Securing Our Communities: Celebrity Scams

Each week, the NTIC Cyber Center highlights a different social engineering scam impacting individuals and communities within the National Capital Region. We encourage everyone to share this information with friends, colleagues, and loved ones to help reduce their risk of becoming a victim of financial fraud and identity theft.

Celebrity scams – also known as imposter scams, impersonation scams, and fan scams – are a type of social engineering scheme in which the perpetrator masquerades as a celebrity or popular social media personality, concealing his or her true intentions to elicit money or personal information or to trick the victim into clicking on malicious links. These scammers create convincing yet fraudulent profiles on social media platforms using images of famous personalities to attract likes, clicks, and retweets from unsuspecting fans.

Potential victims are targeted through messages containing spam, event invitations, prize giveaways, and occasionally expressions of romantic interest. Oftentimes, celebrity scammers tempt their victims by promising an in-person event, such as a concert or party, but the event never actually occurs. To avoid face-to-face meetings, scammers often claim overseas work and travel. A portion of these posts contain fake celebrity endorsements used to trick others into buying products. Some fraudulent profiles are even created to gain followers and increase user engagement so that they may later be sold to online marketing companies or other scammers.

Many victims have learned the hard way that falling for a celebrity scam can cause financial troubles. In late 2018, an investigative report revealed that a female fan sent iTunes gift cards (worth hundreds of dollars) and wired $11,500 to someone posing online as the singer Bruce Springsteen because he was flirtatious and claimed financial woes from a recent divorce. Scammers will often ask for money directly promising to return more than double the amount “loaned” only to disappear after the victims oblige. They often insist on receiving the payment through wire transfers or in the form of cryptocurrency or gift cards because they are more difficult to trace and nearly impossible to reverse. The following tips will help you identify celebrity scams, so you can avoid disappointment and an empty wallet:

  • Scrutinize messages received from popular figures online. If it doesn’t make sense for a celebrity to contact you in real life, it probably wouldn’t make sense for them to contact you online either.

  • Check to see if you are interacting with the celebrity’s legitimate and verified social media page. Most social media sites feature a verification icon representing account authenticity. Please note that this is not a fail-safe method of determining whether you are dealing with a scammer as even legitimate sites and accounts can be hacked.

  • If a supposed celebrity contacts you and asks for money or suddenly starts complaining of financial hardship, cease all contact immediately. Celebrities do not randomly contact fans and ask them for money. In fact, celebrities rarely manage their own public-facing social media accounts and often hire staff or interns to post content and respond to fans’ questions and comments.

  • Verify through multiple sources that events such as concerts, “meet and greet” opportunities, and charities are legitimate. Scammers may attempt to sell fake tickets.

  • Beware of requests that attempt to take conversations outside the original online platform. Scammers often try to move the conversation to email or standalone messaging applications if they suspect their fraudulent online profiles could be removed by website administrators.

  • Encourage your fellow fans to interact only with legitimate and verified celebrity social media accounts and pages. Not only are you showing your support, you may help keep others safe.

Some celebrities and popular social media personalities have issued warning statements to fans about these impersonation schemes, advising them to never send money or gifts to anyone using their names and online identities. Be sure to report all celebrity scam attempts to the corresponding social media platform, the US Federal Trade Commission, and the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.

The NTIC is governed by a privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties protection policy to promote conduct that complies with applicable federal, state, and local laws. The NTIC does not seek or retain any information about individuals or organizations solely on the basis of their religious, political or social views or activities; their participation in a particular noncriminal organization or lawful event; or their race, ethnicities, citizenships, places of origin, ages, disabilities, genders, or sexual orientations. No information is gathered or collected by the NTIC in violation of federal or state laws or regulations.