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'An Assembly Line For Instagram Verification': Investigation Exposes $25,000 Pay For Blue Checks Scheme You could get a blue check mark and become a seemingly-real Spotify artist.

By Gabrielle Bienasz

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

SOPA Images / Contributor / Getty Images

Hundreds of people were verified on Instagram over the last year through a scheme that charged people $25,000 for a blue check on the social media site that came in about 45 days, according to a ProPublica investigation published Wednesday.

"It was an assembly line for Instagram verification," the outlet wrote.

The crux of the issue is that verification on the platform can help people generate real-life money in the form of brand deals.

ProPublica reports that they uncovered a system that would create Spotify and Apple Music profiles, fake news articles, and Google knowledge panels for people, turning them into seemingly credible "artists."

The music would sometimes just be repetitive beats or even literal silence with artists who had names like "rhusgls stadlhvs," per the investigation. Then, when a person went to apply for verification on Instagram, they seemed to be a real musician.

"You can make a Spotify account or Apple Music account and boost the streams and get fake music press very cheap. It's quick and easy," an unnamed source told the outlet.

Many of these types of operations advertised themselves on the dark web or Telegram, ProPublica added.

With a verification secured, the client could continue as normal on Instagram — selling jewelry, being a famous plastic surgeon, et cetera, the outlet reported.

One person whose online activity followed this pattern, ProPublica wrote, was Martin Jugenburg, a very online plastic surgeon. The doctor had his license suspended for six months last year for filming people without their consent.

But he was still able to be a "musician" online (in articles like these) the outlet noted.

"Umbrella" will blow DJ Dr. 6ix's admirers away. Since its release, the song has done wonders for him and his career," the "article" says.

As for who is responsible, there was some controversy. ProPublica reported it was able to find the ringleader of the operation through records and conversations with clients, as well as information from social media platforms — Dillon Shamoun, a DJ in Miami who reportedly marketed the scheme to bright lights in his own city.

However, Shamoun told ProPublica that influencer Adam Quinn was in charge of the whole thing and was framing him, but declined to provide it, claiming he had signed NDAs.

Quinn acknowledged that he assisted in the effort in a "legal letter" to the outlet.

Meta Platforms, which owns Instagram, told the outlet it had evidence both Shamoun and Quinn were involved and sent each cease-and-desist letters as well as removed verifications from relevant accounts.

Paying for verification is against Meta and Instagram's rules.

Spotify told ProPublica it "removed the content in question we found to be manipulated" and that "fraud is an industry-wide issue that we take very seriously."

Apple Music removed profiles like the ones ProPublica had referenced in its reporting but did not respond to requests for comment, the outlet added.

Gabrielle Bienasz is a staff writer at Entrepreneur. She previously worked at Insider and Inc. Magazine. 

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