Why Do People Keep Falling for This Instagram Scam?

Why Do People Keep Falling for This Instagram Scam?

Have you ever been randomly invited to become a brand ambassador? Are you amazed that people fall for this scam? Here's how it works.

The email that popped into my inbox last week was from Jody, a runway and influencer director, explaining that she'd spotted my Instagram, loved my work, and had presented it to a "Runway Fashion Label in New York City" who now wanted to work with me. Exciting stuff.

Email from Jody at Chic NYC Runway

According to Jody — writing to me from her office in the Empire State Building — this company has more than 178,000 followers on Instagram (which jumped to 500,000 in the next email), and they were allowing me to be featured along with the chance to reach 5 million followers worldwide.

Chic NYC Instagram

The "official" Instagram of CHIC NYC RUNWAY ™. Not to be confused with any unofficial versions.

Jody — who later became April — didn't seem to know whether she was writing to me from CHIC NYC RUNWAY or Global Influencer Agency, shifting within the space of a sentence. Signing up would make me one of Global Influencer Agency's "professionally managed" influencers, part of a team of 15,000 content creators who want to help me on my influencer journey and promote me to the 80,000 followers via their Instagram account. Not only would I gain 500 followers a month, but I'd also be invited to events and runway shows and receive a 75% discount on exclusive clothing that's been featured at New York Fashion Week alongside Tommy Hilfiger, Michael Kors, and Giogio (yes, "Giogio") Armani.

Al I needed to do was choose a T-shirt and use the 75% discount code I'd just received. Despite the clumsy email, the psychological nudges were subtle: I'd need to place my order before 11 pm that night (no time zone mentioned) and then post a photo of me wearing my new clothes tagging @chicnyc, @NYFW, and @womanslook. The time restriction was to encourage me not to spend too long researching Chic NYC and the tease of tagging New York Fashion Week and Woman's Look (a huge fashion freebooting account with 1.3 million followers) was to make me assume that these other accounts might feature my photo.

Just How Deceptive Is This?

This brand ambassador racket is misleading, but calling it deceptive is not entirely accurate. You could argue that people are being teased rather than lied to, and no one is handing over money for something that they don't receive (although the Better Business Bureau reviews may suggest otherwise). This scheme operates by preying on people's desire for Instagram fame and functions as a slightly more complicated "pay-to-be-featured" style account. There are hundreds of thousands of Instagram users who want to be the next prominent fashion blogger, and to those who are too excited or naive to look beyond the surface and examine the details, this looks like a shortcut.

Because Instagram has done very little to counter the purchase of fake followers, creating an account and giving it the appearance of reach and authenticity is alarmingly simple.

As a business model, it seems straightforward. In essence, the customers are not only buying the products but also then advertising them, posting their purchases to their own Instagram accounts for their friends to see and gaming the Instagram algorithm by tagging. It certainly seems to be working: according to the report kindly provided to me by HypeAuditor, @chicnyc has been tagged in 1,071 in the last 90 days. 

Even better, the products on sale are massively marked up, and in theory, there's no need to hold any stock. Anything that can't be drop-shipped can be bought online from a cheap vendor and then sold on with a considerable markup. Many items on these stores can take a month to be delivered.

Digging into the details of CHIC NYC RUNWAY makes for some amusing discoveries.

Thailand Candy handbag price comparison

The CHIC NYC RUNWAY version on the left, and the same item on Ali Express on the right. Maybe the Ali Express version is a counterfeit..?

This Thailand Candy handbag is listed on CHIC NYC's website for $390. Having just received my 75% discount, I could now buy that handbag for $97.50. That may sound like a bargain until you discover that the same handbag is for sale on Ali Express for a mere $35.46. As you might have guessed, it's the same for numerous items on the CHIC NYC website.

If the multiple spelling mistakes and strange formatting in the emails aren't enough, the website with its low-res images and bizarre products should be an immediate red flag.

Screengrab from ChicNYCrunway.com

Screengrab from ChicNYCrunway.com

The emails from Jody claim that CHIC NYC Runway is "NOT fast fashion" and that materials are sustainable and locally sourced, all of which jars violently with the hilarious "THIS GUY NEEDS A BEER" T-shirt available for just $129.

This guy needs a beer t-shirt

I emailed Jody and April to ask if this Chic NYC Runway T-shirt was ironic but I did not get a response.

The Global Influencer Agency websites (there are two of them — one singular, one plural) are not much better. A quick search on TinEye shows that perhaps inevitably, the images are stolen from elsewhere. The events listed on GIA's Instagram give the impression that they are exclusive and invitation-only, but a quick Google shows that tickets are freely available to the public

Search engines are not kind to either Chic NYC nor Global Influencer Agency. Google's autocomplete suggestions generally include the word "scam," and the reviews on Trust PilotYelp, and Glassdoor are full of complaints.

Google search results autocomplete

Chic NYC and Global Influencer Agency appear to be the work of Brittany C. Avcioglu (you can find her on Instagram) and Mr. Oguzhan Avcioglu. Both are based in Naples, Florida and were previously the owners of several businesses, including Mirina Collections LLC (a defunct Twitter account is here), which was launched in October 2015 and then administratively dissolved on September 23, 2016, after failing to file an annual report. The Better Business Bureau report notes that it received numerous complaints about the business: Mirina Collections contacted people on Instagram asking them to become brand ambassadors, offering gifts that had to be paid for and selling products that did not match the description and could be found on sites such as Amazon and Ali Express at a fraction of the price. A related company, Nora NYC, appears to have been closed down following similar complaints.

Ms. Avcioglu has not responded to inquiries, and Jody/April from CHIC NYC Runway did not reply when I asked them to put me in touch.

This should not need saying: if a company approaches you asking you to be a brand ambassador and asks you to hand over some money, say no. The worst offenders — including CHIC NYC and Mirina Collections — can be found on a list of scam companies to be avoided as compiled by The Daily Influencer. One of the companies on that list, Paris Runway Ready has a website that is very similar to CHIC NYC Runway, says it has offices in Naples, FL, and New York City, and has the same phone number as that listed on the Global Influencer Agency website.

Are Brand Ambassadors the New Normal?

CHIC NYC is the brand ambassador racket at its most extreme, but such practices by smaller companies are not unusual. In essence, you've probably encountered brands that hunt through social media for potential customers, offering a discount on products in exchange for content to be used for advertising. Whether this is disingenuous largely depends on whether those customers like the brand that they're giving money to and whether they would have spent that money had they not been teased with the prospect of social media exposure.

My research shows that it happens in the photography industry. In essence, companies approach "ambassadors," offering meager discounts on products such as backdrops in exchange for giving the company photographs and videos for use on social media. For small brands, offering an incentive for delivery of "community-generated content" is far quicker and cheaper than more conventional forms of advertising. Again, the honesty of such methods probably depends on whether these ambassadors genuinely like the products that they are endorsing.

Your Experience

Have you been asked to be an ambassador? Whether it's by a high-end fashion brand that weirdly sells "I Love My Girlfriend" T-shirts or by small companies that are offering discounts on authentic products, please let me know your experiences in the comments below.

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35 Comments

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Stranger danger = Influencer danger

Perry Harrington's picture

Any time someone asks you to cough up money, run far far away. I had a company contact me through my YouTube account and they wanted me to review a wireless microphone. Part of the gimmick was that I had to buy it up front, then they would refund 50% immediately. When I delivered a positive Amazon review I would receive a credit for the other half. Before they laid out these details, I assumed they wanted a video review, they would provide a product in exchange for a review. I asked them repeatedly: even if the product does not perform when subjected to interference, etc, would they still offer the product for free? I never heard back from them. Their scam is that to review a product, you must buy the product from Amazon, they refund your money when you write a review -- buying good will.

I have bought a few items this way and had no issues, basically I got something I was looking for for free, the money was refunded each time on posting a review irrespective of how high or low I rated the product, I also mentioned in the review that I had been given the product to review.
Not sure how that can be classed as a scam?
The only caveat is I'd suggest if doing this you are honest in your review, it would be unfair to gush about a lousy product just because you didn't pay for it.

Perry Harrington's picture

They are doing it with the intent of gaming the system. They are paying you for a review and only want to provide the product if you are willing to provide them a positive review. The process relies on honesty, and the holdback of 50% is also suspect in my mind. If they don't like what you wrote, what stops them from not giving you the other 50%? This arrangement is an end run around the organic review mechanism so they can build the number of reviews for the product, which influences the search rankings on Amazon.

I understand why they do it and each time I have received an item I have paid 100% with a promise of a refund once my review is public.
If the product was good I said so but conversely if the product was useless I also said so.
So far I have always been refunded irrespective of what I say in my review, and have always made it clear in the review that I was getting the goods for free.

Maybe I have been lucky, but everything I have received I wanted and would have returned if it was not up to standard.

Jeff McCollough's picture

Same thing happened to me recently. Some brand reached out via my FB page and they made me the same Amazon review offer. Forces you to leave a good review. They were actually quite pushy with me.

Just me's picture

TinEye is my everyday fact-check when something I'm receiving a mail a bit different than usual.
Got even company with large portfolio that was only filled with stock footage pictures... Big no go.

Just say you'll arrange a test shoot. Instruct them to send the product (at no cost) and assure you can deliver great fashion/lifestyle photographs. Then mention how a licensing contract will accompany the proofs along with an "open option" to book you for further shoots.

They bolt after that. You may earn a place on a blocked list.

Stuart Carver's picture

Swipe left, delete

Julie Blichmann's picture

I had two accounts contact me about a pet related product. I just ignored both of them! The photo they commented on, was nothing spectacular either!

Funny that both seem to be using the same photos!

"Why Do People Keep Falling for This Instagram Scam?"

Maybe because those using IG are a desperate, credulous lot?

Seriously, IG seems to be a place to waste time looking at all sorts of images but scarcely a place to advance a career. Believing one can become successful via IG is like thinking that hanging around the right places in L.A. will get you a movie career.

Why is one on IG? The randos that ever followed me only wanted a reciprocal follow. Precisely zero were truly interested my work and the people I really knew were fellow photographers that were never going to hire me.

I know millions show their work there but all it really is is a large pool of potential marks for scammers.
This will never change because scams have worked forever and there is always another sucker.

I often wondered about it myself. Sometimes I read opinions that were fundamentally different from each other. Human expectations, not always justified.

Alirio Model's picture

Hi Mr Day.

Today I received mail from CHIC NYC RUNWAY and I almost died of emotion.

His report has put order and provided the real and true perspective that this type of situation has.

I have decided to register only to send you my words of thanks and that you have first-hand information, of the scope of the well-documented research that has been carried out

Andy Day's picture

Ha! They're everywhere!

Hello, I am an ordinary guy from South Korea.
As I’m really into fashion, I have mostly posted fashion photographs in Instagram, tagging popular brands such as comme des garcons, Saint Laurent, and so on.
Yesterday, I received weird but interesting e-mail which suggested that I can be the brand ambassador, work with famous designer.
At first, I experienced similar fraud(well actually I didn’t fall into scam), just doubted it.
But when I read the contents in e-mail again, It looks like a real suggestion.(Because English is not my first language, I cannot figure out what is fakes or not)
So I just replied, seriously.
And I also installed International Phone Call application to call that number! What an idiot!
Well, they didn’t receive my call.
And then finally it was totally fraud.
Thanks to your great article, I think I never fall into scams after reading this. I really appreciate it.
In conclusion: I am a moron!

Lynda Cedeño's picture

Bravo ...

I knew I smelled a rat when I got their email. Thank you so much for publishing this article. I live by the saying: "There's no such thing as a free lunch." I am naturally suspicious of every strange email I receive. I went to their website and IG and there is no way anyone would be following that stupid account. And by the way, why are they contacting me with this frivolity when NYC is going through a horrendous Covid19 pandemic. The idea of going to fashion shows during a global pandemic is not something you should be trying to sell me on. Idiots. Shameful opportunist and scammers.

Andy Day's picture

Ergh. Yeah, that's pretty awful behaviour.

Glad the article was of use!

Today alone I’ve received about 5-6 emails from this company although in my email from Jody it states she is located at 40 Wall street. I’ve received a total of probably 15-20 emails in the past 6 months probably

Hahaha. Thank you! So I have registered on here just to provide my experience! I just started to have a presence online (during quarantine). I only have 151 followers (which I am very grateful and excited about, but it has been a lot of work to get those 151 followers). They are organic followers. So I was shocked to received an email that they wanted me to be an ambassador. I figured what the heck, I don't know their algorithm. I receive the follow up email, (two can play chicken), and I went as far as putting the "famous brand t-shirt" in the cart to pay..... Put my "code" from the link (in the email) in the checkout code box, and omg! what do you know the "famous brand t-shirt" that they want you to tag them on is not free. I quickly googled "Chic Scam" and found you. hahaha. I emailed them back letting them know there must have been a mistake because it was not free and a discount (even if steep) does not make you an ambassador for a brand. It makes you a customer. If I get any follow up from them (which I did tell them they have until 11:00 PM to get back to me). I don't expect to hear back from them, but will update this review if I do.

Andy Day's picture

Glad it was useful!

Hi I am an Asian girl. I always got those kind of emails.
Included this NYC.

A couple years ago I went to the gym everyday and I posted some clips and photos about workout on IG for fun.
Then I got many invitations asked me to be their brand ambassador. Even I got an invitation for tiktok app too.

At first I was so excited and tried to ask and talked with them via emails.
But everytime it became they gave me some discount and I need to buy some of their products that I never heard of before. And wear them then post on IG. Then I never tried to buy any stuffs.

For Tiktok was not a scam but from a marketing people who worked there.
But I had no free time to make 5 videos a week and post as they asked { to becomeone of their ambassadors - 3 years ago) . And it was for free too. Then we did not continue to talk more.

For NYC I just got their emails last month.
Everything on their emails like you guys' emails.
I tried to talk with them and when I searched from google .... no information about their office at all.
Then I tried to put the word "scam" and I found this article.

Thank you so much.
Have a nice day guys.

Andy Day's picture

You're welcome! Glad it was of use. 😊

Hii I am an small Asian girl this same thing happened to me I was actually very excited then I thought about it for a second so I came here to find something just in case glad I found this thanks for the information

Andy Day's picture

Glad the article was useful. 😊

Hi !

Yesterday I received mail from CHIC NYC RUNWAY
I have an art account , so it's a scam ?

Andy Day's picture

If you read the article and still can't decide whether CHIC NYC is a scam, I'm not sure replies to this comment are going to be of much use..!

First it was not a real question, secondly it is not worth it to be so unpleasant

I just received an email of the same kind from chicnycrunway ! I found something fishy because i have not even mentioned or updated my profile as a fashion blogger. Altough i am a singer , musician.. Still i replied them and asked them to provide further details. They told me about all the benefits. Out of doubt i googled it , and as soon as i went through your article , i got it all cleared ! I texted them about not to continue this scam anymore and try things other way out. Your article was really helpful!

Andy Day's picture

Good to know! Thanks for your comment, and glad it was useful. 😊

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