What do you get if you mix the former queen of daytime sofa television Holly Willoughby, with the money-saving guru, Martin Lewis, and add a sprinkle of cryptocurrencies?
The answer is thousands of pounds extracted from unwary people because it’s the recipe used by scammers online, who use the images of celebrities like Holly and Martin without their consent.
Welcome to the world of the celebrity endorsement scam
What is a celebrity endorsement scam?
A celebrity endorsement scam is a fraudulent practice whereby scammers impersonate celebrities to endorse products.
Celebrities have long been used to endorse goods and services but whereas in the past we could be confident that famous people were genuinely advertising them, in our wired world full of alternative news sites we can’t be so sure.
Why are celebrity endorsement scams on the rise?
Cryptocurrency scams with fake celebrity endorsements are being seen more often, with NatWest reporting that seven of its largest fraud cases involved digital currencies.
There is already a lot of celebrity scamming around and a range of organisations including banks and law firms are forecasting that it will continue to grow.
One reason for this is the changing media landscape: the fracturing of the traditional news media and the rise of unregulated news sources offering unparalleled opportunities for criminals to impersonate celebrities.
Another reason is the potential significant sums that can be extracted from the naive and unwary. According to Santander UK, the average victim loses £11,872 to online scams.
Sadly, conditions are also ripe for this kind of fraud; as the cost-of-living crisis pushes many people to the financial edge, desperation may drive them to fall for celebrity scams.
Unsurprisingly, many celebrity scams start on social media, which offers a rich pool of potential victims.
How to avoid falling victim of a celebrity scam
Scammers can try several different means to separate a person from their cash, but they tend to settle on some tried and tested methods. Typically, they will ask for personal details and then call the victim using hard sales techniques to persuade or even bully them to invest into cryptocurrency schemes.
Some scammers also get victims to download specialist software, which freezes them out of their bank accounts which are subsequently raided of their contents.
What to do if you get caught out by a celebrity scam and how to stay safe
Scammers typically target the over 55s, according to Citizens Advice, but anyone can be vulnerable to online fraud.
The government has promised a crackdown on online fraud but has not set out any timetable for action. In the meantime, here are some key points to keep in mind before sinking your money into an investment.
- The old saying “if something is too good to be true it probably is” remains valid. Be alert to adverts promising dazzling returns supposedly backed by household names.
- Experts agree that the best way to stay safe from scammers is to do your homework. Check, recheck and check again.
- Always check to see if a firm is registered with the FCA at https://register.fca.org.uk/s/. There is also a scam warning list where you can check if you’re dealing with a known fraudster at https://www.fca.org.uk/scamsmart. If you’re in any doubt, ask a financial adviser. It might be worth their advice fee whatever the outcome.
- Similarly, give a wide berth to any cold callers or people trying to rush you into a decision. As for any claims that an investment is “risk-free”, reject it immediately. There is no such thing as a risk-free investment and indeed risk is an intrinsic part of investment.
- Check the advert’s wording, does it have spelling and grammatical mistakes? If it does, it is likely to be a scam.
- Be on the lookout for fakes, whether it is fake news articles or fake Instagram accounts.
- Consider whether there is anything off or unusual about the person at the other end of the ether. Does the company have a postal address? How are they asking you to transfer your funds? Be alert to strange requests such as transferring funds via iTunes vouchers or Western Union.
- If you’re asked to keep an investment secret, ditch it straight away. Scammers want to isolate you from sources of reliable advice, legitimate investment managers do not.
- Ask yourself whether a given celebrity is likely to endorse a product. Royals, for instance, are very unlikely to do so.
If you’ve been targeted by a fake celebrity scam it is important to report it.
- If the scam involves cryptocurrency, investments, insurance or pensions, report it to the FCA here https://www.fca.org.uk/consumers/report-scam-us.
- If you think you’ve been scammed into transferring your pension, contact your pension provider. Then get in touch with The Pensions Advisory Service.
You can report other suspected scams to Citizens Advice and Action Fraud or call on 0300 123 2040.
If you got a scam email, forward the email to [email protected]. It will go to the National Cyber Security. Know the warning signs and stay safe.
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