In today’s marketplace, companies are increasingly using their marketing budgets to partner with influencers to sell their brands. Influencers have popular blogs, web sites, and video channels with large followings on social media platforms.

Consumers trust influencers more than they do companies. And businesses are increasingly partnering with social media influencers to market their products and services to large groups of potential customers.

Influencers already have engaged audiences, and if they promote your brand, those followers are more likely to pay attention to your product than a general audience might.

Well-executed influencer marketing campaigns can boost SEO, generate leads, and organically drive traffic to your site. However, be alert to influencer fraud on social networks that can ultimately hurt your brand.

Before you spend a great deal on influencer marketing that could be fraudulent, learn about red flags that point to possible deception. Here are seven ways to avoid influencer marketing fraud.

1. Honest Posts and Captions

A real influencer is a person with emotions who describes genuine experiences. If you are interested in a specific influencer, study what they post. If you see consistent one-sentence posts such as “The best snack ever!” or regular sharing or re-tweeting of thoughts that do not fit in with their virtual and visual personality, avoid partnering with that person.

2. Personal Engagement

Engagement rates for genuine influencers are much higher than with fake influencers. Study comments left after Instagram posts, for example. If you see many generic comments such as “Wonderful!” and “Great!”, you may be dealing with someone buying fake followers or fake accounts.

When a genuine influencer makes a social media post, engaged followers will make pertinent comments and even use the influencer’s name.

3. Brief History    

An influencer with a genuine following will have made large numbers of posts going back years. If an influencer has produced consistent and interesting comments for an extended period, they will naturally garner a following.

If you find only generic posts or inconsistent posts that only go back a few months, you may be looking at a fraudulent influencer.

4. Foreign Followers

Whether you are courting an influencer with a larger audience or enthusiastic micro-influencers, take notice of from where their followers come. If an influencer has many followers who do not live in the area where the poster has the most authority, this could be a sign that the influencer is part of what is called an engagement pod.

These pods are would-be influencers with contracts or agreements to support each other. If you see a vegan from Texas with more followers from Singapore than Houston, you could be looking at fraud.

5. Lack of Verification

Before you begin work with influencers, research their verifications, especially if you are looking at macro-influencers or celebrities with huge groups of followers. Genuine influencers should be verified and have a blue badge with a small white checkmark beside their names.

In addition, the number of posts and followers should draw a parallel with how long the influencer has been actively posting. For example, if you find an influencer who has only made seven posts but has 30,000 followers, those followers were probably purchased.

6. Same Number of Reactions to Each Entry

Real-life engagement to influencer posts varies, just as people do. Genuine, engaged followers will respond differently to each post, with varying reactions, and the number of responses will vary.

If you see an influencer account with the exact number of comments and likes for every photo or post, you are probably looking at a fraudulent account.

7. Unstable Follower Populations

Overnight, large increases in follower populations do not happen organically. Study the number of followers for an influencer’s account over time. A genuine influencer will have steady natural growth over some time.

If you notice huge, dramatic increases in the number of followers an influencer has, that person has probably bought followers or participated in some form of deception.

Working with influencers has become the new trend in digital marketing because it benefits businesses, but this scenario also brings with it dangers of fraud. Influencers may buy followers or join pods that give them sudden but false jumps in follower numbers and engagement.

By taking the time to research data about influencers you want to work with, you can avoid being caught in the pitfalls of influencer marketing fraud.