While social media can be great for restaurants and chefs to get their names and goods out into the world, it can also cause harm, such as when someone creates a fake Instagram, Facebook or X (formerly Twitter) account.
"Social media can be a helpful tool to get butts in seats, but it's still the Wild Wild West," said Bryant Palmer, founder of Oh Hey Creative, a public relations company that runs social media for restaurants and concepts in Denver. "I think a lot of these fake accounts are scammers aiming to engage with folks as someone else to get something out of it, like clicks to a link, which is what happened with chef Jen."
Jennifer Jasinski is a Colorado-based chef and restaurant owner who runs the group Crafted Concepts along with her business partner, Beth Gruitch. The list of their businesses include Rioja, Stoic & Genuine, Bistro Vendôme, and Ultreia, all in Denver. Jasinski is a James Beard Foundation Award winner for best chef in the Southwest in 2013, was a Top Chef Masters finalist, and has numerous accolades from local papers and magazines — including Nation’s Restaurant News’ and Restaurant Hospitality’s MenuMasters Hall of Fame, into which she was inducted in 2021. Her personal Instagram, @chefjenjasinski, has more than 5,000 followers and features photos of herself, her husband, her dog, travels, food, friends and her restaurants. But then @real_jen_jasinski came up on Instagram, and to the uninformed it could have been the real chef's profile.
"Jen got a DM [direct message] from someone that followed her, saying 'Hey, is this really you?' and that's how we found out it existed," said Palmer, who manages Crafted Concepts' social media. "If someone hadn't reached out it could have been a long time before we discovered it."
Based on the dates, the fake profile was running for about a week before it was discovered. Once Palmer knew about it he acted fast to make sure Jasinski's followers on her real profile weren't dupped by the fake one. He put out a bunch of stories about the issue and asked everyone to report the fake account to Instagram.
"I asked the team to report the account with the idea that Instagram would take it down sooner, but we don't get a notification [about the case] so it's hard to say how long it takes [for Instagram] to actually respond," added Palmer, who runs about 20 accounts for his clients. "I see something fake like this on Instagram a couple times a month."
Chef Caroline Glover, owner of Annette Scratch Kitchen in Aurora, Colo., also had a fake account pop up on Instagram at the same time as Jasinski’s. She said she only found out about it because she had about five texts in a row from friends saying she had sent them an odd message about being on a new cooking platform along with a link. Once clicked, it took them to form requesting their personal information.
"I'm so lucky so many people reached out to me so quickly," said Glover, who added it didn't cause any real problems for the restaurant or the chef. "I reported it to Instagram and then posted a story asking others to do the same. It definitely won't go away unless you are proactive."
As for the harm it can cause, Palmer isn't sure, and he doesn't want to find out. He never clicked on the link posted to Jasinski's profile. Chances are it led to a similar place the link on Glover's fake profile did, especially since these two cases happened at the same time, along with another Colorado chef, Penelope Wong of Yuan Wonton.
Palmer said that, based on how the three profiles were made, it was probably generated by a bot.
"The fake accounts look exactly the same,” he said. “They took a single photo, broke it into a grid and copied some of the info from the bio and then started following [the chefs’] followers," Palmer said. "There are certainly bots that are programed to do various things, whether to impersonate an account, follow or unfollow, or even leave comments on pages."
While none of the chefs in this case reported a real problem from the fraudulent profile, it's still something that shouldn't be left unattended, advised Palmer. The first step: Realizing the chef or restaurant profile is false.
"When I saw the one for Jen, I tapped on her [regular] account and saw it was still there. It didn't make sense to start a new one," he said. "Also, the bio didn't make sense, and the link clearly wasn’t associated with chef Jen."
To help others and/or yourself, Palmer dished out some tips. First, if you get a notification or request on Instagram or other social media, and it's from someone you know well and you feel like you already follow, don't immediately follow. Instead, look at the account and see if there are signs like the ones Palmer mentioned about Jasinski's fake account.
Next, look at the ratio between followers and people the account is following. Jasinski’s fake account had 500 followers and it was following more than 2,000 people. For a popular and well-known chef, that doesn’t make sense.
If you come across this sort of fake profile, take screen shots of everything right away and then report the account. Don't block the account, because you want to monitor what's going on, Palmer said. Then ask other people to report the fraudulent account. Also, Palmer suggested posting about it so the followers of the real account know what's going on.
In the end, the fake account should be deleted, and if it's not, be persistent by messaging the platform again and again. In fact, get everyone you know to do the same. Luckily for Glover and Jasinski, there was no real damage, but Palmer said that if these accounts are left unattended they could hurt your brand.