In all likelihood, if you’ve spent any time on social media over the past few years, you will have certainly noticed adverts promoting get-rich-quick schemes and “investment opportunities”. These adverts are frequently scams designed to fool people into giving details and money for services and investments they will never see.
Investment scam adverts are particularly popular on social media and search engines, designed to swindle would-be investors using targeted marketing courtesy of companies like Facebook, Instagram, and Google.
Fraudsters using this type of bait frequently use doctored photographs and false promotional images using familiar and well-trusted faces of celebrities to grab attention and piggyback on the public perception of the celebrity.
This issue has become so extensive that more than a dozen UK household names signed an open letter to the UK government urging them to take stronger preventative action.
The letter – captained by the Money Saving Expert, Martin Lewis – led the UK government to amend their Online Safety Bill to include unethical paid advertising, forcing many of the companies enabling the scammers to take responsibility for the ads on their platform. Without this motivation to prevent scammers from abusing their platform, it could be said to be in the interest of these social media platforms and search engines to allow any advertising via their platform, as their profits are based on clicks.
The celebrities used in investment scams
Among the many faces used by fraudsters to trick victims into parting with their cash are ITV This Morning stars Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield, Dragon’s Den investors Deborah Meaden and Peter Jones, and football legend Sir Alex Ferguson.
The subject of these scams varies significantly. One such celebrity investment scam advert saw ‘Titanic’ actress Kate Winslet used to push cryptocurrency investments without her knowledge. The scam featured a doctored BBC article showcasing the star encouraging people to invest £300 into Bitcoin Code, an auto-trading platform banking on the popularity of cryptocurrency. A spokesperson for Winslet reportedly said: “This misleading promotion is completely disingenuous and categorically false.”
According to NatWest, Holly Willoughby is reported to be the celebrity most exploited by scammers, with her image being used by a range of fraudsters – not least for investment scams. In one instance, an investment fraud victim was swindled out of £265,000 by a fraudster who set up a Facebook ad directing readers to a fake AOL article inviting people to invest in a scheme supposedly endorsed by Willoughby.
On investment scams, the NatWest report said: “To further increase legitimacy fraudsters are placing adverts on social media site and creating links to spoof media and newspaper websites with fake articles featuring celebrities endorsing an investment”.
It’s important to reiterate that the celebrities used in these investment scams have nothing to do with the fraudsters and that their image and status are being used without their permission or endorsement.
The effects of investment scams
Investment fraud is a serious issue with wide-reaching and devastating consequences, not only on the financial stability of victims but on their mental health and self-esteem.
Chloe Roche, CEL Solicitors’ fraud team leader had this to say:
“Unfortunately, victims of fraud have often lost a great deal of money, perhaps even their life savings, while some have taken out loans and remortgaged their homes. This is the point where CEL Solicitors steps in to help return the money lost and to help victims get their lives back on track. Working on a no-win, no-fee basis means we never ask for money upfront and our clients only pay when their money has been returned to them.”
CEL Solicitors have helped many fraud victims get their lives and money back, including a recent example of a man who lost £30,000 in life savings to an investment scam. After the initial loss, the victim was left devastated and forced out of retirement before contacting the CEL fraud and scam team. We offered help and support and were able to return the money. Read the full story.