We've all had moments when we've seen an underwhelming account on Instagram or Twitter and wondered how they managed to get a huge number of followers and likes. The answer to this often involves fake followers and likes through bots. And on July 13, the Mumbai police uncovered one such international scam involved in the creation of millions of fake social media profiles.
The scam was unearthed after singer Bhoomi Trivedi lodged a complaint against a fake profile on Instagram pretending to be her official profile. She claimed someone had created a fake profile using her photos and name, and was using it to scam others.
“A few of my industry friends and followers recently told me they had received a message from a PR agency claiming they had got my Instagram account verified for Rs 4,000," Trivedi told Mumbai Mirror. "I was shocked to see the fraudsters using screenshots of a conversation between them and the person who runs the fake account to gain the trust of others." She alleged that a few of her friends and followers had fallen victim to the scam as well.
Following her complaint, on July 14, the crime branch’s Central Intelligence Unit (CIU) nabbed a 21-year-old from Mumbai’s Kurla, who worked for a website called followerskart.com which allegedly provided fake followers and likes to people for a fee. The accused alone had allegedly amassed more than 5 lakh (half a million) fake followers for 176 accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, and other such platforms. They found three bank accounts in his name, all of which had transactions involving around Rs 9 lakh ($12,000).
On further questioning, they found that the website was part of a larger international scam involved in the creation of millions of fake profiles, followers, and likes which have been used to boost influencer statistics. This international scam involves fraudulent websites posing as social media management agencies who are involved in the creation of fake social media profiles, selling fake likes to both fake and genuine accounts, creating fake followers, and other such deceptive activities.
The police said there were at least 100 such websites in India. So far, they’ve managed to identify 54 of them. They also found profiles with a large number of fake followers were being used to spread rumours and misinformation online. The police also set up a special investigation team—the first of its kind investigating illegal social media marketing in India—consisting of officers from the CIU and the cyber cell.
The police have also summoned 18 celebrities, including film directors, choreographers, and models, who had apparently used the services of such websites to boost their following online.
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This article originally appeared on VICE IN.