An expert takes us through the red flags.
Jun 16, 2022 12:22am
Never did I think I would be referred to as “darling heart” until one fine mid-May morning this year when an older gentleman slid into my Instagram DMs.
His name was Jefferson: “I don’t know what your attitude really looks like but to be honest, I would love you to be my sugar baby and take care of your needs, rent and also pay you weekly allowance,” he wrote. “Your online companionship only is what I require and in return I’ll spoil you and support you.”
I was baffled at how this person, who I had absolutely no mutual friends with, had found my profile. But suffice to say I spent all of about five seconds thinking, “Huh. That’s kinda funny, and really random”, and then I forgot about it and went about my day.
But over the next few weeks, I received more and more messages from similar profiles, all featuring middle-aged men with white hair and a generic name. There was George Bryan, there was Alex, there was even Bear. Who were these people?
Mildly amused, I continued to ignore them. Too good to be true, right? As it turns out, friends and colleagues had also recently been spammed with so-called sugar daddy offers.
It got me wondering, why the sudden influx? And who was really behind these profiles? It was time to get an expert opinion.
“You’re incredibly unlikely to be cold messaged out for the blue by a real sugar daddy offering large gifts and funds,” Dr Shaanan Cohney, a University Of Melbourne lecturer in cyber security work, tells ELLE Australia.
“This is a really common form of scam that comes under a bunch of different guises, and the particular one that these sugar daddies appear to be engaging in is a variant of the romance ‘E-Scam’.
“The basic idea is that the person promises to give you something, and that plays upon either your sense of ego or a desire for status or wealth, and they’ll offer you something that attempts to persuade you.”
Once the ‘sugar daddy’ has convinced the person to accept their offer of a weekly allowance (the dream TBH), they’ll flip the switch. Instead of sending funds directly to your bank account, they’ll ask for you to send them some money (or gift card) for their ‘transaction’ to be completed.
“And when you send them the money, it disappears and the original transaction is never completed,” Cohney says.
In the cyber security space, Cohney notes that the sudden increase in these sugar daddy DMs on Instagram might not mean that scamming is more common, but the ways in which scams take place mean some people are noticing it more.
“As young people have increasingly moved towards Instagram or platforms that have direct message functionality, they’ll see scammers on there more and more,” he explains. “Ten years ago it would have been things like OK Cupid, or Plenty of Fish or whatever dating sites were around then. And now that people are moving to TikTok and Instagram, scammers follow them there.”
And when it comes to sugar daddy profiles reaching out on Instagram, there are some easy steps you can take to spot a fake or scam profile from a mile away. Below, five red flags to look out for.
1. Look carefully at their pictures.
Along with generic stock images featuring middle-aged men, a scam profile’s grid posts may lack variety.
“In a real person’s profile, the account will have a number of different people in a variety of situations. Say it was my own profile, it could be me in a photo with my friends at a bowling alley, and then another photo of me the next day with an ice cream and two other people,” Cohney explains.
“One thing you’ll find with fake profiles is there’s a very limited variety of poses that feature just the individual—or there might be a lack of content overall.”
Of course, if the account is private you’ll see no pictures at all, and that in itself could be a red flag, Cohney suggests.
2. Consider the name of the account
On Instagram, many automatically generated scam accounts tend to have a bunch of numbers at the end.
“If the digits don’t seem to have any significance that might be one sign that the account is fake,” Cohney says.
3. Check when the account was created
If an account claiming to be a sugar daddy shared its first post in June 2022, and it’s June 2022, that’s a sign that the account is a scammer.
To see the exact month the account was created, tap on the user’s profile, hit the three dots in the left hand corner, then hit ‘about this account’ and you’ll see the month and year under the ‘date joined’ column.
Rule of thumb: if the account is less than six months old, it’s probably a red flag.
If a potential scammer profile follows a large number of accounts but has very few followers, be very wary.
What’s more, if their followers also use similar-looking stock images of men, they might well be part of a network of scammers—in which case we recommend running for the hills.
5. Look at their activity on other posts
If you see the account making frequent comments that don’t have any substance, for example, writing things like “OMG so cute” or “Wow!!” on your own or other people’s photos, this could suggest the account is fake.
“The fact that they’re not engaging meaningfully with the content could be an indication of what the platforms call ‘inauthentic activity’,” Cohney says.
He adds that if one or two of the above red flags are missing, that still doesn’t necessarily mean that the account is trustworthy.
“It’s a combination of these factors that will give you a sense that something is wrong. Ultimately, people should feel confident in trusting their feelings on whether something is real or fake. If something doesn’t look quite right or sounds a little too good to be true it probably is.”
So what if you’ve already started messaging one of these accounts? Even just to entertain the banter? Cohney has one response: “The best thing to do is to stop right away.”
It’s also important to block and report the account to Instagram. If you’re worried you’ve given out too many details to the scammer account, contact your bank and let them know what happened, they’ll keep you across any suspicious activity.
Overall, the best thing you can do when you receive a cold message from a so-called sugar daddy is to assume the worst, look for the red flags, and if after all of that you do want to proceed, request to move the conversation to a trusted sugar daddy platform where safety mechanisms are in place.