Oprah giveaway scam: Impersonators are trying to lure victims

You know the expression: If it sounds too good to be true, well, it probably is. Yet, fake giveaways are among the biggest scams trending on social media.

Here’s how they typically work: Scammers pose as big brands (like Best Buy) or celebrities. To do so, they create accounts that slightly tweak the brand’s name or the celebrity’s name, and then the scammers host fake giveaways that promise gift cards or cash prizes for “likes,” “comments,” and “follows” or, more seriously, in exchange for sensitive, personal information or bank account information.

Among the latest round of celebs being imitated for the scam? Oprah. This prompts a special concern because the talk show host/philanthropist/actress and all-around media mogul is associated with legitimate giveaways. In fact, here are some of her most memorable show giveaways, which, spoiler alert, includes cars and Disney vacations.

oprah photo

Dozens of spam accounts, though, first began popping up around Christmas, swiping Oprah’s avatar, name and pretending to be affiliated with the OWN Network. The accounts use a few different tactics, promising thousands of dollars to the first 100,000 followers, for example. Others solicit money for signing up for an OWN account on Instagram.

Oprah took to her own social media accounts to warn her 12.3 million fans that imposters are trying to use her name, and brand, to hold fake giveaways and, in some cases, swindle people out of money.

Oprah’s message to the fans who follow her on Instagram: “It’s a fraud, it’s a fraud, it’s a fraud! Don’t believe it. Don’t give up and of your bank account or personal information to anybody posing as me or anyone else.”

View this post on Instagram

FRAUD ALERT! #Beware

A post shared by Oprah (@oprah) on

The OWN network, in a separate statement, went on to say that it was working to get these fraudulent social media accounts deactivated.

In fact, giveaway scams have become so popular on social media sites, they prompted the Better Business Bureau to release a warning recently.

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Here’s some of the BBB’s advice for avoiding these online scams.

  • Don’t believe what you see. Scammers are pros at stealing colors, logos, and headers of  established organizations. They can also make links appear to go to legitimate websites.
  • Legitimate businesses do not ask for credit card numbers or banking information for coupons or giveaways. If they do ask for personal information, like an address or email, be sure there’s a link to their privacy policy.
  • When in doubt, do a quick web search. If the giveaway is a scam, your web search might reveal an alert or bring you to the organization’s real website, where they may have posted further information.
  • Watch out for a reward that’s too good to be true. Businesses typically give out small discounts to entice customers. If the offer seems too good to be true (a $100 voucher or 50% discount) it may be a scam.

As for Oprah, this isn’t the first time she’s been impersonated for a scam. For example, in 2015, the FTC warned that rounds of weight-loss emails, sent from hacked accounts, feigned endorsements from Oprah and The Doctors’ TV show.

If you’ve been targeted by an imposter scam, you can let the FTC know by filing a complaint at ftc.gov/complaint.