When stars fall: The dark side of celebrity scams

June 12th · 8 min read

Rotem Tal - Senior Cybersecurity Expert |Writer & Editor|
Rotem Tal - Senior Cybersecurity Expert |Writer & Editor|

Star power or scam power? How to spot celebrity scams

Back in the day, if you wanted to find out about your celebrity crush or get the latest gossip, you had to rely on tabloids. Maybe I’m aging myself here, but I still remember sending snail mail to my favorite star from Baywatch. If you have no idea what snail mail, Baywatch, or tabloids are, you’re probably a digital native born into our current age of social media. Nowadays, you can get the latest updates on your favorite celebrities at the click of a button. Platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook allow us to follow their lives, engage with their posts, and sometimes even interact with them directly.

However, this connectivity comes with a dark side, as scammers have found a lucrative niche by creating fake or stolen celebrity accounts. Adding to the complexity, they are now leveraging AI technology to create convincing fake celebrity endorsements to exploit, deceive, and cheat followers.

The Federal Trade Commission: impersonation scams cost consumers over 1.1 billion last year.

In this article, we'll explore the nuances of how these celebrity impersonation scams operate and show you how using cybersecurity software like Guardio can protect you from falling victim to these cunning cons. Let’s dive in!

Celebrity endoresement or scam?

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Deepfake Jennifer Anistiin ad

Understanding celebrity scams

Influencers and celebrities are often genuinely paid to endorse real products and companies, which makes it more believable when you see something promoted by your favorite sports athlete or movie star. Scammers are well aware of this and are using influencers' and celebrities' names, likenesses, and social media accounts to deceive people into giving away money, personal information, or other valuable assets. A celebrity scam, or as they’re also commonly termed, celebrity endorsement scams, involves the use of a famous person’s identity to create fake endorsements, bogus charitable requests, and fraudulent investment opportunities. So how do these scams work? Well, scammers create convincing ads or profiles on social media platforms, complete with stolen photos and fabricated posts, to make their schemes appear legit. Simply put, at the core of a celebrity scam is the exploitation of the trust and admiration we have for the celebrity being impersonated.

Historical context

Celebrity endorsements are definitely not a new phenomenon. Even before you could doom scroll your Facebook and Instagram feed, businesses and brands found ways to capitalize on the fame and influence of celebs. Naturally, scammers caught on and started weaving this trust in celebrity endorsements into their sketchy scams to exploit unsuspecting fans. In the past, these scams often involved direct mail fraud or telephone schemes where impersonators would claim to be fundraising for a celebrity-endorsed charity or offering exclusive memorabilia. With limited ways to verify authenticity, many people fell victim to these early-day scams.

As technology advanced, so did the sophistication of these scams. The rise of the internet in the late 1990s and early 2000s saw the emergence of email scams, where fraudsters would impersonate celebrities to solicit donations or sell fake products. These emails often included links to phishing websites designed to steal personal information.

How celebrity endorsement scams evolved with technology

The popularization of social media platforms have given scammers new and powerful tools to execute their schemes. With billions of users on platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, the potential victim pool has expanded exponentially. Scammers can now easily create fake profiles, engage with followers, and even use direct messaging to establish a false sense of credibility.

The introduction of AI technology has made creating fake celebrity endorsements easier and harder to recognize, escalating the threat of celebrity scams. Scammers are now able to create highly convincing deepfake—videos or images manipulated to show celebrities endorsing products or causes they have no affiliation with. These AI-generated endorsements can be almost impossible to distinguish from genuine content, making it easier for scammers to dupe even the most tech-savvy people.

On top of that, the use of sophisticated bots to automate interactions and spread fraudulent posts has made these scams more pervasive. Bots can quickly amplify fake endorsements, making them appear more credible and reaching a larger audience in a shorter amount of time. Yikes!

Types of celebrity scams

While there are many methods of using celebrities and their endorsements in scams, the goal is always the same: to cheat people out of their money, steal their personal information, and in some cases, even their identity. Here are some of the most popular celebrity scams you need to watch out for.

Celebrity endorsement scams

Fake endorsements are a common scam where fraudsters use a celebrity's name and image to make dubious products or services appear legitimate. Take Oprah Winfrey, for example. Despite her public denials, scammers have repeatedly used her name and doctored photos to promote fraudulent weight-loss products. These ads often feature fake quotes from Oprah, making it seem like she genuinely endorses these miracle supplements. People who trust Oprah end up buying these questionable products, only to find out later that she had no involvement.

Social media celebrity fraud

Impersonation on social media involves scammers creating fake profiles that look like those of well-known celebrities or influencers. A well-known case is Tom Hanks. Scammers set up fake Facebook and Twitter accounts using his photos and fabricated posts to make them seem real. They then reach out to fans, pretending to be Hanks and asking for financial support for a charitable cause or a personal emergency. Fans who admire and trust Hanks end up sending money or gift cards, thinking they are helping him out, only to realize they’ve been scammed.

Fake celebrity charity scams

Fraudulent charity appeals exploit people’s goodwill by using celebrities’ names and images to solicit donations for fake causes. Scammers use the celeb's name and image to make a campaign seem credible. Generous fans, happy to support a cause backed by their favorite star, end up parting with their money, which goes straight into the scammers' pockets instead of helping those in need.

Deep fake celebrity scams

AI-generated celebrity scams are a new and particularly troubling form of hustle. Using advanced AI technology, scammers create realistic videos or images of celebrities endorsing products or delivering messages they never actually did. For example, an AI-generated celebrity scam video of Elon Musk promoting a cryptocurrency scam circulated online, convincing many that he genuinely endorsed the investment.

Similarly, scammers have targeted Taylor Swift fans, aka "Swifties," by creating fake Facebook ads showing Taylor endorsing Le Creuset cookware, complete with a synthetic version of her voice. The ads offer free Dutch ovens, luring fans into the scam. Needless to say, this was a total scam, and no one received anything for free—they just said goodbye to their money.

From Taylor Swift giving away free cookware to Elon Musk gifting bitcoins, these scams are becoming increasingly popular and harder to spot. The sophistication of AI-generated deep fakes and fake endorsements makes it even more challenging to know what's real and what's a scam.

How to recognize and avoid celebrity scams

Celebrity scams are becoming increasingly tricky to recognize, making it crucial to know how to spot and avoid them.

Here are some concrete tips for avoiding celebrity scam traps

Slow down and think: The first step you should take is to slow down and not act or react without taking the time to think and investigate what you're seeing. On social media profiles, always check for the verified blue checkmark to ensure you are interacting with the real celebrity.

Be skeptical of unsolicited messages: If you receive a direct message from a celebrity asking for money or personal information, it’s likely a scam.

Research endorsements: Look up the product or service to see if the celebrity has officially endorsed it. Legitimate endorsements are usually well-publicized.

Avoid sending money or gift cards: Never send money, gift cards, or personal information to someone you don’t know personally, even if they claim to be a celebrity.

Check for signs of deep fakes: Be wary of videos or images that seem slightly off or too good to be true. Look for inconsistencies in the celebrity’s appearance or voice.

Use cybersecurity software: Use cybersecurity software: Protect your computer, mobile, cash, identity, and family by using cybersecurity software like Guardio. Guardio can block fake links and dangerous websites, alert you to phishing emails and texts, and ensure that if you do see a fake celebrity endorsement ad or get contacted by a fake social media account, you stay safe.

The bottom line

From deep fake celebrity scams, sketchy endorsements, and social media impersonations to fraudulent charity requests, celebrity scams are getting trickier to spot and easier to fall for. Luckily, identifying fake celebrity endorsements is a breeze if you have security software like Guardio. Guardio blocks fake links, alerts you to phishing attempts and keeps your online interactions safe. So, next time you're scrolling through your favorite celebrity's posts, you can do it with peace of mind. Stay sharp, stay safe, and keep enjoying the star-studded content!

Celebrity endoresement or scam?

Why risk it? Let Guardio do the guesswork for you!

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