We’re all on social media these days, and businesses all over the world know it. For the most part, the worst you’ll have to deal with is some targeted advertising. You’re probably already used to scrolling past posts offering goods and services for people exactly your age living in exactly your area. Not all social media advertising is as obvious as that, though – and it’s not all as innocent, either.

Who can be an Influencer?

The last several years have seen the rise of the “internet influencers” – people whose job it is to advertise things to an audience of loyal followers. Almost anyone can be an influencer to some extent, just like almost anyone can be influenced by one. In the run-up to Christmas last year, about 63% of shoppers either watched or posted influencer-style “stories” to Instagram, Facebook or Snapchat. Over a third of “millennials” and parents admitted that social media influencers had made an impact on their 2018 festive season shopping, while 62% of people say they get more interested in a brand or product if it’s featured in an influencer video. Those are some pretty impressive numbers, for sure – but where’s the actual harm? Well, a lot of the time there isn’t any. However, not all influencers are as honest as they make out, and some of what they get up to is downright scamming.

The dropshopping scam

Take the “dropshipping” scam, for example. Influencers thrive on forming communities of followers, and encourage their audiences to mark themselves out in some way. A typical example might be a piece of jewellery. You can buy the item straight from the influencer’s site, and are led to believe that it’s been made specifically for the community. You’ll probably be told that you’re getting it at a major discount, too – or even for free if you pay for the shipping. In reality, the influencers don’t have the item they’re selling. They’re just passing your details off to the manufacturer to ship it directly to you. The item itself is probably a piece of cheap, generic junk, with the “discount” you were promised a total fantasy. Likewise, the shipping cost on those “free” offers will be more than enough to keep the influencer and manufacturer in serious profit.

With some of these scams, the item you end up receiving won’t resemble what you were promised at all. Cheap knock-off or sub-standard goods hiding behind impressive-looking adverts are pretty common, and a lot of the unmissable deals you see really are too good to be true. Worse still, with more than a few of them you’ll never see your item at all.

New media, old scams

On top of all these, social media still suffers from the same old scams we’re used to filtering out of our texts and emails. You might find adverts for “free gifts” or prize winnings you’ve somehow scored, or promises of “secrets the medical community wants to hide” as you scroll through your feed. Generally, though, people are getting wiser about this kind of thing. Having an influencer personally endorse a product or make a special offer is a little different, though. It slaps a trusted face on a scam and makes it harder to resist for many people. Even putting a dodgy ad on a popular celebrity’s page can give it a sense of authenticity. After all, your favourite internet personality wouldn’t allow anything iffy on their site, would they?

Social media sites are taking a few steps to crack down on influencer scams, but it’s a tall order to eliminate them altogether. In the meantime, keep your wits about you, think twice before you open your wallet and keep checking back here for more safety tips from RIFT.

In fact, before you start spending on the latest thing you've seen online, check if you're due a tax refund to top up your wallet!

RIFT are the UK's leading tax rebate and tax return experts who've been in the business since 1999.