When Being a Social Media Ambassador Becomes a Scam

“Ambassadors” who agree to endorse products online could end up out of pocket: Internet Scambusters #824

Being a social media ambassador means you’ve either been selected or you’ve chosen to endorse a product online, perhaps for gain or to help others.

Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as that. You could be tricked into paying-to-play or falling for someone else’s endorsement trickery.

In this week’s issue, we’ll explain how ambassador scams work and provide the simple rules you need to avoid them.

Let’s get started…

When Being a Social Media Ambassador Becomes a Scam

How good does it feel to be a social media ambassador?

Anything with “ambassador” in the title sounds pretty neat, on the face of it.

In the political world, you’re a VIP representing your country’s interests. In the corporate and Internet world, you’re “a person who represents, speaks for, or advertises a particular organization, group of people or brand.”

So, being invited to become an ambassador should be a pretty good thing, right? After all, celebrities are always being invited to become ambassadors, whether it’s to represent a good cause or promote a top-name, branded product.

But you can get too much of a good thing. And being an ambassador representing your interests on social media like Facebook and Instagram can turn out to be a costly scam.

Not to be too much of a party pooper, but the fact is that almost anyone can become a social media ambassador. All you have to do is agree to promote something — a product or an organization — online.

In return, you might get free or discounted products or simply the satisfaction of knowing you’re helping a good cause.

Plus, if whatever you’re promoting is good and/or worthwhile, you are likely to build up your online following. The aim is to eventually become recognized for your ambassadorial skills and be dubbed an “influencer.”

But what if the organization you’re planning to represent wants money from you, or tricks you into doing the job with fake products?

In a recent case, for example, a young aspiring influencer signed up to become an ambassador for a costume jewelry retailer.

Supposedly, the deal was to buy a deeply discounted, luxury hand-made necklace and take a selfie of herself wearing the item, which would then be used on the company’s web and social media pages, garnering lots of views and, hopefully, new followers.

But when she got it, the product didn’t seem to be hand-made at all. And, even though the firm was selling the item for $100 or more, similar ones could be found on Amazon for just $10.

In other words, the firm seemed to be tricking ambassador hopefuls into buying its products. The “discounted” prices were actually more than the person would have paid on Amazon.

Subsequent tests on the necklace showed that it was made of cheap metal rather than the silver-plated copper advertised.

Although the firm concerned claimed most of its buyers had provided positive feedback, others took to complaining about the ambassador program on YouTube.

The original complainant told a local TV station: “Would I do it again? No way.”

“The message here to aspiring social media stars,” said the station’s reporter, “be flattered but be sure to do some research to make sure the deal actually works for you, and experts say to be careful if you’re asked to buy the product.”

FTC Rules

In fact, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) lays down strict rules about being a social media ambassador, both for the organizations running the program and for participants.

One reason is that sometimes brand ambassadors, especially celebrities, may appear to be promoting a product or service because they just love it rather than the fact that they’re being paid to do so.

If they don’t make this disclosure then we, the public, are being conned, especially if we’re the sort of people who are easily influenced into buying something our favorite star is promoting.

“(I)f there’s a connection between an endorser and the marketer that consumers would not expect and it would affect how consumers evaluate the endorsement, that connection should be disclosed,” says the Commission.

“For example, if an ad features an endorser who’s a relative or employee of the marketer, the ad is misleading unless the connection is made clear. The same is usually true if the endorser has been paid or given something of value to tout the product. The reason is obvious: Knowing about the connection is important information for anyone evaluating the endorsement.”

The same rule applies to bloggers who use their platform to promote or endorse things that they got for free (unless the firm concerned was giving out free samples to everyone).

The FTC has produced a series of guidelines for businesses and individuals on when you must disclose the terms of an endorsement and what you’re actually supposed to say.

Even so, the number of social media scams that are frequently reported suggests that not everyone is following the rules. So here are the two important ones for you to follow:

  1. First, don’t endorse, be an ambassador for or pay for a product or service you haven’t investigated and which you don’t genuinely believe in and support.
  2. Second, be skeptical of any posting that endorses any product, whether the poster discloses their terms or not. Find out for yourself before following them.

Alert of the Week

Warehouse shopping retailer Costco isn’t giving away free $500 travel vouchers or cash cards, even if the phone call you receive says “Costco” on the caller ID.

It’s a currently-active scam call in which the crooks try to get your personal information including your address and Costco membership number as well as other financial details.

JHU — Just Hang Up.

Time to conclude for today — have a great week!