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Con Artists Are Impersonating Celebrities

Did you receive a tweet from Oprah Winfrey trying to sell you tickets to one of her shows? Or see a post from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in your Facebook News Feed?  The one where he promises a chance to win piles of cash, expensive cars, and/or other valuables. The person behind the account will ask for various amounts of money or gift cards. It seems real: after all the post came from his real profile, uses his name and has The Rock’s photo.

Neither of these messages is from Oprah, nor Dwayne Johnson. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), imposter scams come in many varieties, but they all work the same way: a scammer pretends to be someone you trust to convince you to send them money.

Fake accounts
It’s true that some celebrities interact with fans more frequently than others. However, in recent months, more fans are being fleeced by fake celebrity social media sites—fraudulent accounts are often used for phishing and even blackmail. Facebook spent much of 2018 shutting down more than one billion fake and fraudulent accounts.

“Impostor scams was the number one fraud for the FTC last year,” said Todd Kossow of the FTC.

Bogus endorsements
Are you more persuaded to buy a product just because it was endorsed by a celebrity? Many businesses think so, and more and more unscrupulous companies are posting fake testimonials—using celebrities’ names and photos without their knowledge.

A recent study by the Better Business Bureau (BBB) found that “many of the celebrity endorsements in these ads are fake. Dozens of celebrity names are used by these frauds without their knowledge or permission, ranging from Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres to Mike Rowe, Tim Allen and Sally Field. Sometimes the fine print even admits these endorsements are not real.”

Another method used by fakes is to request a donation to a charity or cause. In a recent case, e-mails purportedly sent by rapper Cardi B solicited money toward autism research. The scammers used an e-mail address that featured her name, but the request was full of typos and punctuation errors.

The FTC warns consumers to beware of fake celebrity scams. “Some celebs do raise money for legitimate causes. But you want to be sure the cause—and the person asking you to support it—are real.”

Here are some signs to look out for when trying to spot a social media celeb scam and how to protect yourself:

Gift cards payment: This is the payment method of choice for many swindlers. The reason why criminals ask for gift cards is simple: The codes are hard to trace—and once they have it they can resell to get money.

Be an online sleuth: If you’ve been contacted by a celebrity, search online for their name plus “scam” to check if there were other instances of duplicity. You can search for the charity name or cause here. Also, check their social media accounts. Often celebrities are outspoken about fake ads that “borrowed” their names.

Look for a verified badge: For easy identification, authentic pages or profiles of celebrities or public figures are marked with a blue checkmark on Facebook and Twitter.  Here’s how to identify authenticity on other social media.

Getting help
In the event you feel you’ve been scammed by a purported celebrity, or someone attempted to scam you, file a complaint:

Resources: Federal Trade Commission, Better Business Bureau, Charity Navigator, Newsweek