A Pyramid Scheme for the Social Media Generation

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The movie Wolf of Wall Street launched an untold number of copycats, inspired by protagonist Jordan Belfort’s self-made riches, undeterred by his downfall, and using Instagram and Twitter to sell their scam.

For The Guardian, Symeon Brown exposes this subculture of social media charlatans dubbing them”the wolves of Instagram.”. Posting photos of themselves in fancy clothes with luxury vehicles, they sell an image of self-made success  to entice followers to invest in a shady financial product called a binary option, which has been outlawed in some countries. But these influencers are just the marketing outreach for larger companies, and a lot of their personal wealth exists only online and in their imaginations. A binary option isn’t trading. It’s gambling, and it’s rigged against the neophytes, who are often vulnerable young people with little money to waste.

The mystery is how such complex products became an internet youth craze. And this is where the wolves of Instagram swagger in. Oyefeso described himself as a social media “influencer”, which means he and others like him can use Instagram and Twitter to sell the trading platforms a supply of teenagers and young adults with limited knowledge of the money markets and a hunger for success.

This is how it works. Oyefeso posts images of luxury goods he claims to have bought with his winnings. He gives the pictures hashtags such as #richkidsofinstagram and mass-follows young people online. One teenager told me he and his friends were drawn in by the sight of a young black man who grew up on a council estate similar to theirs, driving a Rolls-Royce. As soon as anyone follows Oyefeso back, he slides into their DMs with a message: “I’m offering a great opportunity to earn £100-400+ per week from trading, no experience required, all done from home and only requires 15-30 min per day.” If you’re young, poor and want to defy the odds against you, the next question is: where do I sign up?

What wolves like Oyefeso fail to declare is that each of the trading platforms you sign up to (with a minimum deposit of £250) pays him around £40-80 – and that recruitment, rather than betting on these predatory financial products, is the way he makes his risk-free money (Oyefeso maintains he’s making money from trading). Young people join the platforms, make a few trades and can lose anything between £250 and several thousand pounds, then realise they can make it back by repeating the trick: becoming a paid marketing affiliate masquerading as a successful trader. It looks like a vintage pyramid scheme, rebooted for the social media era using a model of e-marketing that has boomed over the last 20 years.

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