I found myself getting a bit upset one day last week. It’s not the first time.
Over the past few months, I’ve been contacted by some women who believed they were in some form of relationship with me. They were being scammed.
I’ve had people impersonating me online quite a lot over the past year, but it’s now happening with increased frequency.
It’s most common on Instagram, or at least it seems to be as fake accounts are easier for me to find there, perhaps due to the way Instagram’s search facility works, but it happens a lot on Facebook too, and now even on TikTok.
I’ve reported over 30 accounts to Instagram in the past 6 months alone, as well as about a dozen to Facebook and TikTok. And those are just the ones I’ve found out about.
It’s becoming such a problem that I decided to write a blog about it today instead of my usual sort of ‘Using science to inspire’ theme.
It used to be that all fake accounts were swiftly removed by social media companies, but that doesn’t seem to be the case now. Maybe it’s happening so much that they don’t have the staff available. I don’t know.
When I report a fake account to Instagram or Facebook, it is checked by an automated system and not a person. Some scammers have simply learned tricks to get around this so are then able to keep on doing what they’re doing.
They usually send people direct messages and try to get them into their confidence. They don’t always do it right away, when the person first starts following the page, although they sometimes do. Sometimes they pick people who are engaging with the page for a while so the person builds up confidence in them.
I’ve occasionally posted on social media about some of the scammers and asked people to report specific accounts, but what prompted me to change tact and write about it in a blog was seeing a treasured photo of myself and my dog, Oscar, who passed away 7 years ago, on a page listed as ‘Dr Wilfred Ednut’ (see image).
It’s my face as his profile picture (unless he’s changed it since I posted this – it’s one of the tactics scammers use to get around social media security. **UPDATE: indeed, he changed the photo and deleted most of my photos within 10 minutes of me posting about it on Instagram. **UPDATE 2: he then changed the name on his handle. **UPDATE 3: Instagram deleted the account)
‘Ednut’ also claims Oscar as his dog and even wrote a post about how deeply upset he was when Oscar died in his arms. He even changed the date of Oscar’s passing to coincide with the date of his post.
He wrote: “As I buried my face in his thick, furry neck, I felt my dog take his very last breath. Oscar, my beloved dog, was gone. Lying with him in his bed, spooning his now motionless body, I sobbed with an intensity that shook me deeply. I realised I was crying harder than I had in years, my grief so intense, it felt as if a part of me had been clawed out and torn away.”
Articulate! I Googled the words as it did seem too articulate for a scammer. He stole them from a post on www.dogster.com about a woman’s painful loss of her beloved German Shepherd, Hugo (here’s the post). He just swapped the name Hugo for Oscar.
Several compassionate people commented on the post, offering ‘Ednut’ their support.
It really knocked me for six. How dare he! I went through a traumatic time when Oscar passed away – in MY arms. He was only two years old and had bone cancer. We did just about everything you can imagine to save his life. He was my best friend.
I write about kindness a lot, but this is stretching me. He’s using my experience to try to con people.
I reported the account to Instagram as soon as it was brought to my attention a few weeks ago by a kind woman who follows my Instagram page. She had been interacting with him in comments on his posts for weeks, believing he was genuine. What alerted her that he was a scammer was the fact he recently sent her a private message, fabricating a story, and asked her for money.
Instagram’s response was: “Due to the high volume of reports that we receive, our review team hasn’t been able to view your report. However, our technology has found that this account probably doesn’t go against our community standards.”
It’s because, even though he’s using my photo as his profile photo he’s using a different name, and he’s interspersing my photos on his page with some others he’s presumably stolen from other pages. It’s one of the strategies these people use to get around the automated social media security checks so they can keep on scamming.
I’ve since reported it five more times, my partner has reported it, some friends have reported it. Two weeks later, as I write this post, it’s still there. Instagram have not acknowledged nor responded to any of my reports since. They usually only respond the first time I report something. Once they make their decision, all subsequent reports of the same account from me are then ignored.
That’s the response I’ve received for three of the last four Instagram accounts impersonating me that I’ve reported.
I suspect that Instagram are overwhelmed by the volume of reports they receive, plus, as I said, some scammers have simply figured out a way around theirs (and Facebook’s) automated scans.
But in my opinion, social media companies need to do more to protect vulnerable people. I wonder if they could at least hire more actual people to examine reports of fake accounts.
Social media companies do offer some advice to people; they say to trust accounts with blue badges. But not everyone can get one. I’ve been declined by Instagram every single time I applied for one, yet as of today (I’m writing this on April 21st, 2022) my Instagram page has 31.7k followers and I am a trusted author of 11 books, three of which are about kindness.
Plus, the scammers simply tell people that the page they’re using is a smaller, private page just for interacting with a small number of people. Some feel flattered to be chosen and then the scammer gets to work.
So what do you do? If you suspect something isn’t right about a social media profile, you’re probably right. Trust your gut. Plus, most public figures do not have a smaller page that they use to interact with selected people. Plus, most authors, celebrities, public figures will never send you a private message. The only time anyone receives a message on social media from me is because I’m responding to a message that she or he sent me.
The above fraudster (Elnut) has gone a little further than some others to gain people’s trust. He even uses a link in his bio to a kindness organisation (www.spreadkindness.org), to create the illusion that he’s genuine. He also lists himself as “Dr Kindness” in his bio. Some people call me Dr Kindness on social media – not because of the quality of person I am, I must add, but because of what I write about.
He also has fake ‘paid partnerships’ with kindness organisations and self-love / self esteem organisations.
For the latter, he stole a photo from my page where I’m holding my book, ‘I Heart Me’, only he’s photoshopped my name for his and changed the subtitle. (see photo).
Another tactic used by fraudsters is that they change or add a letter to a name, or simply rearrange a few letters, in the hope someone doesn’t notice.
One scammer was using David D. Hamilton (my middle initial is R) as his name, and after a woman suspected he was a scammer and called him out, he promptly changed it to Davri D. Hamilton to get around Instagram’s security. She reported the account, I reported it, some of my friends reported it, and it’s still active because he’s not using my name, yet he has my photo as his profile photo and lists my books as his (see photo).
**UPDATE – 29April22: This scammer is still active. He’s so far managed to avoid Instagram security by changing his profile name and handle name. His profile name now lists an email address ([email protected]) as he is attempting to take people off Instagram in case he gets shut down. His handle is now: darren__miles1964 (two underscores)).
**Update – 5 May 22: The profile has finally been removed.
Another scammer using a similar tactic, whom myself and others have reported, uses the name Edward Chapman (see photo). As you can see, it’s my face as his profile picture and that’s me in four of the photos.
What worries me is that scammers take advantage of people. As well as the women I mentioned above who were terribly upset and angry, I’ve been contacted by others who say they’ve been contacted by Me (a scammer posing as me or using my photos) on dating sites.
‘Chapman’ has also photoshopped himself a fake driver’s license using my face (see photo) to ‘prove’ to some people that he is who he says he is, or at least I hope it’s just photoshopped!
The above mentioned women had been messaging back and forth with the scammers for weeks. But even though the scammers copy sentences from my responses to comments on my posts to try to sound genuine, eventually these ladies felt something was off. They did a search on the scammers’ profile photo and it led them to me.
Sadly, I’m sure there are more who haven’t suspected anything and are currently being scammed.
I contacted the police about one of the situations as I didn’t know what else to do and wanted to make sure that the police were aware that it was not me.
Most of the above scammers I’ve mentioned are using Instagram. It happens on Facebook too, but Facebook’s search facility isn’t as good as Instagram’s, so I need to rely on people sending me a screenshot of the scammer’s account for me to report it. But as I said, many scammers are simply using tricks they’ve learned to get around social media security.
A woman contacted me on Facebook after being messaged by someone using my face as his profile picture and my photos on his page. I reported it to Facebook, whose automated system responded that he isn’t breaking community standards but that I could report individual photos for copyright infringement if I suspected they were infringements. The woman had questioned if he was who he said he was. As soon as scammers are alerted, they change something on the page.
Within an hour, he had removed my face from his profile, but was still using my photos in his feed.
I reported each of them in turn, as per Facebook’s advice, and Facebook didn’t remove any of them, nor remove the account. He’s still there, attempting to scam women.
I know I’m not the only one being impersonated. Several author friends have experienced it too. I seem to get it a lot, though. I think it’s because I write a lot about kindness so scammers use the theme of kindness to try to gain people’s trust.
But it’s hard! I write about kindness, self-esteem, positivity, and much more. I meditate, I’m pretty resilient and have a wealth of self-management tools to draw upon. But it still hurts. I struggle with it. I feel anxious about it from time to time. I’m only human. I worry about the people being scammed and I worry about people thinking that the scammers are actually me.
I don’t usually ask people to share a post, but I’d like to do so this time as I think we need to raise more awareness of this sort of thing.
And if anyone reading this knows someone personally who works at Instagram or Facebook, please ask them if they can raise the matter at a high enough level to encourage the companies to do more to protect people from these sorts of scammers.
Feel free to share this post.