Fines, regulation of the sector and collective complaints… The end of impunity for “influencers”?

A fine of 20,000 euros for reality TV star Nabilla Benattia-Vergara, an investigation opened against the popess of influence Magali Berdah, a bill tabled in the National Assembly to regulate the sector or even a public consultation launched by the Ministry of Economy. Are the public and judicial authorities ringing the end of recess for the stars of social networks?

And for the first time, a collective legal action has just been taken by people who believe they have been scammed by influencers. At the initiative of the AVI collective (Help for Victims of Influencers), two collective complaints, bringing together 88 joint complaints, were filed Friday, January 20 with the Paris prosecutor, in particular for “organized gang fraud” and “abuse of trust,” said Me Alexandre Dakos, lawyer for Ziegler & Associés mandated by the collective, during a press conference on Monday. The victims claim to have lost money – from a few hundred to several thousand euros for some – by investing in financial products touted by influencers, including Marc and Nadé Blata, who reside in Dubai.

A very risky financial activity

The first complaint concerns the “Animoon”, an NFT project (non-fungible token, or non-fungible token in French), a virtual work of art, inspired by the Pokémon card game. Bringing together more than 5,000 investors, the project raised more than 6.3 million euros, according to the AVI collective. And to attract the first investors, attractive gains had been promised: a monthly annuity of 2,500 dollars for life, trips to Japan, branded clothing or Pokémon cards. But five months after the sale, none of the participants has recovered a single euro. Worse still, the organizers of the sale simply disappeared from the radar screens. Several French influencers have promoted it on social networks, including Marc Blata.

And it is still him who is at the heart of the second complaint, linked to “Blatagang”. This is the name of a Telegram channel, encouraging “copy trading”, a strategy allowing, thanks to signals, to reproduce the activity of a professional trader, on which 20 minutes had already leaned this summer. If these influencers sell this activity as a real gold mine, it turns out to be particularly dangerous, according to the Autorité des marchés financiers (AMF), which has calculated between 70 and 80% losses for these products.

Marc and Nadé Blata are not the only ones to promote it, according to the collective, the two collective complaints were filed “against X”. “They primarily target the Blata couple as well as the network which allows them not to act alone, according to Me Alexandre Dakos. We made this strategic choice so that justice could conduct the widest possible investigation and possibly prosecute other influencers. It’s an extended network, we know that, but we don’t yet know all the identities. »

The case looks complex. Because even if French justice initiates proceedings, a large part of the influencers reside in Dubai. “There is a judicial cooperation agreement between France and the United Arab Emirates, dating from 2007. But there is the text and there is the application of the text. Legal operations that take place outside European countries are sometimes complicated. It is to be hoped that the Dubai authorities will cooperate, ”hopes Me Dakos.

Influencers out of the nails

The French authorities seem to have already taken the measure of the problem. In 2021, the Fraud Repression services monitored around sixty agencies and influencers active in online trading and betting services, but also in the promotion of cosmetics, food supplements and “slimming” programs. And bingo, more than half of them (60%) did not comply with regulations on advertising and consumer rights, announced the Directorate General for Competition, Consumer Affairs and Fraud Prevention ( DGCCRF), this Monday.

The DGCCRF accuses them of having “deceived consumers about the properties of the products sold” or of having “promoted risky products or services”. “In the most serious cases, some influencers have carried out unauthorized promotional operations, such as the use of the professional training account (CPF) to recover cash or gifts (…) or that of injections aimed at aesthetics by beauticians and non-health professionals,” added the administration, which has initiated several proceedings against them.

Some influencers have already paid a heavy price. At the end of July, the former reality TV star Nabilla Benattia-Vergara had to pay a fine of 20,000 euros after being pinned by the DGCCRF for “misleading commercial practices”. Bercy accuses her of having promoted stock market services on the Snapchat social network, without mentioning that she was paid for it. In 2018, the young woman had already been called to order by the Financial Markets Authority (AMF) after praising bitcoin: this “currency of the future” is “seriously developing”, claimed- her then.

Magali Berdah is also in the sights of the authorities. On December 6, an investigation was opened against the director of the “Shauna Events” agency for “misleading commercial practices”. It follows a complaint from rapper Booba – at the origin of the nickname “influvoleurs” – who identified several testimonials from consumers claiming to have been defrauded by companies promoted by influencers linked to Shauna Events: goods not received and not reimbursed or even nonconforming products.

“We talk about influencers, it’s not for nothing”

And the sky is not likely to clear up anytime soon for influencers. Several legislative proposals have been tabled to regulate the practices of players in the sector and fight against scams. Like that of the deputy of Europe Ecology-The Greens, Aurélien Taché, “written with players in the sector”. The latter first proposes to define in law what an influencer is, as well as to introduce a written contract between the influencer and the agent of influencers: “Today, you can make any investment product, going through an agency, there is no written contract, we do not know what happens if the product is not delivered, we do not know if the product is compliant or who is responsible in case of problem”. The text also provides for the introduction of a mandatory statement to explicitly indicate the advertising purpose of any content. And in case of non-compliance, the deputy proposes a prison sentence of six months and a fine of up to 75,000 euros.

“Some families are broken, it can be a young person who takes the advice of an influencer on a cryptocurrency investment, a young girl who loses her hair from a dangerous shampoo, parents who order gifts at Christmas who do not ever happen. This is not normal”, adds the deputy, who also proposes the creation of a platform to be able to report dangerous or defective products, “on the model of online hate reports”.

For its part, after several meetings with players in the sector last December, the government, through the Ministry of the Economy, launched a public consultation, open until January 31. It will be necessary to wait until March 2023 for Minister Bruno Le Maire to issue his conclusions and announce any decisions. The AVI collective hopes that these complaints will initiate a somewhat deeper movement: “We can clearly see that there is an explosion of cases of scams on the part of influencers. We talk about influencers, it’s not for nothing. What we hope for is a collective awareness of the population, public decision-makers and more specific regulations, ”explains Me Alexandre Dakos, who calls on potential victims to get closer to the collective.

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