (including the one they’re reaching out on) aligns with information available on their official platforms. 
  4. Search for news and scam alerts. Sometimes you can just Google [name of the person or entity reaching out] + scam and relevant results will populate. 
  5. Ask for references. Check their collaboration history or ask for references from creators who have worked with them previously.  
  6. Ask for a detailed agreement. Get something in writing that details deliverables, timelines, compensation, etc. A legit collaborator should be willing to provide clear terms. 
  7. Request a video call. If you get through all these steps and you’re still skeptical, ask for a video call. Scammers usually aren’t willing to show their faces. 

Key takeaway: Stay vigilant to avoid influencer scams. 

Follow the outlined steps, but trust your instincts above all else. It can be tempting, especially as a new creator, to jump at an opportunity for collaboration. Unfortunately, many scammers are eager to take advantage of this vulnerability. Be your authentic self, and the right collaboration will come your way. In the meantime, take every step you can to protect yourself from bad actors online.  

Updated: January 2024

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Written by Quinn Schwartz

Quinn studied journalism at the University of Kentucky and now lives in Portland, Oregon. He’s particularly interested in storytelling in digital marketing and cost-effective creator strategies for smaller brands. When he’s not writing, you can find him at a concert, dog park, or debating whether or not to go on a run.

All-in-one creator management platform helping ecommerce companies build more valuable brands through the power of creator partnerships.

© Grin Technologies Inc. 2022. All rights reserved.

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