I have debated whether or not to address the numerous fake ads, stories and online scams using my name or image to trick people. These are now becoming so frequent that I want to speak out, to ensure everyone can look out for and report them.
You may have seen these fake stories spreading on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Yahoo News. They say things like "Richard Branson death hoax", "Become Rich Faster than you think", and "Richard Branson Reveals Easy Work at Home Trick". I can assure you I am alive and well, and the best way to get rich is to work hard, build a great team and create a business which will make people’s life better and has purpose.
Our legal team is working tirelessly to take down these fake stories every time they pop up. In the last year, we have dealt with more than 130 instances of me being impersonated, fake pages, misleading ads and false endorsements. Just this morning, we reported a fake competition to win a trip to Necker Island that has been liked by more than 3,000 people.
Thank you to everyone who has reported the scams – please continue to do so. But the platforms where the fake stories are spreading need to take responsibility too and do more to prevent this dangerous practice. Stopping fake and misleading content being posted should not fall solely on the shoulders of those high profile individuals being targeted (the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Stephen Hawking and Harrison Ford are also used in news scams). The police should also get involved in shutting these major operations down. There is obviously a wider problem with fake news having a major impact worldwide.
I am determined to protect my followers and Virgin customers from being misled and prevent anyone being confused into giving money or their personal information away on a false pretence. I’ve got used to the odd fake story about me appearing in the press over the years, and have developed thick skin. But these stories are not hurting me; they are deceiving people.
In the last three days I’ve met two people who have been stung by these schemes here in the BVI, duped in an effort to make some extra cash. I actually got on the phone with one of the scammers in an effort to get the man’s money back. The scammer was terrifyingly deceptive.
You can read sources such as Citizens Advice for tips on how to avoid online scams. Firstly, if you see anything claiming you can become a millionaire overnight, be wary. Typically these ads are placed next to my image, the scheme is described as my secret and people are encouraged to sign up. When you see a fake story, please report it to the platform you have found it on.
A simple check to do is to see if the story you are reading comes from an official Virgin website. My blog is here, on virgin.com, and all of my social networks are verified with blue ticks, so you can tell it is really me communicating with you.
One of the more ridiculous of the scams even quotes me as saying: “The monarch is FUMING at me for sharing this.” Her Majesty has not been in touch regarding internet scams, but I am confident she would urge you to report them too.