Are social media dwellers tricking you into making bad investment decisions where you lose and where they win?
Social media influencers aren’t just dancing on TikTok or recording themselves playing video games. The rise of unlicensed online “experts” sharing advice on investing, cryptocurrency trading, or how to get rich quick is changing the way many people invest. These schemes are growing at an alarming rate, making it difficult to protect consumers.
As the economy closes and real wages continue to fall, many are looking for new ways to keep up with inflation by finding new sources of income. The financial influencer – or “finfluencer” – takes advantage of this reality by posting viral videos to millions of fans, attempting to get people to invest in their product or strategy.
Influencers come in two forms: the first is the internet personality or celebrity who gets paid to post sponsored content on social media. The second is the self-proclaimed expert selling his own products, financial training, or investment secrets. Both types of influencers generate trust in their audience through fame and notoriety with claims of low risk and high rewards. Think about it – should Matt Damon be trusted to understand Bitcoin or should Kim Kardashian be considered the expert at turning real money into cryptocurrency?
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Kim Kardashian, who has more Instagram followers than the entire US population, recently paid $1.26 million in fines for touting a cryptocurrency asset and failing to disclose that she had been paid to promote the content. Kardashian is not alone. Steven Seagal and Floyd Mayweather were fined for similar offences.
Celebrities with big followings are usually easy for regulators to monitor. The violations they commit are usually minor and they rarely scam fans directly. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the self-proclaimed expert providing unlicensed financial and investment advice. This type of influencer will claim expertise or invention of a foolproof strategy with high rewards and low risk, boasting of huge profits with screenshots of their bank account or glimpses of modes of lavish life.
The proliferation of finfluencer makes it nearly impossible for regulators to monitor the massive amount of investment material being shared on social media. Investors must learn to identify red flags.
Start with the basics of investing:
- Every investment involves risk, and there is no magic or secret to getting rich overnight. Most “overnight successes” require years of discipline. Ask yourself, “If an influencer claims to have made millions of dollars using their secret investment strategy, why are they spending more time trying to get me to buy their strategy? If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
- Never take unsolicited investment advice. State and federal laws require stockbrokers, advisers, firms and the products they sell to be registered or licensed. Investments always involve risk, but a licensed professional is better equipped to help you understand the risks, especially those that aren’t obvious.
- Do your homework before investing. If you work with an influencer, ask for references, research their social media pages and website, and read the comments posted on their pages. If they consistently remove old content from their social media pages, it may mean that they are deleting negative comments or reposting old content to appear as new. But still — approach with skepticism and caution. Most of these “opportunities” do not materialize and significant sums may be lost.
The rise of the finfluencer opens the door to new investment opportunities, but it is not without risk. If you have questions about investing or know of an influencer who is scamming people online, contact our agency at 406-444-2040 or visit CSIMT.gov.
Troy Downing is the Securities and Insurance Commissioner, State Auditor of Montana. Commissioner Downing is a veteran of two tours, a businessman and an entrepreneur.