Scam Artists on Social Media
For the past couple of weeks I’ve been in contact on Instagram with a random person who claimed to be in the business of music PR. Today it came to a head. Or rather the point where I needed to send the money or back away. That was the TL;DR version, now let me rewind a bit and you can read on for the whole story…
The Reach Out
I was originally contacted by Instagram user samantha.jenkins97 (a private account that has few followers and posts) telling me that she really liked my song Rise Up and felt she could help make it go viral on Spotify. Therein began the aforementioned conversation. Because what musician wouldn’t want to have their music go viral, right? However, my initial reaction to her was, that’s a political song that isn’t likely to go viral.
She felt that political songs were hot right now. I’m guessing that was due to Childish Gambino having just released This Is America. Which is also very political, in a very different vibe and very different sonically. Plus, he’s already a known entity. So its easier to make that fly.
How Did You Get Verified
She started asking me how I got my Instagram account verified. Generally I don’t respond to people that ask this question because the reality is, it doesn’t matter. I have no connection to get someone else verified. There is a person (one of those scam artists) whom we’ll call Victoria who claims she got me verified, but the reality is it was another organization that I’m part of who asked due to an event that was supposed happen for my career.
After that little stint about verification came the pitch of getting me on some bigger playlists from Spotify. Like actual Spotify curated playlists, not just some random playlist by Bob in Nebraska (no offense Bob). As someone who dealt with this same thing a little over a year ago, and getting burned hard, my red flags started to go up. I decided I would play this out and see if this person is legit.
On a side note: We all hear that music services (Spotify, Apple Music) claim to be fair about the distribution of music. But, behind the scenes, a few of us know there is actual payola going on. The labels have relationships with Spotify, Apple Music, et al in order to push their artists onto those official lists. Its the backdoor dark alley secret that no one wants to talk about. Scam artists prey on unsuspecting musicians / artists straight up because of this.
I mention to “Samantha” that I don’t think Rise Up is the right single and she asks for other songs to check out. I point her to some other singles. She comes back saying Touch is THE one!
My first thoughts were, who else has she worked with? So I message to ask. “Samantha” messages back to say she doesn’t give out that type of information in order to protect other artist’s right to privacy. Then messages to say she’d do the same for me. Well hot damn isn’t that special?
Hell if I was planning on doing business with someone and a potential client wanted a person to reference for my qualities and work ethic, I’d go and ask some previous clients to see who’d be willing to chat. If I’m good at my job, and I am. I’m pretty darn sure, most anyone I’ve worked with would be more than willing to put in a good word.
Then “Samantha” turns it around by messaging me some questions about who wrote it? Who owns it? Who produced it? There were more questions that came out over the course of the conversation. Like, did I have paperwork on the rapper who rapped the bridge? Am I with ASCAP or BMI? Have I ever been arrested? Do I abuse people?
When I mentioned I was with SESAC she responded with being unfamiliar with them. That made me think hmmmm.
The last two questions came the day after Spotify pulled R. Kelly off the service due to sexual abuse charges. She claimed her Spotify contact asked her to ask me. I believe this was an attempt at showing her “inside line” to Spotify was legit. Though in my mind I was thinking, at least she reads the trade websites.
Once Bitten Twice Shy
I explain to “Samantha” that I already got burned last year by someone who claimed the same shit. “Samantha” messages me that she’s not a scammer and that she feels bad for me about the last person (the sympathy card got played very timely right there woo hoo). She’s willing to cut me a deal! I ask what the deal is and she proceeds to tell me that for $1,000 she can get me on several big Spotify playlists, and possibly some Apple Music playlists too. But because she’s doing such a great deal, she wants a 5% cut of royalties for the time while the song in question is on the playlists. That right there was the reason for the questions about ownership.
“Samantha” then mentions that she’d also put me in touch (no pun intended) with a major booking agent once the song started racking up streams. For that she wanted 5% of the first 5 shows I get from a booking agent named Caroline Yim that “Samantha” wants to connect me to. I’m betting that Caroline is totally unaware of this person. I should mention that Caroline Yim specializes in Hip Hop & Urban, which are not my genres and also recently switched from ICM to CAA.
* On a side note, the person I got burned by was a little more forth coming with a phone number and general whereabouts.
Who Are You
I ask who she is and where her business is located. “Samantha” responds with an explanation of not having an office because it costs too much and ignores the question of who she is, other than saying she is in PR. She asks another question that makes me think, this is better to answer on a phone call. I inform her that its better if we talk about it on the phone. She refuses. Wow, shocker!
Hell yeah! I’m certainly willing to send someone I don’t know, who won’t divulge an address, or phone number, a $1,000. Sounds like a great deal! [That is full blown sarcastic prose btw] My hair began standing up on my neck and its telling me beware of scam artists.
Actually I didn’t respond that way. I did text that it sounded like a reasonable deal. Read on to see my attempt to figure out who this person is.
Mind you, I get it when you already know someone and they’re willing to talk to you “off the record” about things they can connect you to. There’s always a certain element of needing to keep things out of the limelight. However, I didn’t know this person. There is no track record. She had no known quantity of being able to back up her claims and at this point she’s entirely unwilling to get personally involved, so to speak.
I look up the username and the email address on Instagram. I find a couple of different accounts. One is a person attempting to be an Instagram model. Another is a nail technician, which I take it to mean a finger nail painter. The 3rd is the person who is claiming to be in music PR. So yeah, 3 entirely different accounts to the same limited information. This is another red flag to me.
The Compliments & Bait
I message saying that I’m willing to continue thinking about paying the $1,000. “Samantha” starts messaging me at random times texting things like, my Spotify contact is telling me he can get you on 3 or 4 playlists. That he loves the song. Thinks it will blow up. She also messages saying that once I’m on the bigger playlists it means I’ll get on to lots more little ancillary playlists and continue to rack up even more streams.
Then came her messages about an Apple Music contact that also loved the song and would put it on some of their playlists, provided I make the payment. See, I’m get a two for one now!
I want to know what playlists from each service. So I send a message asking. “Samantha” tells me she has to ask.
A while later I get a message about Spotify and the playlists were Fresh & Chill, Everyday Favorites and Guilty Pleasures. I search for them on Spotify and sure enough they exist. Then some time after that “Samantha” messaged me again about Apple Music. Her contact there said he’d get me on the Alternative and The A List Alternative playlists.
Being that I don’t have Apple Music (if only I had an image of me doing a surprised Deadpool impression that I could insert right here), I went to Twitter and asked my followers who, if any, were on Apple Music.
I got quite a few responders whom I in turn DM’d asking if those particular playlists existed. Sure enough, they existed. “Samantha” also threw in a message saying there would likely be a few others, but only wanted to say what was guaranteed. But this still feels like a scam to me.
Lets Do A Contract
At this point I message to “Samantha” that I would feel more comfortable if we had a contract about the 5% that I’m to pay her from royalties earned from the duration of the playlist placements (keyword there is the duration of the actual placements). She replies to me that she believes I’m honest and trusts that I would pay her back.
Well gee, I’m flattered! And damn right I would do I what I say I will do. No, really, lets do a contract. “Samantha” messages me that she’ll whip one up later in the day. A glimmer of hope that I may actually get something concrete that would protect us both. Maybe she’s not one of those social media scam artists after all.
I thought this type of praise a bit too soon.
When Can You Pay
Before I get a contract, I’m asked, are you ready to pay? I message saying I will be when I get the contract. Then she offers that I should pay via Venmo. Mind you, we had actually discussed the pay part days earlier. She wanted Venmo. I suggested an escrow account where the money would be released when the placement was proved. She balked after asking me to explain what an escrow account is.
We’re back at the point of me wanting a contract, and all she wants is to get paid.
I had done some research on Venmo only to find out that Venmo has no recourse to get you your money back if you pay someone – seems Venmo, despite being owned by PayPal, was never meant to be a means for conducting business. And yes, there are plenty of Venmo scam stories. Essentially Venmo is like PayPal’s Friends & Family or MoneyGram or Western Union. Once that money reaches the end party – you may as well kiss it goodbye. So when she messaged again asking for payment, I respond with a desire to use PayPal Business for the funds. I know full well that PayPal Business has the means to refund the money if the deal goes bad. “Samantha” balks again saying, that will take two weeks! Oh, and how safe and easy it is to use Venmo.
I’m In No Rush
I’m a career musician. I’m not in a rush for instant fame. Would I like for my music to hit the big time? Hell yes, and I know its good enough to be there. I also know that music is a business and most of it is conducted in person. By people who actually meet face to face or are willing to give each other their email address(es), phone number(s), place(s) of business etc.
The Full Court Press
As of today (the day I’m writing this all out) the barbs came out. Its do or die time. “Samantha” is messaging me saying she has laid the groundwork and that I need to pay up or I’m gonna make her look bad. I respond with, I haven’t gotten a contract about the royalties. She fires back with, we have two months to figure that out. She is under the impression that Spotify and Apple Music pay out two months after stream. The reality is, it takes 3 months from a stream to see the pay, sometimes more – I don’t correct her on this as it might give away that she is trying to scam me.
Again, I mention I’m ready to move forward when I get the contract. She starts hitting back with insults and that I’m missing a big opportunity. It goes back and forth with me saying that I’m not willing to give money to a person who won’t give me an address, phone number, email, etc. She keeps saying that this isn’t how its gonna work. If there’s anything more scammy that scam artists can say, I’m not sure what it would be.
She messages more about needing to pay. I make the same response, when you tell me who you are, I’ll pay.
Needless to say, she said she wouldn’t tell me due to concerns for her privacy. Then accused me of stringing her along.
Well yeah, who the fuck is ok with giving a good chunk of change to an anonymous stranger on social media? Especially one who refuses to speak in person on the phone, give an email address or a place of business. Or wants to be paid via a preferred method that has no recourse for getting money back if the deal isn’t fulfilled.
I thought it had ended when I kept asking for her information before I would send the money, by literally copy and pasting the same answer several times. But I was wrong… After about an hour, as the image shows, she sent some more messages (remember to read them in reverse order, bottom up).
There’s an old movie with a famous saying of Stupid is as Stupid does.
Watch Out For Scam Artists
To my musical friends and extended family: Please be on ALERT if you’re contacted by Instagram user @samantha.jenkins97. Also, if you’re contacted by someone by the name of Victoria with a nickname of Tori on Twitter @toriiiiiii_v who claims to work for RCA. Hell for all I know, they’re one in the same person.
As a musical artist I would ask that you share this story. We need to watch each other’s proverbial back, especially if music is our sole source of income. This post in and of itself should go viral.
Since you got this far: I ask you to follow me on Spotify
I’ll ask you to sign up for my email list <click here>
I’ll also ask you to playlist the songs in the post, it helps more than you know.