Micro Scamming

By Sara Espinosa

A couple of months ago, I was approached by a fashion brand on Instagram to “become an ambassador.” It was rather simple. They would offer 30% commission for every purchase made with my ambassador code and all I had to do was buy something from their store 50% off and tag them on a picture, which they would then promote on their website. Sounds easy right? Then I started thinking…Why would this seemingly famous company contact me (a personal account with less than 500 followers) to be their ambassador? Then I did my research.

It all started with a comment on my most recent picture. “Collab? DM.” My picture was nothing special. I change my profile picture once a year and I thought my outfit on Christmas looked nice so I asked my sister to take a pic. This was my first time ever approached to be an ambassador. I looked at their profile and they seemed legit: 90k followers, lots of posts, and a working website. I didn’t know what to do, so I turned to the best social media expert I know: my 16-year-old sister.

She advised me to DM them and ask what being an “ambassador” would entail. The company rep then sent me the instructions I explained above. I am very dubious when it comes to “good deals” (some might say they are trust issues) but I felt like I needed help from another expert: my hype beast boyfriend.  I asked him if he’d ever heard of this company and he said no. Upon closer inspection to their feed, I saw that for the number of followers they had, their engagement was not good. Their products on their website were also incredibly expensive for something as simple as a hat or a T-shirt. My boyfriend then told me that “it looked like most of their business came from their so-called ambassadors.” At this point I was confused, but then I dug in deeper.

I simply googled the name of the company followed by the word “ambassador” and phew, I was surprised. The first couple of results were related to the company, the rest were Reddit threads and Youtube videos associating it with a scam. This thread describes what this company is doing as drop shipping, which is when a retailer sells a product using a third-party system, therefore not stocking or handling the product itself. This can lead to retailers using cheap warehouse companies such as Wish or Alibaba to sell low quality products at an inflated price to make a profit.

Looking at the profiles of the so-called “ambassadors” of this company on Instagram I realized they all had a lot in common: they were mostly male, with fewer than 1,000 followers and lots of #ootd pics. I fit two out of those three observations. It seems to me that companies like these are preying on users that associate being an influencer with fame and money and scamming their way into a profit. Nowadays, influencer relations are a crucial part of PR and marketing. Influencers could be traditional celebrities or normal people with a personal brand followed faithful audiences. In fact, influencer marketing is the fastest-growing channel and one of the most cost-effective. 

So how do you know if you’ve been approached by a scam? Look at their engagement. Followers can be bots, so don’t be cheated by large follower numbers. Instead, look at what people are commenting and liking. Of course, look for that blue verification check and see if they list an address on their bio. This account is dedicated to exposing Instagram scams so take a look at their list. Always go with your gut. If something seems fishy it probably is. Although every company is different, if someone is asking you to spend lots of money in order to be an “ambassador,” it’s probably a scam.

As I wrote this blog post, I looked up the first word of the company’s name on Instagram and I was met with this. 

Literally dozens of accounts with the same picture and a couple of variations to the username. As for the original DM, I politely declined their offer and went on my way. When I tried to look them up today, I found out I was blocked. 

Follow me on Twitter: @sara_espinosa27

This Article Has 10 Comments
  1. Jackson Ritt says:

    Very well written and interesting subject. I think it’s interesting that they’d target you after you said that most of their “ambassadors” were male, but never the less, way to avoid the trap. Do you know are these people who do accept to be ambassadors making money from it? Or are they getting scammed as well? In my opinion people can spend money and buy whatever they want no matter how dumb it is, so if the ambassadors truly are getting 30% commission than I don’t see this really being much of an issue. Still very interesting and great insight!

  2. Rhianna Comito says:

    Hi Sara! Very interesting post. I had never heard of anything like this, but I’m glad you made a post about it (very informative.) I appreciate you detailing your thought process in understanding and figuring out what was going on with this brand. I will keep this post in mind for the future.
    Also, great links throughout!

  3. Alyssa Newsom says:

    Hi Sara, thank you for the very interesting and informative post. I also have received a couple of comments on my instagram posts from a company wanting to “collab” and sometimes (especially as a broke college student) I was tempted. Thank God I ended up not doing that. I think this is also a huge issue with influencers and brands collaborating. There should be some sort of regulation that assures that this cannot happen. Similar to influencers having to include #ad or #sponsored on their sponsored posts, brands should be held legally liable to tell the truth to the people they are seeking to collaborate with.

  4. Sarah Lovely says:

    Hi Sara! First of all, great name. Second of all, I thought this was so interesting. Crazy that the company was so open with communicating with you and then blocked you. I have had people dm me in the past being weird and I have blocked them, but I have never had a company approach me. Definitely another perk of understanding how to read engagement and translating social media popularity.

  5. Sarah Naciri says:

    Hi Sara!

    You have written a very thought-provoking blog post! While reading this, I couldn’t help but think of how my grandmother was recently scammed. She received a phone call from an unknown number. When answering, the person on the other line pretended to be my older cousin. She was asking my grandmother to send her money claiming she was in Mexico and someone stole her wallet. My grandmother said that it sounded a lot like my cousin, but intelligently called my aunt to verify. My aunt clarified that my cousin was not in Mexico, indicating the phone call was a scam.

    It is crazy how scam artists cater to their audience. The fact that my grandmother’s scammer knew my cousin’s name proves that they do their research before contacting you. Scammers becoming smarter and more manipulative is a very scary thought. This means that people need to be even more cautious than they already are; particularly parents who allow their children to use the internet.

  6. Josie Ruff says:

    I appreciate you telling us this story, and I liked the ways you introduced your sister and boyfriend. I think I might follow some people who were fooled with similar scams because I have seen some people promote products for brands who I just did not think were at an influencing level when it came to their followers. I am glad you saw through it though! Very weird how they ended up blocking you in the end.

  7. Tylar Blansett says:

    This was a great post. I have heard of things like this happening all the time but no one that I know that was contacted actually fell for the scam. This reminds me of the old scams that were sent through emails about the king in a foreign country needed money for whatever it could have been, just like in one of the episodes of The Office. I imagine they blocked you since you had declined their offer and they also probably sensed that you were thinking it was a scam.

  8. Taylor Lancaster says:

    Hi Sara,

    I think this post is spot on and addresses an extremely interesting topic that I have not seen anyone else talk about much. I also have been approached by various random companies asking me to be an “ambassador” for their brand on Instagram. Most of the time when I do some research I find that these brands have almost no engagement and most of their followers seem to be fake or inactive accounts. This is interesting to me because I would be curious to know if other people tend to fall for these scams. With that being said, I think its super helpful that you’ve outlined some ways to identify a brand’s legitimacy.

  9. Zach Newsom says:

    This is crazy! I’ve never heard of something like this, but I’m not particularly surprised. It seems that everything has turned into an opportunity for scammers nowadays. I’m glad you looked into things more and it made me more aware of this kind of thing going forward.

  10. Kyra Hanson says:

    Hey Sara,

    This was a super interesting read! Thank you for sharing. I loved hearing all about your personal experience with this Instagram scam. It is a good example of someone thinking critically about the intentions of an account, getting the opinions of friends and family members, doing research online, and looking at the account’s engagement ratio. Reading this gave me some good strategies for approaching this type of situation in the future, because I have definitely received these types of comments and DM’s and it is always hard to know if they are trustworthy or not. Thank you for sharing your insights!

    Best,
    Kyra

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