There was a time when an online scam was easy to spot: there would be a Nigerian prince, and the promise of a fortune, and an email address that was just a long string of numbers. Now, though, things have got a little more sophisticated.
One such scam that recently made the news targeted travel photographers and Instagram influencers. They claim to have received a personalised, and legitimate-looking, invitation to work on a luxurious Indonesian campaign for Wendi Murdoch. When they flew to Indonesia, they were forced to pay thousands of dollars upfront for various nonexistent permits, and never heard from “Wendi” again.
It is by no means an isolated case. As the internet has grown more sophisticated, so too has the level of scammery. Just look at the disaster that was the Fyre festival, for instance. The company behind the proposed music festival in the Bahamas managed to prise piles of money from people by offering the promise of an influencer lifestyle. The festival was meant to be luxurious and exclusive. People signed up to it in their droves, only to discover miserable accommodation, barely any food and what some have described as a Lord of the Flies mentality. Fyre’s co-creator Billy McFarland was given six years in prison after he admitted fraud, although he insisted he had intended to organise a legitimate festival.
But don’t feel too sorry for the influencers, because many of them are just as bad. Last June, Unilever expressed dismay at the murkiness of the influencer economy. Theoretically it’s a simple transaction: you pay money (ranging from hundreds to millions of pounds) to someone with a popular Instagram account, and they leverage their idyllic, aspirational lifestyle to push a brand to their army of followers. Except the scene is awash with fake followers, bought by some influencers specifically to bump up their fees. In 2017 anti-fraud company Swap Ops discovered that posts tagged #sponsored or #ad contained more than 50% fake engagements.
And then there’s Caroline Calloway, the 26-year-old blogger with 831,000 Instagram followers who recently organised a $165-a-head “creativity workshop” tour that quickly ran into disrepair. Tickets were sold before venues were booked. Catering fell through, so Calloway asked ticketholders to bring a packed lunch. The shows that did take place were widely ridiculed, and in the end Calloway was forced to cancel the tour and issue full refunds.
The thing all these all have in common? They all promise untold, unearned luxury, and people fall head over heels for them. There are still plenty of Nigerian princes around, but now they all have Instagram accounts.
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By The Guardian