BBB Advice

by Danielle Kane

I ’m a millennial. And like many others in my generation, along with the generations coming up, I’m an avid social media user.

With many scams happening across the country, age is a factor. Con artists know what methods to use to target specific age groups. For millennials, and Gen Z especially, social media scams are a major threat.

Recently, Better Business Bureau Northwest + Pacific has seen a lot of scam activity occurring on Snapchat. The scheme: scammers target young adults with an offer to make money through a “sponsorship” or “advertising opportunity.” They instruct the person to send money via gift cards to pay for said “advertising.” Then, the scammers request account login information to get on Snapchat and invite that person’s friends to be part of this “opportunity” and keep the scheme going. The initial victim’s login information is changed so they can’t get back on and stop it or warn others, leaving the scammer in control of the account until Snapchat is notified.

BBB has already identified the Snapchat scams happening in Texas, Louisiana, South Carolina and New York. While we haven’t received any reports yet of this scam hitting the Northwest yet, we know these types of scams travel fast. The average loss is $50.

As someone who uses Snapchat, I can see how easy this scam is to execute and why so many young consumers might fall for it. In fact, 71% of Snapchat users are between ages 18-29.

The key to this whole arena is the growing power of online influencers. The Instagram influencer industry was valued at $2 billion as of June 2019 and is estimated to grow to a $5-10 billion industry by next year.

What is an influencer? And why does it matter? Influencers are users who have established credibility, a large audience and their own personal brand on a social media platform. They use their perceived authenticity to influence other users by encouraging them to try or purchase new products, clothes, tickets, etc. that fit in with that influencer’s niche brand.

For example: An influencer in the cooking community would likely share recipes, photos of the food he/she eats and probably his/her favorite kitchen tools. If the influencer’s online brand is big enough, a reputable retailer like KitchenAid might reach out with an advertising offer. Perhaps, a request to post with a KitchenAid Stand Mixer. These days, influencers can, and do, charge the company requesting a post for grid space on Instagram.

On Snapchat, influencing takes a slightly different form — companies have found the best way to increase engagement is to let popular Snapchat accounts/users tell their brand story. Take this example: Sour Patch Kids handed over their Snapchat account to internet personality Logan Paul for five days of prankster activities involving life-sized Sour Patch Kids. His fans followed him to the Sour Patch channel, increasing everyone’s exposure. In this example, we can also see where the idea of handing over one’s account comes into play.

These are examples of real marketing exchanges that happen every day on social media. Because it’s a legitimate way to make money, scammers want in.

Unfortunately, since many users aspire to be online influencers, if a scammer targets them with messages about a marketing opportunity, some will take that risk. And, voilà, a new scam is born.

BBB has this warning: Anytime someone asks for your login information and/or payment via gift card, it’s a scam. Block that user. Delete that message and keep scrolling.

— Danielle Kane is the Better Business Bureau marketplace manager for Portland. She can be reached at danielle.kane@thebbb.org .

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