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Influencer scams targeting high school and college students

Students with TikTok and Instagram accounts are being targeted by marketers offering to sponsor and pay them.
Posted at 7:14 AM, Sep 11, 2023

If you have a high school or college student, you may want to chat with them about watching for scammers targeting young people with false promises about becoming an influencer.

It is easy to fall for because an offer to become an influencer or "brand ambassador" may sound enticing if money is tight. College student Caleb Crater says he has received a number of pitches from companies and always wonders how legitimate they are.

"I was good at track in high school," he said. "So companies would approach me and try to get me to promote them on social media."

Fellow student Eli Cobb got suspicious of offers from marketers as well.

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"I remember having bots on my Instagram account," he said, "that said they want me to pose for a mural and things like that."

And what college student doesn't have an Instagram, TikTok or other social media accounts? That's why the Better Business Bureau is issuing a warning now, with students back on campus and looking to make some extra spending cash.

Warning signs of a scam

The BBB's Josh Planos says being an influencer or brand ambassador sounds like a great, easy side gig.

"Typically, what we see is that someone receives an unsolicited message from someone who is alleging to represent a brand or an organization," he said.

But he says you'll know it's a scam if you're asked to pay money or buy a product up front.

"That's the time where you need to turn around and leave," he said, "and completely remove yourself from that situation because it's not real."

Victims have reported to the BBB that they were told to buy sunglasses or makeup, But the items arrived broken, if they arrived at all. In other cases, a scammer charged victims for a background check.

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Planos says to be cautious of any job that asks you to hand over money and be wary of companies you've never heard of before

"Find out what that brand stands for, if it is a real one," he said, "or if it seems to have been created overnight. You would want to know all of this information before you enter into any sort of arrangement."

Crater says it can be tough to resist a pitch if you are looking for "likes" and subscribers.

"Everyone is trying to get famous," he said.