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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Amelia Tait

When we happily pay £45 for a YouTuber’s energy drink, the age of the scammer is truly dead

KSI spits out a mouthful of Prime after victory in the cruiserweight bout against FaZe Temperrr at the Ovo Arena Wembley, London.
KSI spits out a mouthful of Prime after a boxing bout at the Ovo Arena Wembley, London. He has pleaded with his fans not to pay £45 for the drink. Photograph: Julian Finney/Getty Images

Some sentiments are so obvious that they should never need to become sentences, but: £45 is too much to pay for a can of pop. I recently walked into my local sweetshop with a mind to buy some candy sticks when I stopped to marvel at a humming fridge lined with pink, orange and blue cans. Each can contained the energy drink Prime, which was “created by” YouTubers Logan Paul and KSI in 2022. And each bore a pale yellow price tag reading “£44.99”.

You may be surprised to hear that this is a bargain. One shop in Yorkshire has been selling bottles of Prime for £100 each, while sold eBay listings show that someone, somewhere paid £351 for a single grape-flavoured drink. While the beverage retails for just £1.99 in Asda, stampedes and scuffles have resulted in shortages – hence the price gouging. On 7 January, KSI urged his adoring fans not to pay over the odds for Prime, screaming into his front-facing camera: “Oh my God, NOOO!” and “Stop buying it at these prices!”

KSI, it seems, does not want his fans to be scammed – but what does that matter, when they themselves are more than happy to be? For the past three years, media outlets have confidently declared that we’re living in the golden age of the scammer, as evidenced by the fact that Anna Delvey or Billy McFarland’s Fyre festival need no introduction. Yet I would now like to equally confidently declare that the age of the scammer is over – for in a time of unadulterated celebrity worship, far too many people are willing to be scammed.

In 2019, internet personality Caroline Calloway became a key figure of the scammer era when she sold tickets to $165 (£133) creativity workshops, then failed to book venues to host them in. Two years earlier, the Instagrammer withdrew from a $500,000 book deal with Flatiron Books after failing to write her promised memoir; she subsequently had to pay her advance back. Ever since, Calloway has aggressively leaned into her reputation as a swindler: since 2020, she has been accepting $25 (£20) pre-orders for a new book, Scammer, which has not yet materialised (customers are told “the art will be ready when it’s ready” on her official site). In 2021, Calloway began selling a homemade skincare blend named Snake Oil for $75 (£60) a bottle.

Billy McFarland leaves federal court after his arraignment in New York on charges of scheming to defraud investors in his company, Fyre Media.
Billy McFarland leaves federal court after his arraignment in New York on charges of scheming to defraud investors in his company, Fyre Media. Photograph: Mary Altaffer/AP

Anyone who buys from Calloway knows what they’re getting – sometimes nothing. Throughout January, the influencer has been selling signed tarot cards for $15 a card and fans have leapt at the chance to part with their money. “When Caroline Calloway presented me with an opportunity to get scammed by THE Caroline Calloway, I PayPal-ed her $15,” one TikTok user named Kressie said. When Kressie discovered that the tarot card she received was unsigned, she was delighted: “I have to respect the grind! She got me!”

In our era of constant content creation, and in the wake of endless TV shows about scammers (Netflix has released shows about Anna Delvey and Billy McFarland, while Disney+ has a show about Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos), being scammed ironically now has currency. Scammers no longer take your money and give you nothing: instead, they give you the opportunity to make a TikTok, Instagram post or YouTube video about your experiences.

The death of scamming is linked to another phenomenon, which is that it is no longer possible for celebrities to “sell out”. While creatives were once scorned for linking themselves to big brands and shilling products, hustle culture means that fans are delighted to see their heroes earn big – at times, even declaring they’ll buy a product they don’t want or need just to “support” a celebrity. On TikTok, users joke about the expressions children make when they finally get their hands on Prime, taste it, and declare it delicious despite visibly looking unimpressed.

But it’s not just YouTubers and influencers who have the sway to lure willing victims – after all, numerous parents enrolled their children into Kanye West’s $15,000-a-year school despite the fact that was not accredited (following West’s antisemitic social media posts, the Donda Academy is now shut until September). Families reportedly had to sign non-disclosure agreements, so very little is known about the school’s curriculum – but how much do you have to love a celebrity to send your children off to chant in what appears to be a basement, dressed in all black, knowing they could emerge with zero academic credentials?

If you don’t mind, or even actively seek out, being scammed by your idol, then fundamentally you haven’t been scammed. The scam era is officially over – phone fraud hasn’t gone away, obviously, or those texts from fake delivery men saying you owe them £1.99, but the era of sexy scams, celebrity scams, seven-part series scams needs to be put to bed. They no longer exist – at least, not in a way that deserves the four-letter word. In the coming months, it’s likely you’ll read countless more stories about celebrity scammers. But when you read them, ask yourself one question: has anyone actually been scammed?

  • Amelia Tait is a freelance features writer

  • Do you have an opinion on the issues raised in this article? If you would like to submit a response of up to 300 words by email to be considered for publication in our letters section, please click here.

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