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Celebrity Impostor Scams

These days, celebrities routinely share career news, personal views, even travel videos on social media and interact with fans in comment threads. But if you get a direct message out of the blue from a favorite musician, actor or athlete, don’t get starry-eyed, get skeptical — it’s almost certainly a scam.

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram teem with bogus celebrity accounts set up to deceive devoted fans. Scammers reach out to the real star’s followers, asking for money under a variety of pretexts: 

  • donations to charity (sometimes for a cause associated with the actual celeb)
  • exclusive tickets to private concerts or meet-and-greets
  • a surefire investment, often a cryptocurrency deal purporting to come from a famous business mogul
  • processing fees for a big prize giveaway
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Another popular tactic is the phony livestream. The impostor account features a video commandeered from a star’s real social feed along with a message promising a cash prize to the first, say, 500 people who comment with a specified phrase or identify something hidden in an optical illusion. Respondents get a direct message asking for a bank account number or other personal data to facilitate a supposed payment.

Any celebrity with a social media presence can have their star power exploited by a scammer. Con artists are especially fond of abusing the bond between country music stars and their fans. Recent callers to the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline report scams name-checking Nashville icons Toby Keith, George Strait, Pam Tillis, Clint Black, Sara Evans and Travis Tritt, among others.

Impostors often seek targets by trawling comments on a fan page and responding with a personal message supposedly from the star. For example, if you post “I love you, Blake Shelton!” on the singer’s real Facebook or Instagram page, you might hear back from something like #SecretBlakeSheltonacct. The Blake impostor will say he’s flattered, values your fandom and would love to meet you ... if you first donate to his charity.

Fortunately, it’s not difficult to spot sham stars and counterfeit accounts if you know the red flags.

Warning Signs

  • A social media post or direct message from a seemingly celebrity-affiliated account solicits money for a charitable donation or another purpose or promises a big prize if you respond.
  • The message asks for payment by gift card, prepaid debit card or wire transfer.
  • The account lacks a blue checkmark (indicating it has been verified as genuine by the social network) and has little activity and few followers.
  • The account holder’s name is spelled wrong, like “Jeniffer Lopez,” or has unusual punctuation, such as “Will.Smith.TV.”

Scam Tracking Map

No matter where you live, fraud is never far away. Report a scam or search for existing scams near you.

    

 

How to protect yourself from this scam

  • Do look for the blue checkmark on celebrity social media accounts. If there’s no checkmark, it’s an impostor.
  • Do Google the celebrity’s name with the word “scam” to see if it has been connected to impostor schemes.
  • Do report online celebrity impersonators to the relevant social network. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have procedures for reporting bogus accounts.
  • Don’t give personal information or send money via gift card, wire transfer, prepaid debit card or peer-to-peer payment app to someone you don’t know and have only communicated with online, no matter how supposedly famous.
  • Don’t engage with a supposed celebrity on an unverified social media account, even if they don’t initially ask for money.
  • Don’t believe claims about why a purported celebrity account lacks a verification mark or has an unusual handle — for example, that it’s a private account the star keeps secret from management.

More Resources

 

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