No matter how many (or how few) followers you’ve got on Instagram, chances are you’ll have received a direct message (DM) from an unknown account that goes something like this: ‘Hey! I’m on the promoter team at [insert brand name] and we’d love you to become a brand ambassador! Please DM the brand to find out more.’
Often, these messages come from an account with very few followers and no profile picture, and they’ll sometimes follow up urging you to ‘Hurry, because there are only a few spaces left!’ Other times, they comment ‘DM to collab’ underneath a photo instead of messaging.
On the surface, it’s fluttering to think that a marketing professional has spied your profile and decided that you’re a perfect fit for a clothing or accessories company.
Could this, you might wonder, be the beginning of a lucrative career as a social media influencer? The truth is… probably not.
“Brand collaboration has become a popular attention-grabbing technique between genuine social media influencers and popular brands,” says Mike Andrews, national co-ordinator for the National Trading Standards eCrime Team. “But sadly, like many other legitimate marketing techniques, it’s been hijacked by rogue traders and criminals looking to make easy money. Criminals misuse the technique to trap, scam or mislead businesses and consumers.”
Sharon Davies, CEO of Young Enterprise, says cyber criminals have “Adopted new tactics during the pandemic… a recent phenomenon is fake brand collaboration requests, from people who appear to be working on behalf of a brand offering paid work. The majority of the time these offers turn up to be from fake accounts who don’t work for a brand, and instead try to sell discounted products.”
While it may seem like a brand wants to pay you to promote their products, as they would in the case of a genuine collaboration offer, with ‘DM to collab’ scams users are required to buy goods at a ‘discounted’ rate or pay inflated postage costs.
Unwitting Instagram users are, Davies says: “Bombarded with offers for buying products, which probably don’t exist.”
Davies believes that scammers usually try to trick “smaller influencers”, but Andrews says even if you don’t have a lot of followers you could be susceptible: “Criminals will target all kinds of social media users, but those following popular brands, celebrities and influencers are especially susceptible to the misuse of brand collaboration.”
Ultimately, there’s no way of entirely ruling out the possibility that a brand you love will one day slide into your DMs begging for your to work with them. But until that day, it’s best to be careful and treat any brand collaboration offer with caution.
Davies concludes: “A reputable brand who wants to use an influencer to advertise a product is extremely unlikely to ask for a payment upfront.”