Pando

Why thousands of people are following this fake Virgin Airlines Instagram account

By David Holmes , written on October 9, 2014

From The News Desk

UPDATE: After this story published, the fake Virgin UK Instagram account is no longer live]

People will do almost anything for the promise of free stuff. Remember those old ads that promised a free laptop if you just filled out this one survey? And another? And another? And then a hundred pop-ups later you're no closer to a free laptop but need one more than ever now that yours is infected with all manner of Internet-transmitted diseases?

The stakes are even lower in the social media age. All it takes is a semi-official looking account and a message promising free stuff and you're almost guaranteed thousands of followers. After all, it's so easy (and harmless) to hit that follow button...

So it is with a new scam from an Instagram account called "@Virgin_UK" that promises two free tickets on Virgin Atlantic to its first 20,000 followers. At the time of this writing, the account has 9,146 followers and every time I refresh the page that number jumps up by the hundreds. And it's not like the followers are all idiots. Matt Mazzeo, a partner at Chris Sacca's Lowercase Capital was among the users who fell for the ploy.

The first thing that should've tipped people off is the handle of the account -- everyone knows real brands don't use "underscores." The fact that it has zero posts is another red flag; that being said, the official Instagram account for Chanel has zero posts and yet has still racked up 1.7 million followers on the strength of its brand alone. (At least it seems to be "official," I guess you never know these days.)

But most importantly -- and this has been true ever since the first caveman tricked his friend out of a bear pelt -- if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

In any case, if you're in the business of buying and selling followers, this proves how easy it is to convince someone to initiate the simplest of digital actions. In fact, judging by how quickly the follower count keeps rising, I wonder if the scammers behind @Virgin_UK set their sights too low at 20,000 followers. After all, there's a sucker born every minute, and they've never been easier to swindle.