Late one night, Stella Premo received a mysterious DM on Instagram that appears to have been from Aji Daashuur, a Los Angeles-based spiritual advisor.
“The Great Ascent 💫💫💫,” the direct message began. “I appeal to you, my beloved, for your reading and guidance. You are blessed. “
Premo, who teaches yoga in Sacramento, was surprised to hear directly from Daashuur – she had only been following her for about a week – but she replied that she planned to contact a medium soon. She had a big project and she could use some kind of divine guidance. Then she put the phone away and went to bed.
But the more Premo thought about it, the weirder the DM seemed. The next morning, she took a screenshot of the exchange and sent it to the original Daashuur account.
“Sorry to bother you, but you have two accounts?” Premo wrote. “I recently received a message from another account with all your information. … If it’s you, let me know.
It was one of hundreds of similar messages that Daashuur and others like her had heard from bewildered followers in recent weeks.
“This is a scam,” Daashuur replied. Please report and block.
Psychics, tarot readers, astrologers and other metaphysical practitioners say they have experienced a flood of scammers over the past few months who clone their accounts and use their likeness to receive payments from their followers for bogus readings. According to them, while some white spiritualists are being deceived, the problem appears to be most acute among black and brown practitioners.
“This has happened to me at least once a week since September,” said Kira Taburn, an LA-based astrology professor and co-founder of the Cusp Astrology app. “They will copy my profile and then subscribe to a group of my followers, reach out to them and say,“ My ancestors attracted me to you, can I give you a reading? “”
If the person says yes, the scammer will send them a PayPal, Venmo or Cash App account. Once the person has paid the money, the scammer usually blocks it on Instagram.
Spiritualists say it is especially painful to be deceived in this way because their work has long been branded as one gigantic fraud.
“Historically, people involved in health and spirituality have been ridiculed as crooks and scammers and literally burned at the stake,” Daashuur said. “We are very honest in what we do, but we are easy to get.”
Marcella Kroll, artist, creator and reader of the Tarot deck, agreed.
“I worked very hard to legitimize my work,” she said. “I do everything to be on top. I pay all taxes, I have certificates. It does not help “.
Instagram has become a powerful tool for metaphysical practitioners to promote themselves and attract new clients, but most say they don’t use the social platform to directly search for jobs.
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The most successful ones don’t have time: Daashuur only receives new appointments four times a year, and they usually fill up in just 15 minutes. Taburn became so busy with counseling and teaching that she stopped giving individual readings. Kroll is booked one month in advance.
“True spiritualists are not going to ask for tarot reading, palm reading or any type of spell in your private messages,” wrote the owner of @OpenmerAlertPage, an Instagram page that launched in September to track imposter accounts. “If you receive a direct message from someone asking you to sign up for a reading with them, be on the lookout!”
Fake accounts are difficult to detect at first, especially for vulnerable people who desperately need spiritual advice. The account name is usually slightly changed — the Daashuur @thespiritguidecoach descriptor becomes @thespiritguideccoach with an additional “c”, for example, or “thespriteguidecoach”. Practitioners’ avatars, biographies and several dozen of their messages are also copied.
However, one thing that scammers cannot copy is the language practitioners use.
“It’s a very similar language, and there is always a lot of ‘difference’ or ‘love’ in it,” Tabur said. “I think a lot of them are British or live in places colonized by the British because they use the ‘ou’ spelling for love and color.”
Like Premo, most of the people that impostor accounts contact end up realizing something is wrong before they hand over their money. But not all.
Sanyu Nagenda, who works under the name Sanyu Estelle as a soothsayer, tarot reader and witch, said one of her clients sent $ 500 to someone posing as her on Instagram. In return, the client received a 15-minute video of a burning candle.
Nagenda was shocked.
“I don’t even have the ability to read on my $ 500 site,” she said. “And if I did it, it would certainly take more than 15 minutes.”
When, quite recently, another impersonator began reaching out to his followers, Nagenda replaced her avatar picture with the words, “I’m not looking for clients.”
“I was especially offended because I am a soothsayer, my business is the truth,” she said.
Kroll temporarily deactivated her account because she was so shocked by the people who approached her about the impostors using her name and appearance.
“In order to open my inbox and receive over 100 messages from people who are mad at me because they are afraid of being deceived, I am subject to a full-blown panic attack,” she said.
But closing her Instagram account is costly.
She does a collective tarot card reading each week, which she shares for free on her account, but relies on the tips she receives during those readings to help her pay for basic necessities like groceries.
“The lack of this additional support is negatively affecting my finances,” she said.
Some of the fake accounts have been removed, but metaphysical practitioners say they haven’t received enough support from the social media platform.
“These scammers prey on vulnerable and needy people, and Instagram does nothing,” Daashuur said.
A spokesman for Meta, the company (formerly Facebook) that owns Instagram, said the site does not allow impersonation and that the company has a team to detect and block these types of scams.
“I don’t think Instagram is trying to catch us, but I think they don’t care because of the nature of our work.”
Kira Taburn, Cusp Astrology App Co-Founder
But the company did not deny the problem.
“We know there is a lot to do here, so we continue to work to prevent abuse and keep our community safe,” the spokesperson said.
Laura Aimiller, an FBI spokesman for Southern California, said the agency has received no complaints about this type of fraud, but she is not surprised it happens.
“Fraudsters take advantage of people’s vulnerabilities,” she said. “If they know someone is sensitive to tarot reading or psychics, they will take advantage of it. If they know that someone loves dogs, they will take advantage of it. If they know that someone wants to leave an egg for their grandchildren, they will also use it. “
Taburn tried several ways to fight back her imitators. She advised her followers to post them on Instagram and pull them long enough to get their Venmo, Cash App or PayPal account so she can report them on those apps.
“It never really gives anything,” she said. “You can report them, but they will never contact you.”
She even contacted several scammers herself.
“One person said, ‘You don’t understand. I must do it. I need money, ”she said. “They are ruthless and they won’t stop.”
Taburn’s followers suggested that she verify her Instagram account, which would mean that her official account would have a little blue checkmark next to her that couldn’t be replicated. She was tortured several times, but she was always refused.
“I don’t think Instagram is trying to get us, but I think they don’t care because of the nature of our work,” she said.
The best strategy she has found for closing an impostor account is to go through the multi-step process of impersonating herself directly on Instagram. To make it easier for other Spiritualists, she has created a guide that she shares with others. Finally, the practitioner sends a photo of herself with a photo ID to the company.
“That’s a lot, but quite quickly, to be honest, and it worked for all the fake accounts I had,” Taburn said.
Some have other approaches.
When Mark Newton received a DM from someone posing as Kroll a few weeks ago, he was immediately suspicious. He has known Kroll for over ten years and knows it doesn’t require reading.
He wrote to Kroll, and together they decided that he should play along.
“The Spirit directed me to convey to you a message from the realm of the universe, and this is very important,” read the original DM. “Please send me a message to book a reading and receive a message.”
“Wow! This is so cool!” – answered Newton. “Do you read it personally? I would like my family to commit suicide. “
The fake Kroll offered to read via SMS, phone or FaceTime.
Newton said she “didn’t feel very spiritual,” and asked if she had an office in Los Angeles where they could meet in person.
“I don’t let people in my office read, [sic] why did I tell you we can do it via FaceTime dear, ”the impostor replied.
Newton bargained for a fake Kroll from $ 350 to $ 60 before asking for her Cash app account. From this he was able to conclude that the account was registered to someone from Uganda.
Then he stopped pretending.
“The real Marcella is my family,” he wrote. “You [messed] with the wrong people. You are cursed to live a terrible life. Good luck to you, bastard, we see you, wherever you hide, and we will haunt you for all eternity. “
“What it is?” – answered the fake Kroll.
“This is the curse of the real Witch,” Newton wrote. Marcella Kroll.