Changes to NCAA rules now allow college athletes to make money off sponsorships, opening the door for them to become social media influencers. But aspiring influencers need to beware of phony companies that promise bogus perks in exchange for posting product pictures. Instead of gaining followers and products, these “brand ambassadors” just end up losing money.

How the scam works

A “company” contacts you through your Instagram, TikTok or other social media account. The company representative wants to know if you would be interested in becoming a “brand ambassador.”

It sounds like a great gig and an easy way to receive a favorite product at a discount or even for free.

All you need to do is post photos of yourself using the product. In exchange, the company will give you a commission, send free products and provide exposure for your social accounts.

However, there’s a catch! According to BBB Scam Tracker, several victims reported first having to buy items, anything from sunglasses to jewelry to cosmetics. According to reports, the items cost $50 or more and arrived broken or in some other unusable state. Other times, the scammer charged victims upfront for a “background check.”

No matter how the scam works, the outcome was the same. Victims paid upfront and the promise of being paid a commission or exposure never materialized.

This Instagram user told BBB about their experience falling for an influencer con: “[The scammer] reached out to me on Instagram about being a brand ambassador. I had to buy clothes, and they gave me a 50% off discount. I used the discount not thinking of it being a scam ... They shipped my item, but never sent a tracking number. Then, I knew it was a scam. They have no phone number and no other contact info besides Instagram and email.”

How to spot an influencer scam

● Ask questions: Targets of influencer cons told BBB Scam Tracker that when they asked for details, the scammer got evasive and stopped responding. Don’t hesitate to push back if something seems off.

● Be very cautious of any job that asks you to hand over money. Scammers will often use the guise of running a credit check, setting up direct deposit or paying for training.

● If an offer looks suspicious, do a search. If something is a scam, victims are likely to have posted about it online. Also, the business's website and/or social media should mention the partnership – if it’s real.

● Know the signs of fake social media accounts: Make sure the business or charity contacting you is real. This article has detailed information about how to spot a phony Instagram account.

● Learn how to spot job scams: This social media ambassador con uses many of the same techniques as a job scam. Read more about them at BBB.org/EmploymentScam

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