Online scams are one of the favorite ways criminals like to swindle unsuspecting victims out of their hard-earned money. And since variety is the spice of life, con artists like to defraud their targets using different flavors of con jobs. These schemes often exploit topics du jour, such as COVID-19 vaccinations, or involve evergreen lures, like scams promising a sizeable inheritance from a long-lost relative.

Today, we’ll look at several common ways con artists abuse the names and images of the rich and famous to break the banks and hearts of not only loyal fans.

Cryptocurrency giveaways

This one could be considered a scam favorite. Fake cryptocurrency giveaways have probably been around since cryptocurrency stopped being the purview of Satoshi Nakamoto enthusiasts and started making waves once it hit mainstream coverage.

To reach as many people as possible, criminals use a diverse array of channels, often hijacking YouTube accounts with a large number of followers or trying to spread the faux giveaways through Twitter. They then proceed to ask people to send digital cash to a bitcoin address, promising to double the sum as part of the giveaway; as you might have guessed by now, the victims will never see a dime of their cryptocurrency ever again.

To make it seem legitimate, scammers often try to make it look like the giveaways are endorsed or even funded by tech titans. Bill Gates is often impersonated in these scams, which in itself is an odd tactic since the Microsoft founder has often spoken out against cryptocurrencies. However, Elon Musk, on the other hand, is a big fan of cryptocurrencies and as such is also often impersonated when it comes to these scams. In one such attack, the name of the Tesla and SpaceX boss was even incorporated in the Bitcoin address itself.

Facebook Live, guess and ye shall receive – or not

Some celebrities enjoy interacting with their fans by going live on platforms like Facebook or Instagram. While fans appreciate the efforts their favorite celebs put into creating content for them or that they answer some of their questions, scammers use the live videos to trick loyal fans out of money.

To this end, a criminal will create fake accounts that mirror the celebrity’s real social media accounts, including posts, pictures and videos. However, the name will be misspelled or supplemented with a word like "TV", "fan page", or any other.

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That will be followed with live streaming a video that the celeb posted or live streamed some time ago, with the description reading something like, “the first 1000 to comment will receive US$1,000”, and complete with using trending hashtags to make it easy to find.

Once fans interact with the scammy video, they’ll get a message with further instructions on claiming their prizes, which might involve clicking on a link to a website and filling out their sensitive personal information or sending money from their account. Safe to say they’ll lose the money and their data can be abused for further scams.

Want to support my charitable cause?

Another flavor of celebrity scams involves creating bogus accounts impersonating celebrities and reaching out to fans directly in messages. This can occur on any social media platform, be it Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

The tactic isn’t that sophisticated; the victim will receive a direct message from the bogus account and the impostor acting as the celebrity will ask them to contribute to a charity they are purportedly supporting. Alternatively, they could also be offered tickets to non-existent private concerts and other pretexts that would convince them to part with their money.

As is usually the case with these celebrity imposters, the victims will lose money and the charity they’re claiming to support will never see a penny of the money the victim “donated”. For example, one Bruce Springsteen impersonator was able to trick one person out of more than US$11,000.

Invest in this, I did!

You might also have stumbled across another popular strategy employed by online con artists to make a quick buck – trick unwitting victims into putting money into “investments” that are supposedly backed by celebrities.

Investment scams aren’t new, and they always communicate the same message – multiply your investment quickly and easily while mostly implying that the outcome is “guaranteed”. This is just another twist on the same old concept.

The scheme usually takes the form of various popup ads that pose as articles claiming an amazing return on investment, complete with bombastic headlines like “celebrity X has invested in this company or product and seen their investment quadruple” or “celebrity Z advises you to put your money in this because it is the future”.

The investment opportunity is usually fake, however; sometimes the investment opportunity may be based on a real one, but the money will never be deposited. Which means the only ones who’ll be getting rich are the criminals behind the scheme.

How can you stay safe?

Spotting scams like these doesn’t take a lot of work, including thanks to protective measures that social media platforms take to distinguish real celebrities from impostors. So, when a “celebrity” contacts you, the easiest thing you can do is take a look whether their profile is verified; Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter all use a verified badge in the form of a tick next to the username.

As for various charities and investment opportunities, those can be checked out through a quick Google search to see whether they are genuine. If they check out, for safe measure you can still contact them directly about whether they are cooperating with a specific celebrity.

To sum it up, the best way to protect yourself is to remain vigilant and question everything that seems even a tiny bit suspicious. And following up on those suspicions won’t hurt. After all, if something sounds too good to be true, it almost certainly is.