The underground market for third party social media verification is a multi-million dollar business. Virtually anyone can get verified on TikTok, Instagram and Facebook, but it comes at a price… So how do you know the difference between your favourite celebrity being legitimately verified, or someone who has paid to play? Spending between $500 and $10,000 to make their persona seem legitimate?
Verification is most commonly recognised by the blue check marks or ticks you see on individuals’ social media profiles. Companies such as Facebook, Instagram and TikTok pin them on users’ accounts if they are authentic, active and notable, often to distinguish the legitimate account from fan accounts or copycat profiles– think everyone from Ariana Grande to Kim Kardashian to Donald Trump.
Unsurprisingly, people will do almost anything for the legitimacy a blue tick provides and shelling out a pretty penny is often the easiest option. The underground market for social media verification has grown in recent years as platforms have become stricter in the requirements for becoming verified. From Google to a sketchy salesman offering “guaranteed verification” for $3000, these days there is little way to tell who is authentic.
If you search “Instagram verification service” on google you will be met with thousands of results like www.odysius.io, www.sitetrail.com, www.famousinfluencer.com and other sites which offer “package deals” that range from $99 to over $500.
The reality is that 99% of these “agencies” don’t actually verify people, they cash in on individuals desperate for fame, specifically social media fame… instead offering press that will “push” your chances of being verified.
One such site claims to deliver your ‘verification portfolio’ directly to “Instagram Headquarters”. An unfounded and highly unlikely scenario, purely due to the size of the global Instagram team.
In the past, legitimate loopholes existed at companies such as Facebook and TikTok, that involved having an “inside man flip the switch” to make a blue check mark appear for a kickback fee. Recently however, social media companies have been cracking down on suspicious activity, establishing clear boundaries with employees ensuring confidential information does not reach the public domain.
In a recent investigation undertaken by Centennial Beauty, the existence of one such account was proven– including the steps necessary to obtain “black market verification”. An influencer source made Centennial Beauty aware of one such account, before the individual (who will remain anonymous), teasing verification was engaged with in order to gain insight into the process, and the steps suggested.
The individual revealed that they had an “inside connection with someone at Instagram”, giving them access to the verification portal. For those not in the know, having access to the verification portal is the gold standard in getting [someone else] verified. It allows an individual to submit an account application directly to Instagram’s staff. It is an unspoken understanding that this automatically doubles the chances of getting verified, as usually the only people who have access to verification portals are high ranking officials at social media and top tier management companies.
Further, an email sent to Centennial Beauty revealed that for $500 one could get 10 press articles and for $3000 one could get verified. However, it is important to note that when reading the list of press sites that were offered, most were poorly maintained WordPress blogs like ratingsgamemusic.com and deathordesire.com.
While finding individual “blue check” dealers can be difficult, public relation agencies are everywhere. Yes, these agencies can play a role in getting someone verified, but some more than others.
Key Elements PR, located in Los Angeles, offers services that aim to get clients verified through press coverage. When inquiring about their verification services, the company explained they could get almost anyone verified, for a cost: specifically, a retainer of $600 a month, for a minimum of five months.
Additionally, Key Elements PR revealed access to an internal member of Instagram, one that had access to the verification portal. Despite seeming legitimate, the verification component of the company’s services cast a shadow of doubt on its work. The company’s Instagram account acting as a portfolio to showcase individuals whom they have successfully achieved verification for.
Adam Ian Cohen, 17, is an Influencer based out of Los Angeles and has been a victim of the “Blue Tick” scam, in various ways. Cohen told Centennial Beauty that he was approached via Instagram DM by someone posing to work at Facebook back in 2019.
The individual peddling the scam requested $500 from Cohen, and in return Cohen would receive a “blue check” on Instagram. “At first I was excited to be getting verified until I found out that I was being scammed,” he said.
Cohen explained that he was not only burned by scammers, but by journalists as well.
“I was approached by a few different journalists who contacted me in relation to a story, I was told that in exchange for me giving my story that I would get help with verification which never came to be,” said Cohen.
At the time of this article being written, both TikTok and Instagram have not responded for comment pertaining to verification terms, or in regards to employing individuals who work with third party companies to verify platform users.
The industry of buying “blue checks” is a strange one; allowing scammers to take advantage of unvetted individuals like SoundCloud artists and up-and-coming actors to be verified. Until social media platforms set the standard of what it means to be verified and crack down on internal verification teams– filtering out those who are the payroll of third-party scammers, the verification system will remain broken.