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Warning: The top 20 celebs used by scammers – beware ads featuring Martin Lewis, Taylor Swift, Elon Musk & more

If you see an online advert, particularly if it features a celebrity, always assume it could be a scam. That's a warning from Martin Lewis after our exclusive analysis of Action Fraud data found that the (MSE) founder, alongside Taylor Swift and Elon Musk, is the most featured public figure in reports to it.

The top 20 celebrities used in scam adverts in 2022 and 2023

MSE's exclusive analysis of data from Action Fraud revealed the number of times public figures were mentioned in scams reported to it in 2022 and 2023. These figures are likely to just be a drop in the ocean, as many people don't report scams to the police. 
It's likely that many of the same figures are still being used in scams now in 2024 though, based on feedback received from MSE users – and we suspect James May has moved up the league table and will now be in the top 20. The list covers 3,551 mentions in reported scams, covering 165 public figures.

Top 20 celebrities most used by scammers

Individual Total number of scams featured in Percentage of total mentions in scams
Martin Lewis 1,151 32.4%
Taylor Swift 771 21.7%
Elon Musk 492 13.9%
Adele 97 2.7%
Holly Willoughby 80 2.3%
Jeremy Clarkson 72 2.0%
Mark Zuckerberg 53 1.5%
Johnny Depp 41 1.2%
Keanu Reeves 41 1.2%
Ed Sheeran 40 1.1%
King Charles 32 0.9%
Peter Jones 32 0.9%
Phillip Schofield 32 0.9%
Richard Branson 29 0.8%
Rishi Sunak 28 0.8%
Rod Stewart 26 0.7%
Prince Harry 23 0.6%
Simon Cowell 23 0.6%
Lewis Capaldi 21 0.6%
James Martin 20 0.6%

MSE has statistically aligned two data sets, though there is likely to be a small error ratio. It covers all mentions (including where more than one person is mentioned). Action Fraud warns some unrelated reports may have been captured, some related reports missed.

Action Fraud supplied reported scams data based on a list provided by MSE. To generate that list, we asked on social media for people to tell us who they'd seen appear in scam ads. The response was huge, with over 800 replies naming 165 public figures they'd seen in scams. MSE believes this is likely to cover the vast majority of scam ads featuring celebrities in the UK and certainly all the big ones – meaning the list above is robust.

MSE founder Martin Lewis

Martin Lewis, founder said: "It's likely that the criminals pumping out these scam ads effectively use their own in-house dark-web digital marketing teams, researching which celebrities and advert types get the best click through rates, and honing the way they work to be able to attract more victims. 

"Almost certainly they will be collecting data on each public figure's power to draw people in and how many people who respond to a celeb in an advert, then go through to part with the money.

"That’s why this top 20 matters. If someone is on this list, they're likely tried and tested by scammers, and therefore will keep reappearing. So, while it's important to be wary of the potential for all online adverts to be a scam, especially those with celebrity figures – if it has one of these 20, you should double and treble check it's legit via independent trusted sources before making any contact or commitment.

"And if it’s an ad with me in, it's always a scam, as I don't do adverts. Topping this list is about the worst compliment I’ve ever had. I find it deeply frustrating that after six years of campaigning, having both successfully sued Facebook, and lobbied to get scam adverts covered by the Online Safety Act, the online advertising market is still a wild west. 

"Ofcom's draft proposals for the new laws on paid-for fraudulent advertising aren't expected until early 2025 and won’t come into force until 2026. Even then, these won't include regulation of the full online advertising supply chain, including display ads, which were due to be included as part of the long-awaited Online Advertising Programme.

"The new Government has promised to ensure that tech companies have a clear obligation, and a clear financial incentive, to work with banks to prevent scams, identify fraudulent transactions and support victims. We'll be watching closely to see if it delivers."

What type of adverts celebrities appear in – and who appears in what

Be particularly on guard for:

Mentions of cryptocurrency, investing, retirement planning and promises to get rich quick. If it sounds too good to be true, it likely is. Many of the public figures in the top 20 – including Martin, Elon Musk and Jeremy Clarkson, as well as James May – regularly appear in these types of scam, which can be after your personal and financial details.

Both Jeremy Clarkson and James May have warned on X that ads linking them to cryptocurrency – and in James May's case, retirement planning too – are fake. Martin frequently warns MSE users to beware of scams featuring him, such as this 'deep fake' video where Martin is featured alongside Elon Musk.

Claims there's been a scandal involving the celebrity. These scams lure you in with a false headline in the hope that you'll click to find out more – though they often then take you to an investment scam. 

Tickets being sold at a discount or for sold out events. These types of scam are more likely to involve touring musicians, such as Taylor Swift, Adele, Ed Sheeran, and Lewis Capaldi from our top 20 list. Always buy from official ticket selling (or reselling) platforms and be cautious on social media – you don't know if the user profile or tickets are genuine.

Spend using a credit (or debit) card if you can to get Section 75 (or Chargeback) protection.

Millions has been lost to scams

The scale of fraud in the UK is devastating – it accounts for 40% of all crime, with 3.2 million offences committed. And losses are enormous – in 2023, almost £1.2 billion was stolen from consumers through fraud, according to banking trade body UK Finance. The City of London police reported that £612 million was lost to investment fraud in the past year. This is likely to be the tip of the iceberg, as many scam losses go unreported. 

Increasingly, social media – a place you'd expect to see information about celebrities – is becoming the scammers' destination of choice. Revolut has said that 60% of all its reported UK scam cases originated from Meta-owned companies Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, and that a third of money was lost to scams that began on Meta platforms. TSB has said that 80% of its biggest scams originate on Meta. 

And losses to scams falsely using celebrities are mounting. Action Fraud says victims have reported losing over £20 million to scams featuring Martin Lewis in the past two years. And sadly, this issue appears to be getting worse, with around £6 million more lost to Martin Lewis-related scams in 2023 compared to the previous year (£13 million in 2023 compared to £7 million in 2022). Devastatingly, the largest individual reported loss attributed to a scam featuring Martin was £500,000.

Fans of Taylor Swift have lost out on an estimated £1 million since UK tickets for her tour went on sale last July, according to data published by Lloyds Bank this April. More than 600 of its customers reported being caught out, losing out on an average of £332 each. 

Separate data published by NatWest, which focuses on the most any individual has lost to a celebrity scam ad, in June found that one customer had lost £150,000 to a scam featuring Martin, while the largest amount stolen in scams involving Elon Musk, was £62,000.

What to do if you think you've been scammed

There's full info on what to do if you think you've been scammed in MSE's 30+ ways to stop scams guide, but in brief – end all further communication with the scammer immediately and then...

  1. Call your bank directly. Let them know about any money you've lost and ask them to cancel any payments that haven't yet been made. Make sure you find your bank's contact details independently, for example, call the phone number on the back of your card or on your bank statement. Alternatively, for speed and ease, you can call the 159 hotline instead – this will connect you directly with your bank. 

    While there's no guarantee your bank will reimburse you if you have been scammed, this is your best bet in the first instance. Banks should adopt a case-by-case approach. 

    If you disagree with your bank's decision, or you're unhappy with the way it's handled your complaint – you'll normally be able to escalate your case to the free Financial Ombudsman Service.

  2. Report the scam. You can do this via the Action Fraud website or by calling 0300 123 2040 (England, Wales or Northern Ireland). If you're in Scotland, report a scam via the Consumeradvice website or call it on 0808 164 6000. You can also report scams to Police Scotland on 101.

    Another option (UK-wide), if it's an online scam, is to report it to the Advertising Standards Authority. Do this in addition to reporting it to Action Fraud or Consumeradvice.

  3. Use Section 75 if you've been scammed when paying for something costing more than £100 on a credit card. If you used a debit card or spent exactly £100 or less on a credit card, you could try to claim your money back under the chargeback scheme instead.

    Unfortunately, if you've transferred the money using sites such as Moneygram, Western Union or PayPal, you generally can't get your money back once you've handed it over.

  4. For more help and support, contact Citizens Advice (England and Wales), Citizens Advice Scotland, or NIdirect (Northern Ireland). Alternatively, call the Financial Conduct Authority's helpline on 0800 111 6768 (UK-wide).

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