Influencer Marketing Fraud: Avoid Fake Influencers on Social Media and Protect Your Brand

Using an influencer marketing agency/agencies as part of your brand’s marketing can be an effective strategy for growing your business. Unfortunately, that is only the case if the influencer in question works with integrity. Fraudulent influencers can fudge follower numbers and cost your business a lot of money. If you are considering working with an influencer, make sure to look beyond the volume of followers on their social media account. Before you enlist an influencer’s help on your own, you need to know the common red flags to protect your brand.

Related: New York Influencer Agency

How Fake Influencers Can Hurt You

When an influencer buys followers, they are simply paying for a value on their Instagram profile. That high number of followers—fake or not—will enable them to trick brands into paying for promotional posts without actually having an organic audience to promote to. The “followers” are bots who won’t engage with your content, purchase your product, or talk to their friends about your brand. Essentially, you’re paying for a small fraction of the following on the influencer’s Instagram profile with little to no growth in return.

Knowing that you’ve been tricked by influencer fraud is a violation of trust, but it can likely hurt your company long term. Enlisting an influencer marketer will guarantee that you weed out any fake influencers who could cost you money. Our team of marketing professionals has compiled a list of signs on social media to pay attention to when pursuing influencer marketing.


Red Flags Signaling Influencer Fraud

Keep an eye out for these telltale signs signaling that your ‘influencer” may be a fraud:

  • Comments on their posts are questionable. It’s fairly easy to identify Instagram bot comments, or those on any other platforms. They’ll usually say something incredibly generic that doesn’t pertain to the post. Comments like “beautiful smile!” on a photo of a sunset are a red flag. Be sure to scroll through a few posts and stay mindful of the language used in the comments.


  • They have spikes in following number. Every following ebbs and flows, but frequent, sudden spikes in follower numbers could be a reason to investigate. This could mean that the influencer is periodically paying for robots to increase their following number. In order to have it appear more “authentic”, they can increase the volume gradually, but it’ll likely still jump up by several thousand followers every few days or so. Keep a close eye on these trends. Also, see if they’re associated with giveaways or launches—these trends can result in a sudden rise in organic followers, but it’s usually not a round number or immediate surge.


  • They have a new account yet a significantly high volume of followers. Enough said. Be cautious around a new profile with that many “organic” followers. There are exceptions to the rule—let’s say an influencer deleted their profile off the social media platform then created a new profile that they alerted all their followers on other social media platforms to follow. It could happen. Could.


  • They have a low engagement rate but high followers. Unsure how to calculate an account’s rate? Marketers use specific tools to run engagement rate metrics in live-time, but you can do a quick calculation to help estimate engagement. Take a look at the last several posts on the influencer’s profile and tally all numbers for said posts—that means likes, shares, and comments. Add them up, then divide by the number of posts you used engagement values for. Divide this value by the total follower number, then multiply by 100. Your final value will be a percentage. Generally, an Instagram rate of 1% to 3% is good.

Under 1% is a red flag. Why? Well, first, it’s important to consider that there can be many reasons why a profile may have low engagement, and it’s not always the fact that the audience is bots. But even so, an influencer you want to work with should have an adequate percentage, so still consider this a red flag that you could want to work with someone else.

Over 3% could also be a red flag. Why? To counteract the recent discovery that bot supporters  lead to low engagement, fake influencers now buy fake engagement. How clever. An alarmingly high rate could potentially indicate engagement fraud.


  • Audience quality is questionable. If you’re unsure whether the followers are real people, marketer audit tools can aid in identifying a real person and a fake bot. Without those, you can guestimate by taking a look at follower’s Instagram profiles. Robots typically follow an alarmingly high volume of accounts and have only a few followers in return. Their social media profiles are bare without much or any true content, and Instagram profile photos look fake or are completely absent. Sure, there are some odd people on the internet, but in general, these signs point to one fake bot profile.


  • You have a gut feeling. It’s certainly not an analytical way to go about this, but if you feel like deep down in your core, this influencer could be fraudulent, the chances are high. Listen to your gut or the voice in the back of your head telling you they’re not for real. 


Enlist the Services of an Influencer Marketing Agency to Avoid Influencer Fraud

An experienced influencer marketing professional can spot a fake influencer from miles away—you can rest assured that no fraudulent accounts will steal your brands’ hard-earned money. When considering a third party marketing agency to produce advertising content, be sure to confirm that they have a screening process through which all influencers must pass. We always vet new influencers to ensure the authenticity of their followings.



How do influencers fake followers?

Many bogus social media users are bots which influencers can buy. You may wonder what’s the point in spending on followers just to make money off them, but it’s surprising to know that robots run relatively cheap. For this reason, they’re far more common than one may think.


 Why do influencers fake followers?

With a larger following, influencers can charge more for each promoted post; therefore, they may be inclined to buy fake supporters in order to bring in more cash. That’s where you, as a brand, get hurt. The inauthentic followers won’t contribute to your business growth or extend your reach—ultimately, your money has been wasted on the fraudulent scheme. And the influencer was in on it the entire time.


How can I protect my brands from influencer marketing fraud?

The good news: there are a few simple ways to help you identify who could be a fraud. The bad news: fraudulent influencers are getting craftier. With new ways to simulate engagement and more intelligent bots, fraud still happens quite frequently. Follow these steps to weed out fraudulent influencers:

  • Check comments on their posts. If many of them are generic or make no sense as compared to the content in the post, the profile could be questionable.
  • Monitor for big surges in followings. This could indicate periodic paid bot audience receipt.
  • Consider it a red flag if their account is new, yet they have a very high volume of people following them.
  • Calculate their engagement rate through a marketers industry data tool or see the above formula to estimate the percentage. A good rate for content is somewhere between 1% and 3%.
  • Take a look at their follower’s profiles to determine if they’re authentic or frauds.
  • Check in with your gut. Have a bad feeling? Your intuition might be telling you something.

An influencer marketing experts’ assistance can give you much more insight into whether you are at risk for a fraudulent transaction. Avoid being the victim of influencer fraud by seeking help.