Aussies have lost thousands to sophisticated fraudsters in a series of celebrity endorsement scams over the last year, with high-profile names including Lisa Wilkinson, Carrie Bickmore and Georgie Gardner caught up in them.
According to the ACCC, the number of reports to watchdog Scamwatch have soared by 400 per cent in a year – with older women the most likely to get caught out.
The scams primarily appear as online advertisements or promotional stories on social media, or on a legitimate-looking website, with many including false claims that a major celebrity is leaving their job to start their own beauty company. Some will include fictitious quotes and out-of-context images of the celebrity to make them appear realistic.
In the last year, Aussies have lost more than $142,000 to the scams. Shockingly, 63 per cent of those losses were suffered by people aged 45 and older – most commonly women.
“The growth in these scams is very concerning, particularly as over half the reports we received included a financial loss. Most people lost between $100 and $500 and in one case, a victim lost more than $50 000 through fake celebrity endorsement of an investment scheme,” ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said.
Just last month, The Project‘s Carrie Bickmore was targeted in an elaborate skincare scam. She posted a scathing message on Instagram at the time, slamming an online advertisement that claimed she’s leaving the Channel Ten show to start her own company.
SCAM WARNING. If you see articles or fake ads popping up on your social media feeds saying I am leaving The Project to focus on my FACE CREAM/BEAUTY BUSINESS please ignore and DO NOT click on the link to purchase the product. It’s a scam and they will take your money. Very sneaky. They have been targeting a few different presenters.
Taking to Instagram at the time, she wrote: “SCAM WARNING. If you see articles or fake ads popping up on your social media feeds saying I am leaving The Project to focus on my FACE CREAM/BEAUTY BUSINESS please ignore and DO NOT click on the link to purchase the product. It’s a scam and they will take your money. Very sneaky. They have been targeting a few different presenters.”
Meanwhile, in March, her co-star Lisa Wilkinson slammed a similar advertisement that was circulating on social media, which claimed she left Today to also start her own skincare company.
Taking to Twitter, Lisa warned her followers the advertisement was a scam. She wrote: “So apparently this BS “moisturiser” is called Final Skin (pretty grim name in itself) but the dumb-ass quote supposedly from me is priceless: ‘If you have a face and your face has skin, Final Skin will work for you…As a mixed-race person that is the first thing I made sure of’.”
So apparently this BS “moisturiser” is called Final Skin (pretty grim name in itself) but the dumb-ass quote supposedly from me is priceless:
“If you have a face and your face has skin, Final Skin will work for you…As a mixed-race person that is the first thing I made sure of.” pic.twitter.com/CwUjN6nBYk
— Lisa Wilkinson (@Lisa_Wilkinson) March 17, 2018
Georgie Gardner was also targeted by scammers in August, when fans began to report seeing false Facebook ads using her image. They appeared as fake news reports claiming she was “stepping away from Today” to sell skin care.
Writing in a first person piece for the Herald Sun at the time, Georgie wrote: “For the record I just want to state that I have absolutely no association with any of these products and I urge people to avoid them at all costs and to be absolutely mindful of handing over your credit card details.”
Nine News Sydney presenter Deborah Knight and AFL Footy Show host Eddie McGuire have also been caught up in fake advertising campaigns on social media, as well as The Block’s Shelley Craft.
The ACCC has warned that most of these scams work by encouraging consumers to sign up for a free trial for a product. As part of this process, they then have to provide their credit card details.
However, this so -called free trial has strict terms and conditions which aren’t immediately obvious. In one, customers have to return the product within a near impossible timeframe, while another has an automatically renewing subscription that is difficult to cancel. The terms are often only visible on the document that arrives with the product.
“The groups behind these celebrity endorsement scams are organised and sophisticated fraudsters who are often involved in other scams. It’s easy for them to create fake ads and websites to give credibility to their con, so people need to be very careful and sceptical about ads they read on social media and websites,” Rickard said.
“It is vital to research and read independent reviews of the company. Consumers should verify celebrity endorsement of products from the celebrity’s official website or social media account.”
The ACCC is now calling on social media giants like Google, Facebook and Instagram to crackdown on the ads and prevent Aussies seeing them in their feeds.
“Most of the reports to Scamwatch involve these scam advertisements running on Google ad banners or as ads in Facebooks news feeds. These tech giants must do more to quickly suspend ads, as every time consumers click on a scam ad, they are at risk of losing money,” Rickard said.
“If you are caught up in one of these scams, call your bank immediately to try and arrange a chargeback and to stop any further debits to your credit card.”