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10 proven ways to spot influencer scams & brands that prey on small influencers

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Influencer scams are inevitable! Have you ever gotten a comment or DM from a “brand” asking you to collaborate and be their brand ambassador? Odds are, especially if you’re new to the influencer industry, you’re about to get scammed.

The influencer market is growing rapidly, and more and more nano and micro influencers are hungry and eager to look for collabs with brands to make income. At the same time, more and more brands and companies are growing their influencer marketing budget. But with both sides on the rise come POOR business ethics, MANY brands use their upper hand and knowledge of social media to take advantage of budding influencers, and unfortunately, a lot of them fall prey for these Instagram scams mainly because they don’t know any better.

If you’re new to the influencer scene and are delving into securing sponsorships on Instagram, this guide aims to assist you in identifying red flags associated with Instagram scams and provides insights on how to avoid them.

10 Warning Signs to Identify Influencer Scams:

“DM to Collab” Comments:

Legitimate brands offering influencer sponsorships understand the importance of direct communication. If a brand is genuinely interested in collaborating with you, they will reach out directly, either through email or direct messages. Beware of generic “DM to collab” comments, as they are often automated and lack the personal touch of a legitimate collaboration proposal.

Messages from Non-Main Accounts:

Brands resorting to automation often employ secondary accounts to engage with influencers. This strategy helps them avoid potential repercussions on their main accounts. If you notice that a brand is consistently reaching out through non-main accounts, it could be a sign of an influencer scam.

Immediate Ambassadorship Offers:

While becoming a brand ambassador is a legitimate aspiration for many influencers, immediate offers, especially via direct messages, may raise suspicions. Authentic brand collaborations are built on a thorough understanding of your content and audience. Brands that offer ambassadorships too quickly may not be genuinely interested in your unique influence.

Requesting Upfront Product Purchases:

A significant warning sign is when a brand asks you to purchase their product upfront, even with a discount. Legitimate collaborations involve the brand providing products for you to authentically feature. If a brand insists on influencers buying their products, it’s essential to question the authenticity of the collaboration.

Free Email Accounts:

Brands with official products and websites typically use official email accounts for communication. If a brand contacts you using free email services (e.g., Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo), it may indicate a lack of professionalism or, in extreme cases, an attempt to engage in phishing or other deceptive practices.

Suspicious Social Media Metrics:

Unverified brands boasting excessively high follower counts with disproportionately low engagement could be employing fake followers. Genuine collaborations thrive on authentic engagement, so scrutinize the quality and consistency of a brand’s social media metrics before committing to any partnership.

Poor Feed Quality:

While not a definitive red flag, the quality of a brand’s social media feed can offer insights into their professionalism. Brands relying heavily on poor-quality images or stock photos may indicate subpar products or potentially even knock-offs. Consider whether associating with such brands aligns with your influencer identity and values.

Lack of Contract or Written Agreement:

Official collaborations involve clear and documented agreements. If a brand is unwilling to provide a contract, especially for collaborations involving gifted products, it may suggest a lack of professionalism or an attempt to exploit influencers. Always insist on a written agreement to protect your interests.

Ads Seeking Ambassadors:

Brands investing in advertisements specifically to find influencers might prioritize quantity over quality. Genuine collaborations are built on a brand’s sincere interest in your content and influence. Be cautious if a brand relies on paid ads to scout for influencers, as this may indicate a transactional rather than a genuine interest in a long-term partnership.

Exclusive DM Conversations:

Legitimate brands are typically open to transitioning conversations from direct messages to more official communication channels like email. If a brand is hesitant to move the discussion beyond DMs, it may indicate a lack of professionalism. Insist on official communication channels to maintain clarity and professionalism throughout the collaboration.

What You Can Do:

Research the Brand’s Website and Social Media:

Look up the brand’s website and check social media engagement. Verify the legitimacy of their followers and collaborations.

Check Followers and Collaborations:

Recognizable influencers following the brand can provide a level of legitimacy. Investigate tags in photos to ensure consistency with your content.

Seek Second Opinions:

Connect with fellow influencers to share experiences and insights. A community can provide valuable perspectives on potential collaborations.

Trust Your Instincts:

If something feels off, it probably is. Listen to your intuition and know your worth as an influencer.

In conclusion, navigating sponsorships on Instagram requires vigilance and awareness. By being informed about these red flags, you can safeguard yourself and fellow influencers from falling victim to influencer scams. Remember, your authenticity and reputation are invaluable—choose collaborations wisely.


How can I tell if a brand offering a collaboration is legitimate or a potential scam?

Look for red flags such as “DM to collab” comments, messages from non-main accounts, immediate ambassadorship offers, requests for upfront product purchases, and lack of a written agreement.

Why should I be cautious of brands using free email accounts for communication?

Legitimate brands with official products and websites typically use official email accounts. Brands using free email services may be less credible and could even be attempting to phish for personal information.

What role do social media metrics play in identifying potential scams?

Suspiciously high follower counts with low engagement could indicate fake followers. Authentic collaborations thrive on genuine engagement, making metrics an essential aspect to scrutinize

Is it common for brands to ask influencers to buy their products upfront?

Legitimate collaborations involve brands providing products or services. If a brand asks you to purchase their product upfront, especially with a discount, it raises concerns about the authenticity of the collaboration.

How can I protect myself in collaborations without a written agreement?

Official collaborations should have written agreements or contracts outlining terms and expectations. If a brand is unwilling to provide this, it may be a sign of an unprofessional or potentially problematic collaboration.

Picture of Ashu Gandhi

Ashu Gandhi

Ashu Gandhi is a renowned entrepreneur, influencer, and social media expert who has a decade of experience in the Digital Marketing Industry. He is a Social Media Content Creator with 1M+ followers across Social Media platforms and Co-founder of sparkupreach: A Digital Marketing Agency. Ashu and his team have successfully run campaigns with top brands, including Fanta, TVF, Snickers, Head & Shoulders, Maaza, Paytm, Amazon, and BOAT to name a few.

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