NOTE: I wrote the original draft of this story in January 2016. I wasn’t sure if I was going to publish it, but decided to today.
I started using Reddit 5 years ago. When I created my first Reddit account, I made the mistake of reusing a username that many of my real life friends and colleagues would be able to associate with me. In theory this was fine, but it created a self imposed limitation to the type of content I would share, what subreddits I would post to, etc. In early 2015 a post I made of a friends photograph (I had her permission) went viral and was the basis of everything from an animal rescue campaign to endless Buzzfeed lists.
At that point many of my friends and acquaintances became aware of my Reddit activity and started adding me as a friend on the site, sending me PM’s, etc. I decided it was time to anonymize myself so I created a new account. Karma was never something that interested me, and the few subreddits that I had created/moderated weren’t important to me.
Since I was a long time user, and very active on the site (some days I will visit dozens of times and post and comment almost as frequently) it didn’t take me long to reestablish myself in the subreddits I actively participated in.
I realized that I could use a few extra dollars before the holidays and started looking around my house for things to sell. One day I was browsing /r/hailcorporate and saw a post where someone mentioned a website where advertisers can buy established Reddit accounts for marketing purposes.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with /r/hailcorporate — it’s a place for users to link to posts/comments that appear to be made by shills or “social marketing experts” to promote a brand under the guise of it being normal user posting original content. Think about when someone posts a bottle of Coke with their name on it — that’s the type of thing that will get linked to in /r/hailcorporate as an example of a company subversively advertising on Reddit.
I wasn’t very active in that subreddit, but I did subscribe because I found the concept interesting.
It occurred to me that I had an inactive, 5+ year old account that had been gilded multiple times, had 20,000+ link karma, 15,000+ comment karma, participated in “events” such as The Button, had a Team Orangered trophy, and was very well established. I started wondering what something like that might be worth.
A quick visit to the Reddit account marketplace (by the way, I won’t be disclosing the name) showed similar accounts were selling for around $250. Right away I knew I was going to sell that account, as well as my “new” 9 month old account, which by this time had about 15,000 link karma and 3,000 comment karma. I won’t say it was a difficult decision since I needed the cash, but I did feel a little bad about that fact that I was now part of the very problem /r/hailcorporate had made me aware of.
I sent an email to the contact address on the site and within minutes received a reply in broken english.
“Yes. Very interested in accounts. Please add my account manager to Skype”.
What came next was a series of conversations with a gentleman who seemed to be based out of Malaysia (according to his Skype profile and the odd hours we would talk — sometimes very early in the morning for me, sometimes very late at night).
First we negotiated a price. The opening offer was $60 USD for the 5 year old account, $20 USD for the 9 month old account. I flatly rejected that offer after making him aware that I knew exactly how much these accounts would sell for based on the prices on the site (I estimated a combined value of ~$375) and countered with $200. That, of course, was an impossible figure to him so after a little back-and-forth we settled on $120 USD for both. I still felt like this was a low ball offer, but it’s not like I was giving away anything of any tangible value to me so I was OK with it. Plus I’m Canadian and the value of our dollar is quite low right now so it was closer to $160 CAD.
The next part of the process required a lot of faith on my part — I had to send him the usernames, associated email addresses, and passwords. Since a Reddit account can be recovered within the first 24 hours of an email/password change, I had to wait until after that period expired before he would send me payment via Paypal. I didn’t like the way this was playing out, but decided to proceed based on the fact that the accounts were of zero value to me so even if it was a scam I wasn’t out anything.
Right away I got an email saying the email/password has been changed for the 5 year old account and we agreed to get in touch again the following day.
True to his word the next day I was contacted via Skype and $60 was sent to my Paypal account. I asked when the other account would be taken. “Soon” was the reply. It’s been 3 weeks and just today the second account had the email/password changed and I received a message via Skype that the remaining $60 would be sent to my Paypal email address after the 24 hour waiting period.
There is still a chance that the Paypal transactions will be reversed, but I don’t believe that will happen. Why not? Because it would have been easier for him to just not send the payment in the first place if he intended to do that. I would have had no recourse after that 24 hour waiting period.
Off topic but I’ve been regularly checking the older account and whoever has purchased it is terrible at marketing. Posting content to subreddits that aren’t related to the post. Comments that make no sense in context. I’m not sure if it’s a person or a bot doing the posting, but almost every post has been removed by the moderators of the subreddits they appear in.
In the end I did learn a few things: Shill accounts definitely exist on Reddit, in great numbers if the number of accounts for sale on that particular marketplace is any indication. Reddit accounts do have value to marketing professionals. Reddit as a company appears to be either oblivious to this fact (highly unlikely) or happy to let marketers buy and sell these accounts on an open market. The site I used was linked to on Reddit remember.
I just wanted to put this story out there for those of you who are curious about where these accounts come from. In the past I’d wondered if buying and selling online accounts (not just on reddit) was really a thing and now I can say that it definitely is.