Brands Beware: Influencer Impostors Want Your Free StuffSeptember 20, 2019
There’s a well-established agreement between brands and influencers: We send free products, you post about them on Instagram. Often it’s a happy arrangement; influencer feeds fill with promotional material, followers click and merchandise sells. But sometimes the posts never appear.
When this happens, the brand’s representatives may assume the “entitled” influencer has either kept the product or tossed it disapprovingly without so much as a “thank you.” But now another possibility has emerged: The brand might have been defrauded by an impostor.
Scammers, using throwaway email accounts and fake websites, are pretending to be influencers (or their assistants), requesting free products in exchange for prominent billing on a highly trafficked Instagram feed. Some companies, unaware that the contact is a fraud, will send up to thousands of dollars worth of merchandise to a specified address. The deception comes at a cost to both the brand and the influencer.
Jeanne Grey, who posts about fashion and beauty as @GreyLayers, experienced this niche form of identity theft earlier this summer. “It has been made aware to my team and I that there is someone who is using my likeness and identity to reach out to brands,” she wrote to her more than 461,000 followers via Instagram Stories in July. “I have received multiple emails from brands that I’m friends with and new brands of this, most of which have fallen for it and sent out products for free.” (Ms. Grey declined, through her lawyer, to speak to The New York Times.)
Natalie Pinto, known on Instagram as @TheFashionablyBroke, was also impersonated this year. “A brand reached out to me and asked me when I planned to feature the item they had sent me,” Ms. Pinto said in a phone interview. “I had never spoken to them before and asked them to forward me the email. I immediately realized that it was an impostor who made a similar email address to mine.” She said that at least four more brands reached out over the next few months, all claiming the same thing.
Influencing is a full-time job that can yield big returns for influencers and the brands they choose to boost. Estée Lauder spent more than $900 million on influencer marketing efforts in the United States alone in 2017, and the entire influencer marketing industry is set to reach $15 billion by 2022, according to a research report by Business Insider Intelligence using data from MediaKix. Gifting efforts have become commonplace as the sector has grown, so much so that luxury brands like Christian Dior now distribute free merchandise in exchange for social media posts.
Influencers with between 50,000 and 500,000 are the most popular targets of impersonation schemes. If the influencer’s following is any larger, the scam raises red flags; if it’s any smaller, brands aren’t as interested. Liraz Roxy, a beauty, fashion and travel influencer who has 146,000 followers on Instagram, said that she wasn’t surprised when it…