Jess (not her real name) is a U.K.-based fashion influencer with 230,000 Instagram followers. She worked with 22 different brands in 2018 and charged $1,000 per post.

Those brands didn’t realize that 96 percent of Jess’s engagement is fake, the result of a bot farm she allegedly paid for engagement: $2 for every 1,000 likes, comments or shares. That means that each company Jess worked with likely wasted up to $960.

It’s called “influencer fraud,” a practice spawned after the digitalization of influencer marketing -- the latter of which has, in one iteration or another, been around for hundreds of years. Prominent online personalities purchase fake engagement via bots -- pieces of software designed to automatically like, comment and share social media posts. The other route is to join a community of real users that allows people to “trade” engagement back and forth (e.g., commenting on or liking 250 posts from others in the community to receive 250 comments or likes on your own posts).

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