Celebrity Names Deliver a Nasty, Costly Shock

How the celebrity name game fools victims into buying products and giving away money: Internet Scambusters #884

Most people are fascinated by celebrities. They seem to live a life many of us would envy.

But the reality is that the celebrity names that spark our curiosity are also potentially a scam trap. Even the stars themselves can lead us into making poor buying decisions.

This week’s issue updates our previous reports on celebrity scams with some incredible stories and warning signs.

Let’s get started…

Celebrity Names Deliver a Nasty, Costly Shock

Do you play the celebrity name game? You know, where you follow the activities and posts of famous people. Millions of us do. If so, you must be on your guard against a possible scam.

Why? Because people with ulterior motives know that celebrity names are powerful. They stimulate our curiosity, so we go in search of more information or photos. And for those who want to be “just like them,” they’re a potential gateway to a rip-off.

In the latter case, one of the dangers is celebrity endorsement of products, from clothing to cosmetics to jewelry.

Celebrities are often paid vast sums of money to promote products, especially if they have millions of followers. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with that, provided we know they’re being paid to make recommendations.

But, as we reported recently in our issue dealing with online “influencers” — people whose opinions are respected by their impressionable followers — the trouble is that they and some celebrities sometimes fail to disclose the money link.

For example, Truth in Advertising (TINA), a well-known campaigning organization, has recently published a whole list of complaints it has lodged against certain celebrity names, alleging they failed to make clear their financial connection with a product.

The list contains top names such as members of the Kardashian family, singer/actress Selena Gomez, DJ Khaled, and athlete David Ortiz.

In most cases, TINA drew the celebrity’s attention to their non-disclosure and the stars subsequently clarified that their posts were, in fact, advertisements. Products included well-known beverages and beauty products.

But there are possibly hundreds more who keep their true colors out of sight. It’s impossibly hard to keep track of them. They’re still out there waiting to snare you.

The Federal Trade Commission states that a social media post must “conspicuously” state when a post is an ad whenever the celebrity has a material connection with the brand or product being promoted.

Some celebrities fall foul of the FTC’s rules by only making obscure references to the nature of their relationship — for example by use hashtags like #spon (meaning sponsored) or #collab (meaning collaboration).

TINA says what they should be doing is prominently using the hashtag #ad: “That’s a clear, simple solution to an ambiguous, complicated disclosure problem, and it will likely ensure that no matter what electronic gadget or gizmo a consumer is using they will be able to see the disclosure.”

Malware Links

Sometimes, of course, a celebrity is an innocent and unwilling participant in a scam.

This happens, for example, when scammers create fake news or links associated with a celebrity in hopes that they will lure victims into downloading malware onto their PCs.

The crooks might, for instance, suggest clicking a link will lead to revealing photos of a celeb, or to a scandalous news item about them.

This has led Internet security firm McAfee to publish an annual list of what they call the most dangerous celebrity names on the web — meaning the names most likely to lead clickers into trouble.

McAfee’s 2019 list has just been published, placing American actress Alexis Bledel in the top slot. She’s followed by British chat show host James Corden. Other “dangerous celebrities” are Sophie Turner, Anna Kendrick, Lupita Nyong’o, Jimmy Fallon, Jackie Chan, Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, and Tessa Thompson.

“Many users don’t realize that simple internet searches of their favorite celebrities could potentially lead to malicious content, as cybercriminals often leverage these popular searches to entice users to click on dangerous links,” said McAfee. “This year’s study emphasizes that today’s streaming culture doesn’t exactly protect users from cybercriminals.”

The security firm urges users to be cautious about clicking links, relying instead only on reputable sources.

Also, don’t use illegal streaming sites, they say. Many of these are riddled with malware.

Celebrity Impostors

The other big celebrity name scam involves people impersonating them — impostors.

A few weeks ago, entrepreneur Richard Branson said he was concerned that “more and more people are being scammed by fraudsters impersonating me.”

The scammers, he said, usually fake investment recommendations in his name, and target them at people who’ve commented on Branson’s genuine posts on social media.

In one instance, the crooks invented an organization called “Virgin Group Worldwide,” which they then invited victims to join. Of course, to do so, the victims had to provide their personal details, including financial information.

Branson pointed out he never sends private messages to his followers, so if you get one it’s a fake. And he never promotes get-rich-quick offers.

Echoing this, AARP, the organization representing older people, has warned that if you get a direct message that’s supposed to be from any celebrity, it’s almost certainly a fake.

Among many victims, the organization cites the case of a Bruce Springsteen fan who handed over $1,500 to a phony Springsteen. The scammer had asked for the money after exchanging multiple texts with the victim to gain trust and then eventually saying he had run out of immediate cash.

And country music star Trace Adkins, who’s been a victim of impostors several times, recently told the CBS TV network that spotting and removing the fakers was like playing whack-a-mole. “You can’t stop them,” he said.

You may not be able to stop them, but being on your guard, with a heavy dose of skepticism, is your best line of defense. Start by taking whatever the celebrity says, or is supposed to have said, with a pinch of salt — and work your way from there.

Alert of the Week

Christmas is the busiest time of year for scammers as well as the rest of us. And with more and more of us shopping online, you can be sure they’ve already set up a whole host of fake websites, adorned with fantastic bargains.

Make sure you do your shopping either with established online retailers or with names that you’ve thoroughly checked out.

Remember, you won’t just lose your money, you could also lose your identity once these crooks have your credit card details.

That’s all for today — we’ll see you next week.