The Mounting Problem with Fake/Imposter Accounts on Social Media Amongst the Spiritual Community
Written By: Mary Kathleen Evidential Psychic Medium
I still remember the very first time my business account on Instagram was duplicated, my content was stolen, and someone was digitally traveling around Instagram pretending to be me and my business, which I’d worked tirelessly to build, all within an industry in which reputation is everything.
It was August 2020, and I was sitting next to the pool, watching my kids swim. My phone dinged. It was a message from a woman who told me that she was a follower of mine on Instagram, where I have a business profile for my LLC of my psychic mediumship business. She wanted to know if I’d “actually” private messaged her in an Instagram DM and offered her a discounted reading “on the side”.
She then sent me a screenshot, in which someone masquerading as me, complete with a profile of me, nearly identical screen name, business name, and posted content, offered her a reading via DM for a largely discounted rate. She also sent me a screenshot in which she’d sent the person the money they requested via Cash App. The person then stopped responding to her after she paid them, at which point she realized there were actually two different profiles of “me”: the one she was messaging me on now, and the one she’d been messaging with when she sent the money.
I had to inform her she’d apparently scammed. That I had not messaged her. That readings could only be booked through my website, which was located off of Instagram entirely. At the same time, I apologized profusely to her for actions that were not even mine. At the time, I was shaken, but viewed her as the victim. At the time, I had no idea how much further I myself would continue to be victimized again and again….and again by such scams in the years to come. I had no idea how much of a problem this was really going to turn out to be.
You see, this would be the first of many, many times that this would happen to me after that first point in August 2020. I’ve now had possibly 200+ profiles of me that have come and gone. Hours upon hours upon hours spent DM’ing with followers and victims, creating content to warn my followers, and trying to clean up messes that I did not create. And an insurmountable amount of stress, intellectual property violations, and reputational nightmares that have come from dealing with scams that would be ran on Instagram under my name, and under the names of many others in my industry.
And Instagram would go on to do absolutely nothing to protect us, or to protect those who were being targeted for money.
If you follow a psychic medium, intuitive, tarot card reader, or astrologer on social media, and on Instagram especially, the odds are highly in your favor that you’ve been followed and then messaged by a scam artist impersonating that person. The scam goes as follows:
An impersonator will go to their victim’s (the practitioner’s) real profile and copy the content they would like to use. This will include their name, their business name, their profile bio content, their profile photo, and the highlights on their profile (the small circles at the top of a profile that show important topics). Then, they will head to the posts and reels, and they will download as many as they wish to use to their own device.
Then, they create a new Instagram profile with a nearly identical screen name, deviating as little as possible. Instagram does not allow precisely identical screen names, so they need to be smart here. For example, my Instagram screen name is medium_marykathleen. So, my imposters have typically inserted an extra _ or placed the _ in the wrong place to mislead people. Sometimes, they may add a period or a number. The results are screen names that, at a glance, are hard to decipher and meant to confuse people: who is real and who is not, people wonder? Is medium_marykathleen the real business, or medium__marykathleen? Or, is it medium_marykathleen or mediummary_kathleen? What about medium_marykathleen or medium_mary.kathleen? Even people who have been following me for four years get confused, and I don’t blame them.
After the screen name is chosen, they make everything else about the profile exactly the same to the real business’ profile. After all, they are trying to masquerade as their victim, so they need to match. The only true giveaways are that usually, they are too lazy to add captions to their posts, they typically don’t post stories, and obviously almost all of their posts have been added in a short time period in terms of posting dates, whereas real businesses will typically have content that dates back years.
The problem is that, at a glance, the profiles look the same and most users don’t look that closely – nor should they be expected to if Instagram did its job.
Now, on to the juicy stuff: why they go to all this trouble: what they try to get out of it. Next, they go down their victim’s follower list to find their secondary set of victims.
And they start following the real business’ followers as the fake profile.
Then, they begin messaging the real business’ followers with offerings for readings (or whatever spiritual service that practitioner is offering) at discounted rates if the person will pay them via a cash application, such as Cash App.
This results in a few things happening. Some people do fall for it, and do pay them. This has happened several times, as my followers have sent me screen shots. And these are just the incidents I know about.
Other times, people assume this is actually me messaging them, unethically, and unfollow me. Every time a new fake account is making its rounds with more rigor than usual (there are always some out there but some are more aggressive than others), my follower count of my real profile drops. They are damaging my reputation (and the reputations of others they are doing this to) in an industry that relies heavily on having a reputation of ethics, word-of-mouth, and re-building positive stigmas.
Others may be unfollowing me because they simply find it annoying to deal with these people on an ongoing basis, and it comes with the territory of following me.
No one should have to deal with that.
In other words, these scam artists are affecting my business.
Additionally, my inbox becomes flooded with DMs about the fake accounts as people are being messaged by the impersonator and they want to let me know. While I’m incredibly grateful to my community for keeping me informed, especially as people have caught on more and more, sometimes my inbox becomes full of messages to an unmanageable level.
These are all issues that I, nor non-business Instagram users, should need to deal with.
What Instagram Is Doing About It
Instagram is doing nothing. Absolutely nothing.
When a fake account comes about and it is realized, it is reported by myself and my followers.
In the beginning, Instagram was helpful.
They were helpful for about a year. They’d remove them after a few days of reports being submitted after minimal damage.
And then things got out of control. The imposter accounts began cropping up, as many as 2-5 times per week at times.
And Instagram stopped reacting entirely.
Now, when they’re reported, I, and my followers receive this back from Instagram about them:
They’re now allowed to remain up, posing as my business, even using my LLC name, for lengths of time that are long enough for the fake accounts to surpass my own real account’s follower count.
They block me so that I can’t interact with them, yet they still retrieve any new content I put up and add it to their fake pages of me.
They are allowed to still continue stealing from me, impersonating me, and trying to steal money from grieving people, all of which Instagram says violates nothing.
Instagram does nothing.
Interestingly enough, instead of helping, Instagram removed my real account on February 15, 2023. They gave me no reason. They simply disabled my account. All the while, I received screenshots from users that while the real me had been ‘kicked off’ of Instagram, there were approximately 8-10 fake pages of my business allowed to remain up. They then randomly reinstated me on February 20, 2023 with no explanation as to why the real me had been erroneously removed.
The fake accounts remain up, as I’m sure they will continue to do and be.
Where This Is Coming From & How Instagram Could Do More
During one of the most recent incidents of impersonations, a follower sent me this screenshot. She pointed out to me that on many accounts, you can actually determine the location of where an account was created by clicking the three dots on the profile and choosing “About This Account”. She showed me that this fake impersonation account of my business was created in Nigeria.
Here’s another one. You can also see here how long this one has been allowed to remain up:
And another one:
This got me thinking.
And I went to my analytical reports of my audience demographics. There, I noticed that 4% of my followers were from Nigeria. Statistically, that is an anomaly.
My client base – meaning those who come to me for readings – my paying clients, are exactly as is shown in the charts, and in that order, if you remove Nigeria from the list. Yes, you could argue this or argue that – but I was an analyst in my “previous life” before my spiritual awakening: Nigeria should not be in this data.
I posted about this on my stories and I received several DMs from people with personal stories about how they, loved ones, or acquaintances were personally scammed by people out of Nigeria in other types of (non-spiritual) scams.
Some of them even out of their life savings.
Some causing the breakdowns of marriages due to the loss of life savings.
I only had 4,830 followers at the time, and to receive even a small handful of anecdotal stories from that small of a pool of people was…alarming to me.
So, I began going through my followers, slowly, over the course of a month so as not to get flagged by Instagram for repetitive actions.
I started with who would jump out at me as the “love scam” types of profiles and spiritual scam pages. And I went to their “about this account” section to check for Nigeria first, (not all profiles list this publicly – it may be a setting or a business profile vs. personal profile aspect). I removed any profiles from my follower list that seemed questionable to me intuitively. Love scam profiles are actually pretty easy to spot if you know what you’re looking for, as are spiritual scam pages ("spells", "love spells", and "voodoo" are some example words to look for).
This had nothing to do with race. In fact, almost everyone I removed had a profile picture of a white/Caucasian person.
As of today, I’m at 4,725 followers, which is a decrease of 105 people (I’ve also gained a very small amount). But, here is where the breakdown stands compared to 4% of my followers having been from Nigeria before I manually cleaned out apparent love scam and spiritual scam pages.
What Does This Tell Us?
It tells us that Instagram could be doing more. Much more. If I could figure this out in a matter of a couple of hours, they most certainly know far, far more than we do. This means, that I would venture to guess – no assume, that the problem is far worse than this looks. This is a an extremely small data pool, but I do know that I was blocking “love scam” profiles daily, as they would follow me, long before this happened. These were just from the ones that made it through without me noticing. So:
How many scam profiles are on this platform? Is it 4%? 8%? Approximately 12%? 16%?
Instagram knows the number. They’re data analytics are far too powerful not to.
Instagram also has some of the most powerful marketing data in the world, supposedly.
Meta supposedly knows more about their users and their demographics via their marketing algorithm (or so they say to marketers) than many people would be comfortable with them knowing about you, honestly.
So, why can’t they take care of the scam problem? The impersonation problem? The bot problem? From a technical and logistical standpoint, it would not be terribly difficult to, at the very least, make a dent in it. And, even moderately, make far more than a dent.
In terms of the spiritual scam and impersonation issue, its widespread enough that it’s been publicly published. It’s widespread enough that world-renowned practitioners have left their platform.
Further, from a standpoint of: why Nigeria and why the spiritual industry?
I find it interesting that Nigerians have long since been known for their love scams, which now run rampant on Instagram, unchecked. And, they’ve now targeted the spiritual industry, which is largely patroned by women. There may be some practitioners out there who can speak differently, but everyone I know, while they do receive male clients and that base is growing as more and more people awaken, their client demographics are female in majority.
I also was reflecting on this prior to the writing of this post, and I was thinking to myself: I have had some amazing male clients. And I have some amazing, kind males who follow me on Instagram. However, I’ve never had a male follower reach out to me to notify me that they’ve been targeted by one of the scam pages. It’s always women. This doesn’t mean that the impersonation pages aren’t targeting male followers, but I suspect they might not be.
I truly think these Nigerian scam artists are victimizing me and my business (and that of others), and then targeting female followers only. It would make a lot of sense as to why they’ve chosen the spiritual industry to begin with. And that aligns with the other scams being chosen as well.
The reality is that Instagram could address this.
But they don’t.
Maybe it would drive their user data down too far, which would drive down the prices they’re able to charge to marketers, among other financial and market repercussions.
Or, maybe it’s simply not a priority.
At any rate, it's not simply an issue of, “We can’t.” It’s an issue of, “We won’t.
And businesses – and private citizens – are paying the price.
Maybe once enough people leave, or find alternatives for marketing to grow their passions and livelihoods, they will finally wake up and realize they should have done something long ago.
Maybe by then it will be too late for Instagram.