Hooded, cap screwed up to the eyebrows and wads of banknotes boldly exhibited, TAC Crypto * publishes on TikTok videos where he says his “proud to make 10 times the salary of [ses] teachers at only 16 years old”. With his 26,000 subscribers, he assures us: “Money has never been easier to get.” Telemaque* plays on the same string. Open shirt and protruding abs, the influencer who prides himself on being at the head of “the richest community in France” offers to explain to its nearly 123,000 subscribers “how to earn money” in a context of a sharp rise in inflation and a fall in the prices of virtual currencies. “There is only one area that will allow you to [multiplier ton investissement par] 2, 3, 4, 5, even 10, that’s cryptocurrency!” launches Youri* to those under 18 who listen to it. “Be careful, since you are a minor, you will have to use the account of an adult with his authorization!” he warns, however.
On TikTok, dozens of influencers highlight an insolent financial success made possible by cryptocurrencies and the trading in the financial markets. Such success, they promise, is accessible to almost anyone: just follow a series of tips, or even simply entrust your portfolio to market operators who will take care of making your capital grow. Too good to be true ?
The three videographers mentioned above are careful not to provide their financial tips directly on TikTok. TAC Crypto sends young people attracted by its promises of easy money to a Discord messaging server. He offers training on cryptocurrencies consisting of a “PDF file of 14 pages that we send to you for the small sum of 40 euros”. The price is the same for the curious who would like to know his investment tips for NFTs, these digital property certificates mainly used for speculative purposes.
Telemaque and Youri play on another board. From TikTok, they link to websites where they offer subscriptions to private clubs. Against 597 euros, the second thus sells a “lifetime support guaranteed”. At this price, Youri explains to franceinfo to make available to his community his “time” and his “expert”. “We study the different investment possibilities according to the risk profile, but we can also talk about entrepreneurship…” details the 23-year-old now based in Estonia, who assures that his knowledge of finance has allowed him to become “millionaire three months after quitting [ses] engineering studies”.
Télémaque’s proposal is less expensive. For 29 euros per month, the influencer offers to join a “community where me and dozens of crypto investors will teach you how to generate wealth”. “No excuses: inflation is eating you from the inside, you have to start investing one day, so start today, in expert hands. It’s time to start cashing in”he asserts, designating the reader as his “buddy”.
At the mention of the hundreds of videos that promise rapid enrichment to an uninformed public, Grégory Raymond sighs. “Networks like TikTok are territories that are still little covered by the actors responsible for this environment, but where charlatans thrive”, laments the journalist and co-founder of the specialized newsletter The Big Whale. Nothing guarantees the quality of the training or coaching provided by these young influencers. “VSsome private groups advise investing in very liquid cryptocurrencies, subject to high variations”he adds.
“These invitations to invest may be initiated by people involved in these cryptocurrencies and seek to inflate the price for personal gain.”Grégory Raymond, journalist specializing in cryptoassets
Serene, Youri claims to trust the intelligence of the 270,000 people who follow him. “The TikTok algorithm highlights content that is quite eye-catching, but we are living in an incredible period where information is accessible online: interested people are responsible and free to deepen their knowledge by doing their own research”details the videographer.
Asked about the potential scams that abound on networks like TikTok, the authorities do not frankly share Youri’s opinion. “Scams involving fraudulent financial services or products mainly target young populations, among the most vulnerable. The economic crisis, induced by the health crisis, has reinforced the appeal of this type of misleading offer”reacts the Directorate General for Competition, Consumer Affairs and Fraud Prevention, contacted by franceinfo.
This administration, which depends on the Ministry of the Economy, adds that several investigations concerning possible hidden advertisements on blogs or on social networks by influencers are currently underway. Offenders are liable to a penalty of up to 300,000 euros and / or two years’ imprisonment, supports the repression of fraud. Before recalling that influencer Nabilla Vergara had to pay a fine of 20,000 euros in July 2021 after promoting a bitcoin trading service.
Some videographers on TikTok do not just sell PDF documents that promise a bright financial future. On the platform, Marvin*, Matou* and others go further. After touting an automatic trading service whose “the annual return in 2021 was 615%”the two apprentice videographers invite young people interested in the prospect of accessing a “real financial freedom” to contact them privately on Instagram or Telegram messaging.
On these platforms, videographers in their twenties are more vocal about the “business that can literally transform your life” : it’s about joining a company specializing in network marketing (or MLM, for multi-level marketing). In exchange for a subscription of up to 149 euros per month, this Dubai-registered company offers trading and cryptocurrency services, but above all encourages its customers to enrich themselves through the recruitment of new members, including some of the subscription will be indirectly redistributed to them.
Marie Drilhon is familiar with this mechanism and the excesses it entails. Vice-president of the National Union of Associations for the Defense of Families and Individual Victims of Sects (Unadfi), she explains that she has been contacted on several occasions by families whose children had joined companies with similar operations. “I remember a high school student who had stopped his studies in second after joining an MLM company. His father encouraged him, but his mother was very worried”comments this specialist, who warns of the risks of deschooling and desocialization.
“According to the testimonies we have received, these pyramid structures target young people, often from modest backgrounds, regardless of whether it is money from a loan taken out by a student without great means”abounds Claire Castanet, director in charge of the protection of savers at the Autorité des marchés financiers (AMF).
“You are made to believe that you are going to win big, you are encouraged to ignore the warnings of your loved ones, who could help you take a step back from this activity.”Claire Castanet, responsible for the protection of savers at the AMF
And to emphasize that network marketing companies primarily target profiles “without established knowledge of economics or finance, and who believe that there really are easy ways to make money”.
What is TikTok doing to protect its young audience from exposure to these dubious mechanisms? Contacted by franceinfo, the social network says it takes responsibility. “We remove any content that encourages investment plans promising high returns, rigged bets or any other type of scam”reacts the company, which specifies that its advertising rules prohibit “Ads promoting virtual currencies and cryptocurrency trading platforms”.
In order to make young people aware of these excesses, the Autorité des marchés financiers launched a campaign in December broadcast on Twitter, Instagram and TikTok using the codes of influencers.
The right plan to get rich quickly thanks to the #trading ? There are not any. On the other hand, the #scams, they are often there! ⚠️
Spot the signs that should alert you ➡️ https://t.co/I23YtUhFau #ScamSecrets pic.twitter.com/n4qsbC2poz
– AMF (@AMF_actu) December 15, 2021
To avoid these pitfalls, Claire Castanet calls on young people who might come across these videos on social networks to show“critical mind” and of “common sense”. “You have to wonder why these people would be so generous: if their techniques for making money in the markets worked so well, why are they so pushy to recruit new members? What really are their skills in finance? Do I really understand what I am going to invest in? she wonders. “Quick wins, without risk, by staying on your couch or by the pool… It does not existconcludes this specialist. When it’s too good to be true, it’s not true.”
* All nicknames of the influencers mentioned have been changed.