The plot outline
- You’re an indie author and you read an article on how Instagram can work for you for promotion, so you sign up
- As soon as you’re online, you’re inundated with direct messages from men and women, all saying ‘Hello’ or ‘Hi’, to which you think, ‘Weird!’ so you don’t reply. You find out (much later) that when a new user signs up, Instagram invites people to engage with you to build up your followers
- One user is particularly persistent and follows you. His profile picture shows a good-looking bloke with a beard and for a brief moment you think, ‘Aye-aye!’ But you are in fact happily married woman and you don’t know what this geezer wants, so you don’t say ‘Hi’ back, even though you’ve followed him back. You’re an ignoramus and ignored your own rule (if you don’t know their interests don’t follow back). It’s important you build up followers, though. His account was private, but you can see his photos now he’s accepted your follow.
- Meanwhile, some unfortunate crap is going on in your life. You’re depressed. You still haven’t got over the estrangement from your family after the death of your mum and you are prone to stress, which is causing problems at work. You’ve self-referred yourself to local mental wellbeing services and you attend a stress management course. They’re going to put you on an improving low self-esteem course, too. Self-esteem has always been a problem for you because you don’t have any
- At work, you’ve been kicked in the teeth by your employers who have informed you that the job they wanted you to apply for isn’t happening now because of the admin review; you have to leave at the end of February. This severely pisses you off and doesn’t improve your low mood. On Instagram, you post a harmless picture of yourself and the bloke with the beard likes it and posts the word, ‘Jello.’ Eh? You know that’s the American word for ‘jelly’. Is he saying you wobble? He clarifies it with the word, ‘Cute.’ Alarm bells should be ringing, but they don’t. You hate the world, so when he DMs you again you respond. You need a distraction, a new friend, a pen-pal
- He tells you he’s from Austin, Texas. How interesting. You’ve never been to the US and don’t know anything about Americans, other than what you’ve seen on the telly. He’s a widower with a young daughter; she lives in California with his mum. What a shame. His wife died in a car crash and he was driving. She died in his arms. How sad. His daughter has an Instagram account, too. His princess, his Angela Chris, a potential new reader of your books, but you’re wondering how wise it is for him to have an Instagram account for his 11-year-old daughter.
- He tells you you’re beautiful. You insist you’re not, but you’re flattered and it’s music to your ears. You have low self-esteem and when was the last time you had a compliment like that, even from your husband? You can’t remember.
- You pride yourself on being savvy and streetwise, and not easily taken in by anything, but right now YOU’RE BEING SUCKED IN AND YOU DON’T EVEN REALISE IT!
- He keeps telling you he’s in love with you, calls you his Queen. You keep reminding him you’re married, but you feel sorry for him, so you play along and anyway, he’s entertaining you. In your head, it’s harmless; you’re never going to meet him and he’s a lot younger than you are. He’s asking you for money. His daughter isn’t speaking to him because he won’t buy her a set of headphones; she has appendicitis and needs an operation; he wants to come over to the UK and meet you; he has an enlarged heart and needs money for drugs. He’s pulling at your heart strings. He’s sending you photos of himself and his daughter, you’re sending him photos of you. You keep trying to walk away, but he keeps begging you not to go. What would he do without you yada yada yada…
- After two months, you’ve had enough of the constant begging for money. As good-looking as he is, he’s a bit of a dickhead and getting on your three penny bits. You know too late you’ve been a prime idiot, but by now you’re up for a fight. He’s sent a photo of himself and his daughter with the name of a martial arts company on their sweatshirts. You Google them: they’re in New Jersey. You challenge him about this, but he insists that picture was taken in a diner in Austin and he’s never been to New Jersey.
- You do some research. The Instagram romance scam is rife and you never knew. Men and women all over the world are being taken in. The military scam is the most common of all. There’s a blog that’s been going for years and makes very interesting reading
- You call your Instagram friend a liar and a scammer. He denies it, is upset you could think so, but he’s panicking now. He knows he’s losing you, so he turns the screw: if you don’t send money via Bitcoin for his heart op, he’ll blackmail you. You’ve been waiting for this. Bring it on! You tell him you’ve called the police. Fact. You also tell him you’ll make him sorry. Too right! That’s the last thing you ever say to him and oh boy are you determined to make him pay! His profile picture on the DM has gone; he’s a faceless user now. He’s followed all your IG users and will send pictures of you to them, as well as some of the silly chat. He uploads a couple of pictures and tags them, but you don’t bite. He takes them down straightaway and you report him to Instagram. You sit there watching him on DM telling you he’s sorry, please can he have one last picture of you? Sod off, you think. You’re dead meat, pal!
- Instagram take down his account, the police come, an investigation reveals he was operating from the US. Meanwhile, you do a bit of detective work of your own: you identify who the photos belong to because of the picture of him and his daughter with the name of that martial arts company on the sweatshirts. They have an Instagram account, so you check their followers. Bingo! There’s my catfish, a naff car salesman from New Jersey with a business account, a bit of a Big I Am, using a younger image of himself as a profile picture. What a narcissist. Fancies himself. He doesn’t look like that now, he’s put on a bit of beef. Obviously trying to impress. You know he has a hot Chinese girlfriend; how did he manage that? You have his name, too, and you discover the real name of his daughter. Probably not the culprit, an innocent bystander, but it helps to hate him. Makes you feel better. You bet if it’s not him, he knows something about it
- You check his followers and what do you see? Your scammer’s profile picture staring at you, a private account (hello, hello, hello!) with a different name, his real surname, no interests listed, just an American and Irish flag (bugger, you’re part-Irish, too! Something in common with the big-headed melt!)
- You start stalking. He’s also on Facebook, a public profile, so you check out the photos. Some of them he sent to you, but not all. You deduce that whoever harvested his pictures took them from the private IG account, which you don’t follow, of course, so you DM him to warn him. What does he do? He blocks you. There’s gratitude for yer! Undeterred, you get his email address from his business IG account and email him with the evidence, but he doesn’t reply. You feel uncomfortable that his daughter’s photos were used, so you ask the police to email him, too. They do. He still doesn’t reply. Does he think you’re a crank, or does he have something to hide? Remember it’s a private account, a feature of a catfish! Who knows. You don’t take any chances: you block him on ALL social media, even Twitter.
- You’ve learnt your lesson: no matter who DMs you on any social media platform, even if you’re quite well acquainted with them or know them, you don’t reply, you just press Delete. That’s sad, but you can’t take chances any more. If you get a message request by some balloon head who wants to say, ‘Hi’ you decline the message.
ALL OF THE ABOVE HAPPENED TO ME THIS YEAR! DON’T LET IT HAPPEN TO YOU!
It appears many successful romantic relationships have been formed via Instagram. Bully for you if this is true, but the place is full of arseholes like him who are preying on vulnerable people. If you’re looking for love go out and meet someone, DON’T DO IT ONLINE!
Signs to look out for and how to act:
- The Instagram catfishers generally have accounts that are private (as previously mentioned), with no interests listed, or are public profiles with very few photos uploaded
- If they engage with you and you engage back, they’ll tell you a sob story. Their cat was shot by a dog, or they fell down the stairs and got hit by a car when they reached the bottom. You’ll get the gist
- They can’t spell. Well, I mean, we all know Americans can’t spell, but honestly, the catfish really cannot spell. A catfish is illiterate and thick with it
- If they ask for money IGNORE THEM, WALK AWAY AND BLOCK THEM, EVEN IF YOU THINK YOU’RE PASSIONATELY IN LOVE! (You can’t love someone you haven’t met, you know…)
- If for any reason you’re sucked in and you get blackmailed CALL THE POLICE! DON’T BE EMBARRASSED OR ASHAMED! They won’t judge and they’re on your side. They told me the more people who report this sort of thing the more they can work with agencies to crack down on it. Instagram will work with them, although it may take some time
- The victim is not at fault, but ONLY the victim has the power to prevent it. You are in control, not them! They’re the losers, not you!
DON’T LET THEM WIN!
I haven’t. It’s inspired the plot of my next book, a young adult crime fiction story.