Fraud Alert: Beware of Influencers and their Fake Credentials
Many of you may not have even heard the name of Ravisutanjani Kumar, a social media influencer, who was followed on X (erstwhile Twitter) by none other than the prime minister (PM) himself and had a very impressive list of clients. As an example of his influence, Ravi's video demo on the cash withdrawal facility using a unified payment interface (UPI) went viral just a few days ago. Union ministers and political leaders were sharing this video. Ravi's biodata flaunted two bachelor's degrees, two degrees in management, and one, ostensibly from IIT, on his profile. But, in the past two days, all these tall claims and bogus degrees have come crashing down, exposing him as a new-age charlatan. In fact, he has even shut down all his social media accounts, which were the basis of his income as well as his influence. 
 
It was result of an effort taken by an X user (@SatarkAadmi) to dig deep into Ravisutanjani's background, check details, and come up with some startling findings. He found, Ravi had only done a wireman course from an ITI in Mirzapur, and does not have any other degrees. 
 
In the world of social media, it is not uncommon to come across influencers who claim to have certain credentials, qualifications, or expertise that they may not actually possess. Identifying influencers with fake credentials requires careful research and scepticism. Influencers with fake credentials not only mislead their followers but also harm their own reputations in the long run. 
 
A few days ago, Moneylife wrote about the massive fraud being perpetrated by finfluencers. They have been providing fake evidence of hefty trading profits to lure investors to subscribe to training programmes and to open brokerage accounts (Read: Trainers Who Lure Gullible Investors with Fake Trading Profits Need To Be Made Accountable). We also wrote about how influencers are willing to peddle any view, product and service if they are paid for it. (Read: Manufacturing Reputations: A Sting Operation on the World Fin-influencers)
 
There is one more case of a social media 'manager' of celebrities and influencers. Amritanshu Gupta managed the social media accounts of former cricketers Venkatesh Prasad and Virender Sehwag. This also explains how the manager has been pushing his ideology in the accounts he is managing. However, when Mr Gupta was caught, he immediately converted his X account into a private one. He, however, says, "…there was no hate speech by any celeb. The business for celebrities is for endorsing brands & corporate speaking events…"
 
More recently, Chaitra Kundapura, a woman leader from Karnataka who attracted attention for spewing hate and disharmony, was caught conning a businessman for Rs5 crore by claiming to get him a ticket from the Bharatiya Janata Patry (BJP) for assembly elections. The scandal has taken a sensational twist following Ms Kundapura's statement that big personalities are involved. The Karnataka unit of BJP has distanced itself from her. Karnataka's former chief minister, Basavaraj Bommai, stated that there is no connection between the BJP and the arrest of Ms Kundapura.
 
Last month, to restrict the association of financial influencers (finfluencers) with registered intermediaries and regulated entities, Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) proposed enforcement action to disrupt the revenue model of finfluencers while barring intermediaries and regulated entities from associating with unregistered entities, including finfluencers, for any promotion or advertisement of their services and products.
 
According to the market regulator, finfluencers often attract investors or prospective investors through engaging stories, messages, reels and videos on various social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn and X (Twitter). 
 
"However, finfluencers not registered with the relevant financial sector regulator may not have the requisite qualifications or expertise on the subject. Worse, not being formally subject to a financial sector regulator's code of conduct, they may not disclose any potential conflict of interest such as their association with or interest in the products, services or securities they promote," SEBI says. (Read: SEBI Proposes 8 Measures To Limit Association between Finfluencers and Intermediaries, Regulated Entities, Also Warns of Penal Action)
 
A few years ago, the Mumbai police had busted an international racket involving the creation of fake profiles on social media. The gang was involved in creating crores of fake identities on various social media platforms and making fake performance statistics like fake followers, fake comments, and fake views to inflate the influencers' performance statistics. 
 
Identifying social media influencers and detecting their potential fakery can be challenging, as the online world is full of individuals who may not be what they seem. Further, to see through social media influencer propaganda, we need to develop critical thinking skills, become aware of common tactics, and conduct thorough research.
 
Here are a few suggestions...
Don't blindly trust any influencer or source of information. Instead, use a combination of scepticism, research, and open-mindedness to see through social media influencer propaganda.
 
Check the influencer's background and expertise. Does the influencer have relevant qualifications or experience in his/ her niche? Fakery may be exposed if their claims do not align with their actual knowledge or skills. (Remember, when you fall ill, you need to visit a doctor and not go to your panipuriwala. Your panipuriwala may be very good at doling out tasty panipuris, but that does not mean you should get a prescription from him to cure your illness.)
 
Pay attention to the language used by the influencer. Watch out for persuasive techniques like fearmongering, name-calling, or loaded language designed to manipulate your emotions.
 
Sometimes, your gut feeling can be a valuable indicator. If something feels off or too good to be true, it is worth investigating further. If something does not feel right or you encounter inconsistencies that can't be explained, trust your instincts. It is better to be cautious and sceptical than be misled by an influencer with fake credentials. @SatarkAadmi decided to check the date of birth (DoB) after Ravisutanjani claimed to have known the late Parag Parikh, a stock market investor, financial advisor, and founder of Parag Parikh Financial Advisory Services, in 2016, when he was just 17 years old. While searching for the DoB of Ravisutanjani, @SatarkAadmi stumbled upon a certificate for a wireman course from ITI, Mirzapur, which finally ended in exposing the fake credentials of the influencer. 
 
Differentiate between the influencer's personal opinions and factual information. Misinformation and propaganda often blur these lines to manipulate perceptions.
 
Remember, authentic influencers have a consistent online presence. Look for a history of regular posts and engagement with their audience over time. Inconsistencies, such as a sudden surge in number of followers or erratic posting patterns, should be seen as red flags.
 
Tools like Social Blade or Instagram audit can help you analyse an influencer's follower demographics and growth patterns. A sudden surge in followers from countries unrelated to their niche or a history of buying followers is suspicious.
 
Analyse the engagement metrics on the influencer's posts, including likes, comments, and shares. An influencer with a high follower count but low engagement rates may have purchased fake followers or engagement.
 
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