It’s the holiday season in case you haven’t noticed. And yesterday, in the spirit of giving — and to save us from losing bank — Oprah Winfrey alerted the public that scammers have been impersonating her on social media to solicit money and personal information from followers.
"Somebody out there is trying to scam you using my name and my avatar on social media, asking for money if you sign up for an OWN account on Instagram," she said in a video posted to Twitter. "It's a fraud, it's a fraud, it's a fraud! Don't believe it."
Fraud alert! pic.twitter.com/WACnDs04Bc— Oprah Winfrey (@Oprah) December 21, 2017
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"Don't give up any of your bank accounts or personal information to anybody posing as me or anyone else for that matter," she continued.
OWN also posted on their accounts with a similar warning: "Please be aware that social media accounts promising money using OWN and/or Oprah Winfrey’s names are false," the message reads. "We have notified the social media platforms who are working diligently to deactivate these accounts."
Scams during the holidays
In a cover story about holiday scamming this week, Michael Osakwe spoke to Metro on behlalf of consumer info site NextAdvisor. Though he speaks about charity scams in particular (not those involving celebrities) he says that generally, a scammer’s pitch tends to "promote both a false sense of urgency and an emotional response."
The messages from Oprah-posing accounts definitely have that sense of urgency to them. First For Women uncovered a now-deleted Instagram page that posted notices such as: “Since Christmas is less than 10 days away, I'm giving away $5,000 each to the first 100K followers that follow @own_christmas on Instagram."
It's very likely that con artists targeted Oprah because she is a power-figure known for her generosity. She has a history of being charitable, and because of this, Oprah brings out emotion in the best of us.
Social media and scams
A report from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and the Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network shows an increase in social media scams specifically on Facebook. It shows "200,000 reports of scams in 2016, with losses totalling almost $300 million."
Studies also show an increase in "online romance scams." People pretend to be a potential love interest on apps, sites and social platforms, then disappear once they swindle you into giving them money. (So, if someone on Tinder swipes right, then talks cash, unmatch them.)
AARP has released information this year about social media fraud, including shopping scams and genealogy scams advertised on site like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. They also provide tips on how to avoid being a target.
One tip in particular that you may not have thought of asserts: "Avoid posting a full frontal picture of yourself on social media sites. A con artist can copy the image and use it to create a photo ID that can be used to steal your identity."
Remember who the real Oprah is
When it comes down to it, there’s only one Oprah account on each platform — and each is verified.
The Instagram help center page talks about verification. That little blue check you see next to social media handles is there for a reason: "It means that Instagram has confirmed that this is the authentic account for the public figure, celebrity or global brand it represents."
"Accounts representing well-known figures and brands are verified because they have a high likelihood of being impersonated," the site states. "We want to make sure that people in the Instagram community can easily find the authentic people and brands they want to follow."
So, word to the wise: if it’s not verified, leave it behind.
After warning fans, Oprah doesn't forget to add with a seemingly frustrated smile — but a smile nonetheless — "...and have a Merry Christmas."