If you see me DM-ing you on Instagram, take a second look.
If I’m asking how your trading options are going, or whether you want to invest in crypto, it probably isn’t me.
Truth is, I do message my followers. Especially if we’re friends, or if you’re a fellow content creator. But as a user, be skeptical. One of my Instagram followers says she lost $4,000 from a scammer pretending to be me—and honestly, that can happen to anyone.
Posing as financial influencers is the new favorite trick of scammers on the internet. Last year, 95,000 people reported they were victims of social media scams, losing a combined $770 million. Victims who reported it say it was mostly on Facebook and Instagram. This is all according to the Federal Trade Commission.
My name is Chloé Daniels and I’m a money coach who educates people about investing on social media. Since I crossed the 10,000 follower count on Instagram in 2021, scammer accounts pretending to be me have been a consistent presence both on Instagram and TikTok. These scammer accounts look a lot like me: they’ve taken my profile picture, my bio, and even all my posts. They have handles almost exactly the same as mine.
For example, instead of my real handle @clobaremoneycoach, they have ones like
You get the idea. It’s confusing!
At a quick glance, you may not even notice there’s an extra “h” or an unneeded “s” in the handle. And when you see how many thousands of followers these accounts have, you might believe the account to be legit, accept the follow, and have no idea you’ve just let a scammer follow you on Instagram.
A finance influencer is never going to follow you out of the blue. Generally, influencers will only follow people they know or other finance creators, influencers, or businesses. Your first red flag should be when an “influencer” requests to follow you.
I get hundreds of messages a day from my followers asking “Is this you?” coupled with screenshots of conversations between them and a fake Clo Bare Money Coach. It’s a pain, but it’s been manageable and relatively harmless.
Until one day last month. I opened my requests folder and found the messages I’d been dreading.
“Hey I’m getting a message from tradepower saying I’m being scammed idk.” A few hours later, another message from the same follower: “Have I been talking to you through text..?” And then another: “Hey so I need your help. I think someone has a fraud account under you.”
When I saw the messages a few hours later I responded: “You haven’t been talking to me through text! That’s definitely a scammer!. There are a LOT of fraud accounts out there.”
I was worried.
“They claim to be you,” she responded. “I put 4k into thetradingpower.com and lost it all.”
My heart sank. I had never had someone tell me they’d given money to one of these scammers before. I had assumed my followers were able to spot these fake accounts, especially with how often I posted about the scam accounts in my stories.
She proceeded to send me screenshots of a texting conversation in which the scammer admitted to scamming her out of $4,000. The scammer even had the audacity to tell her, “don’t trust people online.”
Unfortunately, this happens more often than we realize.
What Instagram Scammers Do
After advising my follower to report the apparent scam to Meta (the parent company of Instagram) and the Federal Trade Commission, I lost touch with her. The website she sent her money to no longer exists. But I still wanted to learn more about how these scammers work.
So I talked to another one of my followers: Danielle Morris, 53. Morris says she has been contacted by numerous scammers and decided to investigate. She described to me how they tried to get money from her.
“I had never been active on social media sites prior to this year,” Morris said. But once she started following a few accounts, she noticed several requests from what looked like the influencers she was following. “I thought it was odd because I wasn’t putting myself out there,” she said.
After a while she decided to start talking to some of these “influencers” to find out why they were following her. She noticed the answers she received from the scammers were ambiguous, but some of the accounts tried to get her to buy things, like intuitive readings.
“I’d play along and ask them what kind of reading they wanted to do, and they’d tell me, ‘Oh, there’s something about your photograph that drew me to you, and I see a lot of light in your face,’” Morris said. “You could tell it was BS.”
She noticed that after a while the accounts would get bored and move on. When Morris would eventually check back in on the account a few weeks later, it would often be taken down. “They needed to keep creating new accounts in order to not be caught,” she said.
One exchange between Morris and a fake influencer started off with the imposter account telling Morris that his daughter was having a birthday and he needed money to send to the nanny. When she asked how she could help, he asked her to open a Coinbase wallet for him.
When Danielle told him she couldn’t do that because she didn’t understand how, he then changed his tune to asking for an iTunes gift card. She’s also had imposters ask for Google Play cards.
“First thing they do is make rapport with you. They ask you what you do for a living, a little bit about you,” Morris said. “Then they want you to go to WhatsApp or Google Hangouts. They’ll say they aren’t on there very often and they say they like going to WhatsApp because it’s more private.”
How to Avoid Getting Scammed by Fraudulent Fin-Fluencers
The apparent $4,000 scam is the only time I’m aware that this has happened in my community. But there are a few things we all need to pay attention to in order to avoid getting scammed.
1. Be suspicious of “influencers” following you.
What usually happens in these scenarios is the fake Clo Bare Money Coach will request to follow someone who has followed my real account and then immediately start messaging them.
This should be the first red flag. Instagram influencers or creators will generally not follow people they don’t know unless they are also creators, businesses, or influencers.
I also will never message someone who has not messaged me before, and I also wouldn’t start cold-selling in Instagram direct messages. Most finance creators I know will also never DM someone first.
2. Notice if what they’re selling makes sense for their brand.
The second red flag in a typical exchange is that the fake Clo Bare will ask how someone’s “trading” is going or how their experience with Bitcoin is going. Both of these topics—day trading and Bitcoin trading—are things I don’t promote, talk about, or recommend.
People who have been following me for a while know this. The problem is when a new follower who knows nothing about me starts following and doesn’t understand that these types of “investing” are not what I promote.
3. Check if their communication matches the tone on their account.
Another red flag to pay attention to is a mismatch in how the person is communicating via chat versus how they normally communicate in their comments, captions, and other media. I have a very specific tone and approach to my communication. You’ll always see emojis and exclamation points. What I’ve noticed from the hundreds of screenshots that have been sent to me is that scammers absolutely do not know how to copy my tone, and many of them seem to be non-native English speakers.
4. Be skeptical about insane returns on your investment.
In almost every scammer interaction I’ve seen, the scammer will promise life-changing returns on an investment. They’ll offer to help turn $4,000 into $10,000 in a week, promising to only take a $1,000 profit from the “trade.”
Even if these trades were real, which they are not, they’d be impossible to do without high levels of risk. That should be a huge red flag if someone is promising “too good to be true” returns paired with low levels of risk.
If you follow these tips, it should be pretty easy to catch when someone is not who they say they are on the internet. I’ve even had followers ask the scammers DM’ing them to send them a voice message or a photo of what I’m doing at that moment to make sure it’s me. Of course, since it isn’t me, they won’t.
Unfortunately when you do get scammed by these imposters, there’s very little hope in getting your money back. The NextAdvisor team reached out to Meta for comment about how they’re trying to tackle this problem and haven’t heard back. I recommended to my follower that she report it to Meta and the 800 number at the Federal Trade Commission, but since the scammer does not appear to be in the U.S., I’m not sure what will happen.
As a creator, everyday I see new imposter accounts created. Since it seems the platforms aren’t prioritizing taking these accounts down, it’s up to us to protect ourselves by making sure we know who we’re talking to on the internet.