Fake social media profiles

Flipping wooden cubes for change wording from "fact" to "fake".
image: iStock / Getty

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.”

Seriously!

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.

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10 Comments

  1. Thureya Roberts on April 21, 2022 at 11:52 am

    I’m so shocked and sad to hear how easy it is for people to scam other people and use other peoples photographs to impersonate them?!? What is WRONG with people? I’ve recently experienced fraud of a different type and reported it to Action Fraud and they said using my name, details and national insurance number to claim benefits under my details wasn’t considered a criminal offence in Scotland? What the actual…‍♀️ Definitely more needs to be done about things like this. It’s so sad that these fraudsters are preying on innocent people under the pretence of “kindness” and “self love”. Stay strong and know that most people who practice self awareness/meditation etc have high intuitions and are able to detect something “not quite right” fairly quickly. It’s not up to you to save them all and the more people become aware of fraud the less likely they are to be scammed. You will find the more you speak to others who’ve also experienced this type of thing, the more relaxed you may begin to feel about it. Eventually even finding humour in the ridiculousness of it all. I will definitely share this blog to help highlight the issue. Keep smiling

  2. Lisa on April 21, 2022 at 12:31 pm

    I know you’re a very caring person and you’re doing your upmost to not let people be sucked in by these lies, but the control ultimately isn’t in your hands. I can’t understand how upsetting it must be to have someone take key parts of your life and use them as manipulation. Again, the only thing you can control is your reaction. You’ve done everything possible to protect your name, it sounds like, and to protect vulnerable people. The frustration you feel is what you need to control now. Remember spheres of influence, You’re doing your best. If people end up scammed you are not to blame. I don’t mean any of this to sound patronising or dismissive but be kind to yourself here. With love.

  3. Linda on April 21, 2022 at 3:40 pm

    I myself, a senior lady, have been scammed more times than I can count but I never give money to people so that is always the end of it. I have become quite adept at spotting the scammer because they make mistakes that I have come to notice.
    I now keep a photo of a cat on my accounts so that they do not know that I am a woman and that has stopped the messages that I kept getting. I hope that other women will do this to avoid pain and hurt when you feel dupped by these dishonest people.

  4. Walker on April 21, 2022 at 4:34 pm

    You are not alone, This is unfortunately a much more common experience than most realize. I am also in the public forum.and experienced in self development and management via personal responsibility and practice of positive resources for the majority of my life and have found this a stretching circumstance too.. My husband and i have been fans of yours for 10 years and read nearly all of your books! Thank you for your dedication!
    In my experience with this issue (now going on a month of disabled accounts on all Meta owned social products – Fb IG WhatsApp- due to a hackers “against community standards” activity on my Fb page) I have learned that the social platforms have chosen to allow a bot run security system to persist that does not support the account holder and in many ways encourages the hackers & scammers. Their security algorithm doesn’t track historical information or many situations like ours would’ve been resolved with a short time. My accounts have over 10+ years of positive community building and inspirational activity and only one phone number ever associated with the account and the security system allowed a hacker to add an obviously foreign number and post 14 times.. The bot security systems in place are simply too easy for these tech savvy compromised conscience individuals to get around and Meta has chosen not to update or create a customer service department for their free social platforms due to cost. The onus is on the account holder to deal with issues like ours and the users to beware.. Fb has a 2 star rating now, no small part is likely due to this choice and the unrest it’s caused in users. Meta now develops products that require a Fb account to work. The Oculus for example. As a side note, I hired a legitimate company that helps people who have been targeted by scammers & hackers (they were written up in Washington Post as the company to work with) the best they could offer at this time in this volatile ever changing environment of crime was to ask me to buy an Oculus for an additional $300+ in addition to the $500+ I paid to engage them, so they could start a ticket through the oculus customer service to reach an actual Fb employee in the customer service department there dedicated to that product. And none of this was guaranteed to work but that I could return the product within 30 days. What? I couldn’t do it. It simply felt wrong to be forced to buy a Meta product that I have no use for and then return it. The whole thing is in a field of energy I choose not to engage. The salient point is, nothing is for free in social media and we are all likely paying a bigger price than we realize through association with some of the platforms. Regardless, I am grateful that the things that are free like choosing kindness everyday deliver huge ROI! Thank you for who you Be in the world what you do to make it a better place for humanity to evolve. God bless you Dr Hamilton and hang in there. This too shall pass 😉

  5. Sharon Stiles on April 22, 2022 at 8:52 am

    Martin Lewis has been campaigning for more action to be taken on this type of thing so it would be worth contacting him so he has another example.

    You should also report it to Action Fraud. It’s a small drop in the ocean but it’s something.

  6. Teresa on April 24, 2022 at 10:57 am

    Dear David, I have been reading your work and listening to you for many years. Your wisdom and science-backed advice, especially around the mind-body connection, is invaluable and should be on the school curriculum!
    These scammers are behaving without loving kindness and it will ultimately have consequences for them. Fortunately there are thousands more people who value and respect you, and share the good news about your work with anyone who is ready for it! Very best wishes.

  7. Alison Outred on April 24, 2022 at 11:56 am

    Hi David, this is terrible. No wonder you’re upset about it. The cheeky bastard using your lovely dog to scam people! I hardly use social media but had a similar problem on Twitter where someone set up an account under my name and was sending out half naked photos with their telephone number – very embarrassing! Thankfully it was in Russian (I think?) so I doubt anyone actually thought it was me but, when I reported it to Twitter they said it didn’t breach their rules ! I was so horrified that I just decided to stop using Twitter but I think, the last time I looked, they have now disabled my account and left the fake one up!
    Perhaps a gap in the market for a more ethical social media company?
    Anyway best of luck. I hope you managed to get it resolved. 🙂

  8. Patricia on April 25, 2022 at 9:37 am

    An elderly lady, I don’t do social media myself – but I’ve stopped answering my landline because of the number of scam calls I was receiving. These sad and unscrupulous people are everywhere.
    I’ve read most of your books and have found them illuminating and life changing. The work you are doing is so very important, so focus on the love and respect that your readers have for you, and feel yourself surrounded by our sympathy and heartfelt gratitude.

    • David Hamilton on April 29, 2022 at 8:03 am

      Thanks for your kind words, Patricia. I’m sorry to hear you receive so many scam calls.

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