The popularity of social media influencers continues to rise throughout the years as social media apps become more popular with young adults and teenagers. These influencers are usually good-looking models trying to inspire their audience to workout, eat healthier, and usually try to spread positive messages. However, scammers see these profiles as money-grabbers as they screenshot each picture on Instagram, crop them, and try to become these people. They then lure their victims in using attractive pictures of models, and the victims fall in love with them thinking that they are talking to the real deal. Once they lose their money, the victim is often left wondering how they could’ve fallen for such a thing.
It’s So Easy to Pretend to Be the Person Behind the Stolen Photos on a Fake Account
There are millions of fake accounts on various social media platforms. On Facebook, there are an estimated 60 million fake accounts that account for 2-3% of profiles on their platform. On Twitter, there is a whopping 48 million fake accounts which account for 9-15% of all their accounts. On Instagram, 8% of their accounts are fake with 24 million fake accounts created.
It is also super cheap to buy a fake account, meaning anyone can successfully pretend to be anyone they want. It only costs $3-$8 to purchase 1,000 followers for your fraudulent account to make it look like you’re a legit person! If you want likes on a post so that you can give your victim the impression that you’re the person behind those photos, it only costs $4-$9 per 1,000 likes.
Because it is so easy to look like a legit account, scammers are able to get away with looking like a real person to their victims. This allows them to gain the victims’ trust faster and steal their money quicker. With the coronavirus spreading around the world, many people are forced to stay home. Scammers know that they can take advantage of more single people who are looking to date out of boredom because of the coronavirus quarantine.
How the Coronavirus Caused a Rise in Fake Profiles Created Using Stolen Pictures From Social Media Influencers
Out of 130 social media influencers on the Social Catfish Facebook page, 112 people have said there has been an uptick of people contacting them letting them know about the fake profiles created using their images. Only 18 people have said that they haven’t seen an increase of people contacting them about false profiles using their images. This means that 86% of people have said that there has been an increase in fake profiles created, while 14% of people disagree.
The uptick in scamming could possibly correlate to how many people are bored while staying at home quarantining due to the coronavirus. People are looking for something to do, and single people are especially bored since they don’t have a significant other to keep them company during the stay-at-home orders. Because of this, many of them have been rushing into online relationships and have been lured in by the scammers who use pictures stolen from online influencers’ profiles. They fall in love with these scammers quickly, trusting in them way too fast. This makes them an easy target for scammers to empty their victims’ bank accounts into their wallets.
Who Are Some Popular Social Media Influencers That Have Had Their Pictures Stolen?
Tom Ernsting is a model and actor who has many Instagram followers. His profile shows countless pictures of him modeling and working out, which has drawn many people’s attention toward how good-looking he is. Because of this, scammers have targeted him countless times, stealing many of his pictures and creating thousands of fake profiles.
Ernsting receives about 10-15 messages a day from victims yelling at him for abandoning them, and one even accused him of leaving her at the altar. There are even some people who have asked him if he’s the real Tom Ernsting or just another scammer trying to talk to them.
“I believe COVID-19 has increased the number of catfishing scams due to people having more free time on their hands. Not only to make up the fake profiles but also to be the person being scammed who spends more time on the Internet and is probably more desperate for attention than they typically are,” he stated.
While Ernsting took it as a compliment at first, but now he just feels responsible for educating victims on what these scammers have done to them using his images. He usually confirms to them that he is the real profile and tries to reassure the victims that they were indeed in a relationship with a scammer.
Terry Sorrells is an active-duty first sergeant logistics specialist in the army who is a brand ambassador for Military Fresh. He is an influencer to his many Instagram followers, which has also made him famous in the Catfishing world. Scammers have made thousands of fake profiles based on Terry’s photos, targeting thousands of women’s wallets and even some gay men’s wallets. We estimated that $1,000,000 was made off of the fake profiles scamming these innocent victims.
Scammers use military men’s profiles all the time when they create fake profiles. This allows for the scammer to pretend they are deployed in another country so that the women they are talking to never ask to meet in person. They also know that a lot of women are attracted to and go after military men, meaning that women will rarely say “no” when it comes to giving them a chance at online dating.
Terry’s advice to those who are looking into online dating is to pay attention to the story the scammer tells you. A military man is able to call you and video chat with you using their cell phones. They have access to Wi-Fi and the military pays for them to get deployed to wherever the military says. If someone is telling you otherwise, then they aren’t really in the military and are just looking to catfish you.
Alessandro Cinquini is a social media influencer on Instagram and a first officer for Carnival Cruise Lines. He got popular on social media for posting photos of him traveling across the world as he worked for the cruise line. As he gained 10,000 followers, scammers started to steal his photos and pretended to be him as they lured girls into their scam trap.
Since then, he’s gotten thousands of messages a year averaging to about 5-10 messages a day from girls who have been tricked with his photos. There have been girls simply letting him know that his images were being used, and others that have accused him of being a scammer himself.
He’s seen about 10 new accounts with his images on the profiles created a day. He tries to report them, but they keep on popping up on Instagram. He’s almost had his account blocked by scammers, but Scam Haters United has stepped in and helped him get his account back.
“I strongly believe that COVID-19 had people be more focused on the social media world since it was the only possible way to socialize. Scammers are very organized and they have actually been helped by COVID-19. I would like social media providers to warn users about the possible online catfish, especially on dating sites and Instagram. Lastly, those personalities that are very used to scammers should be recognized with a blue mark for their own security as well. Let’s not forget that I also have some privacy and professionalism that I’d like to maintain and having people texting me every day about scams is not the best,” Cinquini has stated about this issue.
How You Can Avoid Being Scammed by a Fake Social Media Profile
- Verify that the person is real with a video call or by meeting them in person. If they are a real person, they will be able to prove it over a video call if their words match their lip movements. If something seems off with the video call and they aren’t responding to you, it could be a fake video call. The best way to verify if someone is real or not is by meeting them in person.
- Do not give anyone any money for any reason. There should be no reason why you should need to give anyone money, even if its an emergency. If this person was really in danger, they have family and friends that they’ve known longer than you that can help them out.
- Do not give anyone any personal information for any reason. There is no reason why anyone else would need your Social Security number, your credit card number, your date of birth, etc. These bits of information can give scammers access to your bank accounts and allow them to pretend to be you, which is identity theft.
- Block the scammer immediately. If they keep bugging you for money, chances are they aren’t talking to you with the best intentions. It’s better to just block them from your inbox and save your bank account from theft.
- If they work overseas, chances are they are a scammer. This allows scammers to give you an easy excuse as to why they can’t meet you in person.
- Be aware if they have grammatical errors in their messages or have a foreign accent. This is a sign that they are from a different country, such as Nigeria, where romance scamming is more prominent. They rely on your money to survive, so they will do anything they can to get their hands on it. Having grammatical errors or a foreign accent doesn’t always mean that they are a scammer, but you still need to be aware if they start asking you for money or won’t video chat you.
- Report the scam to the FTC. This will allow the FTC and other agencies to investigate your situation and try to help you catch the scammer and retrieve your money as best as they can. Even though getting your money back isn’t guaranteed, it doesn’t hurt to at least try.
Reverse search using Social Catfish.
At Social Catfish, we are able to provide you with additional information on the suspected scammer if you think they are impersonating social media influencers. We can reverse search any name, email address, phone number, social media username, or image to see who it is you’ve really been talking to.