On Instagram, reality TV candidates play with the money of their young subscribers

“Hello my little investors”. Customary of all kinds of promotions, reality TV candidate Julien Bert has found his new activity: trading. On his videos, the star of the networks promises his Internet users to easily make money “with passive investments”. The idea? Use what is called “a trading robot”, an automated tool, which requires no human intervention. So far, so good. But the story turns out to be a little more complex later on.

It all started with a promotional video, posted on Instagram on March 12. In the images, the man with 2 million followers appears at the wheel of a beautiful car or inside his villa with a well-filled dressing room. All this to announce a few days later the launch of his new jewel, Wolf’s investment. Julien Bert entices his listener as follows: “It’s not the money that you’re going to earn or that you could earn, but it’s the money that you’re losing by watching this video. You will continue to lose if you don’t join Wolf’s investment”.

A young and uninformed public

On this new video, shot in the middle of a forest and punctuated by low-end special effects, Julien Bert continues: “You have a 100% chance of making money with me. I know times are tough for everyone right now, which is why I won’t mess with your money. Money, believe me, it’s everywhere and it’s real, you just have to trust me”. At first glance, the speech is enticing. But is it only legal when it is aimed at an uninformed public who knew it through reality TV?

Julien Bert's Instagram account
Julien Bert’s Instagram account – 20 minutes

This practice is indeed highly regulated by the Sapin II law which “introduced in France a national system for the prohibition of online advertising on certain financial products considered to be particularly risky”, explains the Financial Markets Authority (AMF). In recent months, the AMF has also repeatedly called for vigilance on the call for investments on social networks. “We should question the financial skills of these people presenting themselves as experts, the sincerity and the disinterested nature of these prescriptions, the remunerated nature of which is not always clearly indicated”, she tells us. .

This particularly concerns non-professional audiences, targeted by influencers: “if an influencer acts at the request of a financial instruments trading platform, the latter must ensure that any advertising information is identifiable as such , correct, clear and not misleading. »

“A disturbing rise”

Contacted by 20 minutes, the Directorate General for Competition, Consumer Affairs and Fraud Prevention (DGCCRF) confirms for its part a “worrying rise” in misleading commercial practices online in the field of financial services, “in particular on the part of influencers” . During the summer, the Directorate General for Competition had also forced the influencer Nabilla Benattia-Vergara to pay a fine of 20,000 euros “for misleading commercial practices relating to the promotion on the Snapchat social network of a site of online trading training. The regulatory authority also claims to make unfair influence marketing practices “one of its priority areas of control for the year 2022”.

The FBI Excuse

But on the side of Julien Bert, the case does not stop only at the simple communication of a financial product at risk. Since the beginning of our investigation, communications from Julien Bert on his Wolf’s investment project have completely disappeared from his Instagram page. While his new company appeared in his bio, nothing refers to it anymore, he is only “co-founder”. This disappearance, and with that of the money invested by its subscribers, was particularly noticed by the Instagram account “Your stars in reality” – which has aimed for more than two years to highlight the multiple scams of reality TV candidates. “Indeed, the communications have disappeared and his team only explains that they were hacked”, indicates the founder of the Instagram account.

On the “Your stars in reality” account, we find victims of the various schemes put in place by Julien Bert and other influencers. “I naively believed that his project was viable and that it was going to be able to bring me some money,” confides Mélanie* to us. “Being suspicious, I even asked questions to his partner” Jérémy “on Telegram and I had very convincing answers”. At first, Mélanie, cautious, injects 15 euros. Seeing a small gain, she adds a new larger sum. “After a few days, the platform told us that hackers had taken control and that the dedicated site could not be found. They told us that they too had lost the money at the moment and that the FBI was doing what was necessary”. Requested by 20 minutesJulien Bert’s team confirms “that an investigation was underway” and designates itself as “the first victim of this hack”.

We therefore take this opportunity to ask him about the danger of promoting risky financial products on social networks. Internally, we ensure that we are aware that the practice is prohibited by law, while ensuring that we carry out a completely different activity. “If you go to the Telegram channel, you can read: ‘What we offer on this channel is not financial investment advice but only our personal investment ideas.’ You are free to follow them or not. As for the disappearance of communications on the project, Julien Bert’s team assures that “nothing was removed” and that it was only “ephemeral stories” – which does not correspond to our observations, nor to those of the “Your stars in reality” account.

“Men lie, numbers don’t”

A little further, on Dubai Bay, influencers are also very fond of various and varied promotions on social networks. Among them, we find the Blata couple who recently launched their trading platform via Telegram. They use what is called “copy trading” which makes it possible to reproduce identically the positions taken by a more experienced trader. On his videos, shot most of the time at the edge of a swimming pool, Marc Blata sums it up as easily as with this triptych: “Copy, paste, inject”. Except that the practice is much more risky than what the influencer suggests.

In 2019, the Autorité des marchés financiers, for example, decided to introduce several tools on these platforms to warn of risks, for example by indicating the percentage of losing customers on this type of product. A figure that can vary between 70 and 80%, underlined the Director of Relations with Investors at the AMF Claire Castanet, with Boursorama. “The vast majority of investors therefore lose money by investing in these products,” added the expert.

So to convince his listeners, Marc Blata uses effective and slightly manipulative expressions: “you’re not dumber than anyone else”, “you depend on no one” or even “men lie, not numbers”. Added to this recipe is a well-considered ingredient: the simple and affordable use of the trading platform via Telegram. To register, the only condition is to have access to this encrypted instant messaging.

A very high minimum deposit

In all, there are nearly 22,560 visitors to this Telegram account. In addition to the weekly reviews of Marc Blata’s financial products and videos, the account invites its users to register for the platform via another profile of a woman called “Léa” – who is none other than his partner, Nadé Blata. .

One click is enough. With this account, the future apprentice trader can now ask all these questions before proceeding with registration. “It’s very simple, it’s like when you deposit your money in the bank. They trade with them, explains our interlocutor. There, in this case, you will invest 500 euros, it is the minimum to earn money. The more you invest, the more money you will earn. It’s pure copy/paste, you don’t even have to understand”.

But taking up the explanations of “Léa”, one element remains particularly disturbing: the legal deposit is 500 euros; an astronomical sum for the young audience targeted by reality TV candidates who are not sufficiently informed of the risk of losses. Passing ourselves off as a student, we question the account on the possibility of investing less. “It’s the minimum capital to be able to take interesting profits”, answers Nadé Blata, who does not fail to make those who find the sum too high feel guilty. Here is the kind of messages received by some victims that we were able to consult: “if you want to make the transaction with 200 euros, do it with other traders. I put my hand to cut that you will lose them”.

“Drifts that have existed for too long”

Alerted by several people in distress, a support group for the victims of the Blata couple has been meeting for almost ten days, mostly on Twitter. The testimonies number in the dozens. According to them, the influencer would not be at his first imposture. In 2019, for example, he would have already set up a raffle to win an apartment in Dubai, before canceling it and this when transactions had already been made. “We said to ourselves that this kind of abuse had existed for too long, that an entity was needed to do justice to the victims who did not necessarily have the courage to denounce these actions”, explains one of its co-founders.

Because on social networks, the couple of reality TV candidates highlights the gains won, without really participating in trading afterwards. “They are paid on each payment. Once you have made your deposit, they no longer have an interest in whether you win or lose. It remains a tout for a simple platform, ”the collective believes. In all, they would receive a minimum of 600 dollars for each acquisition, or even more depending on the number of entries.

On their Instagram page, this deceptive marketing is clearly visible. Through their luxurious daily life, the couple makes their fans believe that it is trading that has allowed them this comfort of life… Enough to make them want to get rich with them. “They are betting while addressing people who have no skills, no knowledge in this area,” says the victim support group.

Solicited by 20 minutes, Marc and Nadé Blata did not respond to our requests. The couple continues to take advantage of the legal vacuum of the Instagram social network, unlike Snapchat – dedicated to even younger audiences – which has tightened its policy on financial products. “Ads on certain complex financial products, which may include cryptocurrency wallets and trading platforms, require prior approval from Snap, explains the social network’s internal rules, which add that “promises of guaranteed financial returns on speculative investments” are strictly prohibited. Nothing like it on Instagram so far.

*name has been changed

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