What do shills have to do with you? You might not think that shills exist, but they do. They can be annoying and make it difficult for you to get on with your day. The best way to avoid getting duped is by knowing what shill behavior looks like.
In reality, a shill is somebody who publicly praises or promotes someone or something but works covertly on their behalf. A celebrity shill will make public appearances on behalf of a company endorsing the product while acting like it is not paying them.
A shill can also be an enthusiastic party to a financial scheme, and the more people who are drawn into it, the better for the instigator.
Common shill behaviors:
- pretending to be a customer who has purchased an item or used a service
- posting negative reviews about competitors
- deliberately promoting low prices for products or services
- defending shills, even when you show proof that they are shills
- posting on forums to get a discussion going about unrelated topics, so shill posts appear more genuine. This is called “forum sliding,” and it’s another way shills can try to trick you into buying something
The legality of shills
For example, in the UK, marketers are required to state that they have received undisclosed payments or inducements to endorse a product.
- The act of covertly using undisclosed shills (also called stealth marketing) occurs more regularly than most people realize.
- The term “shill” comes from the carnival world, where it means an employee whose job consists of supporting or promoting another worker’s performance.
- Shilling in this context means literally “the promotion of a real-life performer by someone who poses as an enthusiastic customer.”
- Recently its use has expanded beyond just carnivals and has been used in films like Tropic Thunder to describe someone who poses as an ordinary person to support an entourage member secretly.
- Pranksters and practical jokers play the “shill” card by posing as an enthusiastic customer to tease or embarrass a seller who may be having product troubles.
Other Shill uses
A shill (or “plant”) is often an employee who manufactures or sells a product, who makes public appearances at a trade show and similar events. They represent the company and praise its products directly to its customers.
- They are sometimes portrayed as having expertise in the area in which the company operates. A professional shill’s actions are part of a broader strategy known as type riding, i.e., misrepresenting oneself as an ordinary person when participating in online fora.
- The canard of “shill” is used in stage magic, especially the three-card monte routine. A shill pretends to be an audience member like any other. Still, it secretly plays a part in the trick, often pretending to trip up the magician with his cane while performing a scheme so that it would appear self-working and thereby more amazing.
How Magicians Use Shills
Performance artists use shills when creating distractions during street performances of close-up magic.
- In this context, a shill is an audience plant that helps draw a crowd by loudly proclaiming that a celebrity or notable person just walked into the bar or restaurant where they are performing.
- The term “shill” is also commonly used in science fiction fandom to refer to fans paid to promote a media property such as a TV show or movie, especially when the promotion takes place on a fan website.
- This practice has been well known since at least 1998. Sometimes this may be for marketing purposes, but not always.
- For example, an adult member of fandom who works for Lucasfilm and promotes Star Wars Expanded Universe products while working under an anonymous identity on websites like wookiepedia.com could be considered a shill rather than just being part of the regular pro-fan activity.
Shilling and false claims
Like when a shill is merely exaggerating the product’s qualities to a suspiciously high level.
- A shill may also refer to a person who secretly pays or coerces someone else into doing something that furthers their agenda.
- For example, the hidden proprietor of a gambling house could pay crooked police officers to arrest certain players so that they can keep on cheating other players. This usage is closely related to the pejorative term “hired gun.”
- A political shill can also be called a campaign activist.
The slang term “shill” also refers to an unscrupulous person who publicly helps, supports, or defends someone with vested interests in an attempt to legitimize them, knowing is wrong. It was popularized by the movie Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.
- A “shill” can also be someone who knowingly spreads incorrect information about an unsavory topic, event, or product for self-serving reasons. The person doing this is known as a “shill,” often in internet slang.
Other Types of shills
The media shill carries with it connotations of covert support but has no inherent connection to whether the support is ethical or not. It simply refers to one who supports something without disclosing their affiliation to the group they are supporting.
- For example, someone representing a political movement could be asked if he works for that party, and he could truthfully answer no because of his undercover work for them.
- Manufacturers hire industry shills to tout their products online at sites like Amazon.com, eBay, Home Shopping Network, or other sites that accept reviews. Shills are often paid bonuses for each sale that they successfully generate.
- The third type of shill is a person who replies solely to reveal the identity of the original poster (or “OP”) to suggest any endorsement or approval of whatever has been said. This type might be employed in political forums where the OPs appear anonymous, so it’s helpful for people who agree with them to say “Hi!” without actually admitting it’s their own opinion.
- If this is done matter-of-factly, it’s not likely spam and might even add to whatever discussion. Still, if it’s done solely to have another user identified as a member of that forum while hiding their own identity, then it becomes spam.
Corporations and shills
Corporations sometimes use shills to infiltrate popular chat rooms. This can be difficult for someone to identify without actually being part of the conversation.
- Since this is illegal by deception laws in most countries, people have said that the government hires secret agents with no affiliation with the military or any other agency to post fake messages on internet message boards.
- However, there are ways to determine if a poster actually works for the company or has a “Home Shopping Club” credit card, so not everyone is convinced it happens.
However, there are many niche review sites where consumers can get paid for writing reviews on new products they aren’t familiar with.
- These are websites set up by actors posing as typical customers who post fake reviews about specific products that only exist to support their clients. It’s unclear how much of this illegal practice unless these companies agree with retailers who would be considered collusion.
- There have been class-action lawsuits filed against some of these companies because the practices violate consumer protection laws in different countries.
- This led to Google changing its policies in 2015 to forbid incentivized reviews (unless they are facilitated through the Google Trusted Store Program).
When Companies hire shills
Those hired shills must then take measures to conceal their identities because it is illegal to lie about your affiliation when trying to influence people.
- Shill sites have been known for making outlandish claims, such as saying a particular beauty product was endorsed by a celebrity even though no one had seen her wear it.
- This could lead naive consumers to purchase a low-quality or faulty product that can be dangerous for health and economic reasons. One way some of these companies get around problems with spamming is by having different IP addresses.
- In December 2014, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced that it had successfully taken down two fake review sites. The first site, buyamazonreviews.info, was a website selling fake Amazon reviews, and the second site,get-reviews.com, was for selling Yelp! and Google+ reviews.
- In 2015, Yelp released a statement regarding these types of services, saying that they work with various organizations to stop this type of activity because every false review written diminishes the value of authentic feedback.
- A shill can also be an informer or secret agent planted in an organization to spread disinformation by posing as one of the group’s members suspected of disloyalty or dissent.
Many people and companies are being scammed by shills, which is why it’s essential to know how to recognize them. We have compiled a list of tips that you should know, so you don’t get duped!
- if they’re promoting products for free or cheaply
- if the person claiming to be an expert has no credentials
- if they only mention one product
If any of these warning signs ring true, take caution before investing in their offer because there could very well be something fishy going on. Remember when looking at who your sources are online – including social media influencers – and make sure you do your due diligence before unnecessarily handing over money or information about yourself.
The internet can be a dangerous place, but by knowing the signs of a scammer, you can research them and find out if they’re on the level or not!