Twitter, Facebook, Instagram scammers swindle superfans, report finds

Please don't leave your spouse for a fake celebrity account.

Laura Hautala Former Senior Writer
Laura wrote about e-commerce and Amazon, and she occasionally covered cool science topics. Previously, she broke down cybersecurity and privacy issues for CNET readers. Laura is based in Tacoma, Washington, and was into sourdough before the pandemic.
Expertise E-commerce | Amazon | Earned wage access | Online marketplaces | Direct to consumer | Unions | Labor and employment | Supply chain | Cybersecurity | Privacy | Stalkerware | Hacking Credentials
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Laura Hautala
3 min read
53rd Academy Of Country Music Awards - Arrivals

Be wary of any declarations of love coming from a social media account purporting to be country singer Kip Moore's.

Getty Images

If you notice Oprah Winfrey is raising funds for a charity abroad on Facebook, or if you receive romantic Twitter messages from country singer Kip Moore, you'd better pump the brakes. Don't send money -- or worse, sign divorce papers -- based on social media promises alone.

That's because fans are getting ripped off and left brokenhearted by scammers who run fake Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts, according to a report from The New York Times. It's part of a larger problem on the internet, where celebrity impersonators have the tools to trick people into sending money under all kinds of guises. 

Social media has brought fans closer to their favorite celebrities, like admirers of singer Taylor Swift, who sometimes win the chance to meet her in person based on their online comments. But the trail of tricked people left behind by scammers shows there's a dark side to social media's power to connect regular people with superstars.

On payment app Venmo, the problem is even more complicated because the platform doesn't verify any of its users, CNET found. That means an account for musician John Legend looks just as legit as an account for someone you've never heard of.

Some people have begun to push social media companies to do more to address the problem. After scammers continually claimed in ads that UK consumer advocate Marin Lewis endorsed financial products, he sued Facebook in April. In his lawsuit, Lewis argued Facebook could use its facial recognition technology to immediately delete ads showing his image, because he never endorses products.

According to the Times report, Moore said fans approach him and his representatives at concerts all the time claiming to be in a romantic relationship with him. Their proof is screenshots of chats with social media accounts that don't belong to him. Some have even said they've left their husbands to be with him after he said he loved them. "They're handing me a letter, you know, 'Here's the divorce papers. I've left so and so,'" Moore told the Times. 

Celebrities told the Times that the problem is too big for them to manage by reporting each fraudster through Facebook's system, and that the accounts that do get deleted are a drop in the bucket.

In an email, Facebook and Instagram spokesman Pete Voss said it's against the company's terms of use to impersonate another person on its platforms. "People use Facebook and Instagram to connect with real people, which is why we're so focused on authentic connections and activity on our service," Voss said. The company is using facial recognition and machine learning to detect scams.

Representatives for Oprah and Moore, as well as Twitter, didn't immediately respond to requests for comment. Moore, who tweets from the verified Twitter account @kipmooremusic, tweeted out the Times story Monday. "Here's a heads up for those of you still being duped by impostors," he wrote.

The report traces the scams to groups in the West African countries of Nigeria and Ghana. For Oprah, the problem got so bad that she posted a video in December to warn fans not to give out their bank information to fraudsters impersonating her.

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