MC Investigation: Social media accounts impersonate celebrity traders and defraud investors of lakhs

Market Outlook
(Photo by Olya Kobruseva/Pexels)

(Photo by Olya Kobruseva/Pexels)

“You have changed my life. You don’t know what you have done.”

This wasn’t a declaration shouted out to a lover or a preacher, but to a celebrity trader at a recent conclave. It was made to the star when he took a breather from clicking selfies and shaking hands with adoring fans.

Celebrity traders may not form one half of a supercouple or have desserts named after them, but they have a serious fan following. Scamsters know this better than anyone else. Therefore, they are creating fraudulent accounts or catfishing accounts in these star traders’ names, to steal money and—more frighteningly—securities from demat accounts.

The effort that is going into creating these accounts, tracking the most vulnerable targets and mimicking the celebrity trader’s real account, is staggering. Scamsters seem to be constantly checking who is interacting the most with the traders by reading through comments on genuine social media accounts, and buying subscribers and views on platforms like Telegram to make the catfish accounts look like the real thing, and even placing messages warning subscribers about fraud!

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Here the victims are both the people who are losing their money and assets, and the celebrity traders who are having to constantly defend themselves from having unfair charges made against them.

First sign of trouble

Abhishek Kar describes himself as an investor, trader and educator on his YouTube channel that has more than 581,000 subscribers. About three months ago, he started getting messages from people who follow him that they have been receiving messages offering paid advice and portfolio management services from him.

Kar does not offer either.

“These scamsters have stolen up to Rs 1.5 lakh from a person, if we count stolen securities as well,” Kar said in an interview with Moneycontrol. “They message subscribers and even ask them for their demat account username and password, saying that I would be managing their trading for them. I don’t offer anything of the kind. I have been saying this over and over again on my YouTube channel.”

Kar has reported various such instances through the national cybercrime reporting portal, but has not seen any action taken against the channels he has named so far.

On one occasion, Kar warned the scamsters through his YouTube channel saying that he was going to file a complaint with the cybercrimes cell. The two bigger scammers stopped posting for a week but resumed after they saw that no one seemed to be pursuing an investigation into the complaint.

This reporter reached out to a Telegram channel masquerading as one run by Kar and claimed to be an interested buyer. A handle, @Paid1, responded with the “biggest discount offer” offering five calls daily from Kar’s team, an assured daily profit of up to Rs 10,000, and trading calls, among other things, all for a membership fee ranging from Rs 3,999 to Rs 9,999 depending on the duration, from one month to a year. There was even a lifetime membership for Rs 15,000. On expressing interest, this reporter was offered a further discount of Rs 999 for the monthly package by @Paid1. The payment would have to be made to a UPI ID— merchant746244.augp@aubank—which when entered will throw up the name share marketing. But the bigger risk was the handle offering to manage this reporter’s trading account and asking for the username, password and OTP when generated.

The “account-management service” was available with 50 percent profit sharing.

A Telegram channel falsely claiming to be run by another celebrity trader and YouTuber, Vishal Mehta, goes one step further. When this reporter contacted it, it directed this reporter to a website that it claimed was run by Mehta’s team and said that this reporter could open a trading account on their platform. To start the trading account, the payment would have to be done using Bitcoin or USDT or Tether through a Binance account, and then the team running this channel would trade through this account for the reporter and make profits, from which they would have to be paid a commission. Of course, once the money is transferred to their platform, it is sure to disappear into the ether (forgive the pun).

When Mehta, who is an independent trader, chartered market technician and owner of a Twitter handle with 46,900 followers, was made aware of this channel, he was shocked. He immediately reported it to Telegram.

Mehta says this kind or impersonation has been an ongoing problem and he shares an anecdote in a lighter vein. Once, a person tried to sell Mehta’s video back to him.

“I had started a Telegram channel to inform people about courses and this person came on that and offered to sell me Vishal Mehta’s course for Rs 5,000. Just for the fun of it, I bargained with him and managed to bring it down to Rs 1,500,” Mehta said with a rueful smile.

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Where it thrives

Joy Mukherjee said that Telegram is the most abused platform for this sort of scam. He is another star trader in futures with 42,000 followers on Twitter and 18,300 subscribers on his Telegram channel, and he came to know that a fake Telegram channel was being run in his name a few months ago.

“Telegram allows people to delete not just their message but the other person’s message as well, so any proof (of soliciting payment) can be deleted,” he adds.

In response to a query from Moneycontrol on this, Telegram’s team replied, “Deleting chats by an admin is a common feature provided by many communication and instant messenger applications and it is not limited to Telegram only. Such admin rights provide power to counter any misuse of a forum and maintain due decorum.”

Mukherjee forwarded the screenshot of a WhatsApp conversation to this reporter. In the conversation, a person tells him that he has paid Rs 1,900 for daily calls from Mukherjee and Mukherjee replies that he has repeatedly said that he has no paid channel or such services and still people keep falling for this. “Yea,” the person replies, and adds that the conversation the scamster had with him on Telegram has been deleted.

If Telegram is so vulnerable to abuse, why not get off the platform and keep social media presence limited to other, more secure, platforms?

“On Telegram channels, you can post your views, it is a one-way conversation. On Twitter, you will have to deal with trolls too. On Telegram, there is also no limit of subscribers (therefore it is preferable over WhatsApp),” said Mukherjee.

Successful traders often run courses and conduct seminars for a fee, and an online presence is essential to keep in touch with their audiences. Trading can be isolating, with people operating from their individual terminals, but the community, ironically, is well-networked thanks to Telegram and other social media platforms.

Mukherjee said he raised several complaints with Telegram but to no avail, and that the fake channels in his name are still running. In the response given to Moneycontrol, Telegram said, “All the queries sent to the Telegram Grievance Reporting tool and found to be genuine have been addressed as per law of the land.”

How can people stop impersonators on the platform?

Telegram responded to Moneycontrol’s query by saying that the best way would be for the real organisation (entity) to apply for verification of their public channel, group, or bot if they are active on Telegram. Secondly, a person can register a complaint against the impersonator. “On providing supporting pieces of evidence, Telegram shall tag such Public Channels and Groups as ‘FAKE’ with its name. This is just one of the ways to address such issues. If any organisation faces such issues when a scammer pretends to be a specific company or public figure, etc. users can contact at @NoToScam on the Telegram platform,” said the platform.

“In case, if the respective Channel is sharing some copyright materials, users can submit a complaint to Please note that such requests should only be submitted by the copyright owner or an agent authorised to act on the owner’s behalf,” it added.

Kar agreed with Mukherjee that the biggest platform for these scams is Telegram, but now Instagram comes a close second.

“Instagram has the most vulnerable audience. Scamsters know that it is easy to fool people between the ages of 18 and 24, who have just got their first job and can be easily enticed (to make such investments),” says Kar, who has 122,000 followers on the platform. According to him, being verified on Instagram is no protection and named a peer who was impersonated despite having a verified account.

“Many people who are new to the channel may see the subscriber count, and subscribers can be easily bought on Instagram as well, and follow the fake account,” he said. “On Instagram, they (the fraudsters) are even cleverer because whatever we post will be copied on the fake account in 30 to 40 minutes. So it becomes harder to make out who is real and who is fake.”

Moneycontrol has reached out to Instagram for a response. The article will be updated when it comes in.

Kar said that a friend reported a fake channel to Instagram, only to have the original deleted instead of the fake one. “It took him months to get his original restored,” said Kar. Months of absence from these channels can prove costly to traders who make a second income by selling training courses and trading software. They reach their target audiences through these channels.

Kar said that traders also see that an online presence is important to build awareness on the right kind of trading. “Investors used to be vocal about their success but traders were not, not until a few years ago,” he said. Now traders want to build belief in this form of wealth creation too. They want to celebrate their success and share their learning, and not have others make the mistakes they made like following tips from brokers blindly.

Well-planned set up

Mehta’s anecdote about a scamster trying to sell his own video back to him may lead people to believe that the fraudsters are merely amateurs with a mobile. But that would be a gross underestimation. From this reporter’s interactions and several other anecdotal evidence, it becomes clear that this is being run by a well-organised, agile team.

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Mukherjee has noticed how a fake channel tries to mimic the original to the smallest possible detail. To do that, they post the trader’s photo, of course, but also buy subscribers to match the original account’s number. To perhaps add to their credibility, they even post warnings about fake accounts.

On a channel that falsely claims to be Mehta’s for example, there is a pinned message that reads, “Beware of Fake account here on telegram, this is my only Telegram channel”.

They track the original accounts on various platforms to see who is interacting with the star trader the most and for what, and then reach out to that person with a tailored proposition. Kar shared an incident to show closely they track the original accounts.

In one of the messages that he regularly puts out to warn his followers of such scams, he asked them to look beyond the subscriber numbers of these channels. “I told them that any person with more than a lakh subscribers should definitely get more than 100 views and needs to be at least 1,000-1,500 views. This is because these channels had bought the subscribers but they hadn’t bought the views, so the views were in lower numbers. After I posted that check, in less than two hours, I saw that the posts on these channels were seeing a sudden jump in views to more than 1,000. They had gone and bought the views to counter my warning,” he said.

The conversation with the potential target is usually done via text and there seems to be a database of texts that can be used when needed. This means that a group can recruit anyone who is willing to send texts to those interested.

When this reporter called someone who claimed to be running a Telegram channel for a YouTube sensation, the latter could not make a coherent sales pitch and did not know that the YouTuber is a ‘she’ and not a ‘he’. The scamster insisted that the reporter route the queries through WhatsApp, perhaps to limit the interaction to these preset texts. Also, most of the texts on these channels follow a pattern—offering a membership plan or offering to place trades for a cut when withdrawing profits.

Most of the fake channels post on the hottest topic of the time. For example, most of the posts now are on Nifty and Bank Nifty levels, which could be because of high liquidity in the indices and because anyone can enter the trade with smaller amounts of capital.

This reporter could not find any evidence of pump and dump scams, though this could easily be done with the kind of operation that is being run.

Traders who have been observing these channels say that the operators usually run multiple channels impersonating multiple people. They then switch between channels depending on the popularity of the trader they are impersonating. If Trader 1 is more popular this week, then the channel masquerading as him/her is active that week; if Trader 2 is the flavour next week, then the fake channel for Trader 2 becomes active next week, and so on.

Kar said that the regulator must act against these bad actors immediately or else traders who are acting in good faith could get penalised for no fault of their own. “People can blame an innocent person. Yes, they can clear their name in time but reputations can be quite fragile in the financial world,” he said