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Are the sugar daddies in your DMs real?

WORDS BY ALYSSA FORATO

“Lately, the sugar daddies have lost their humorous spark. The sheer number of scammers on Instagram is no longer amusing – it’s just frustrating.”

“Hi pretty do you need a sugar daddy to help and spoil you $7000 weekly allowance via Paypal… no nudes or sex chat attached?”. This message slid into my DMs on an April morning. ‘Wouldn’t that be nice?’ I thought absentmindedly, as I resumed scrolling Instagram on my train to work. Of course, I didn’t take it seriously.

I was sure Mr Sugar Daddy was just a robot or a fake account, messaging any female username in sight. It was simply some humorous content to upload to my ‘close friends’ story before going about my day. But as time passed, I found myself waking up to Instagram notifications from random men following me, all posing as sugar daddies.


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They all looked very similar (old, smiley white men with beards and sunglasses), and they all wanted the same thing. They were each offering varying thousands of dollars for it: companionship, with no sex required! Even a sugar momma expressed her interest at some point.

Dr Shaanan Cohney, a cybersecurity lecturer at the University of Melbourne, said that although the ‘sugar daddies’ are technically real people, they’re usually underpaid office workers whose job on the side is to scam Instagram users.

“They’ll have minimum targets – numbers of people they need to scam every month in order to keep the money flowing to a larger business that makes money by scamming people,” Dr Cohney tells me. But how are they taking people’s money when they’re the ones offering to pay thousands of dollars per week in exchange for conversation?

Well, if a user’s interest is piqued by the offer the ‘sugar daddy’ is presenting, the scammer will spend some time getting to know the target. Dr Cohney tells me that the “scammer’s way in” is through our ego: our desire for acceptance and acknowledgement. Once the scammer believes you’re comfortable, they’ll launch the next step of their scheme.

“They’ll promise you money and even send you a screenshot of a bank transfer showing that the money is on the way. But tragedy occurs! The scammer then messages you saying [the] money is held hostage by the ‘bank’,” Dr Cohney explains. “All the scammer needs to release the funds is proof of your identity.”

This ‘proof of identity’ typically takes the form of a gift card. The sugar daddy will request you buy a gift card for a certain amount, scratch off the back and send the gift card details over so that the funds can be released into your account.

“In an even more insidious version, the scammer will actually ask you to make a bank transfer,” says Dr Cohney. “They’ll tell you that the $10,000 dollars is yours as soon as you send $1,000 to confirm your bank account.”

However, you can kiss that money goodbye. You won’t be seeing the $10,000 you were promised, and you won’t be hearing from your dedicated sugar daddy ever again. Despite this reality, the influx of sugar daddy accounts hasn’t slowed down over the past few months. I’ll admit – at first, it was bemusing.

I’d have a quick peek at my DMs to laugh at how bold the sugar daddies were getting in their requests, and see who was offering the most money. But lately, the sugar daddies have lost their humorous spark. The sheer number of scammers on Instagram is no longer amusing – it’s just frustrating.

Even though I don’t engage with any of the accounts, ensuring I’m removing, reporting, and blocking them gets very tedious. When you’re trying to establish yourself in the professional world, having hundreds of sugar daddy accounts following and interacting with your Instagram isn’t exactly the best look.

Nurse Kate Burelli tells me that she’s tempted to put her Instagram account on private because of how many sugar daddy scammers are following her.“They spam my account with likes and then take up my whole inbox with completely false messages that they’re going to pay you $5,000 a week, which is absolutely ridiculous. I’m reporting them and deleting their conversations from my inbox, but sometimes I think just going private on Instagram would be easier.”

Not only does the increase of sugar daddy scammers impact users’ personal experience with Instagram, but it impacts professional usage, too. University student, social media strategist and small business owner Gemma Srijan says she’s cautious to open her messages on the app because she’s unsure what’s legitimate and what’s a scam. “People will approach me pretending to be interested in my business, and then they’ll flip it to something like that,” Gemma shares.

If you’ve encountered the sugar daddy scammers on Instagram, you’ve probably rushed to delete comments from an unfamiliar user commenting “Beautiful girl, be my baby <3” or something equally as vomit-inducing.

“It’s kind of embarrassing in the public eye, especially because of my line of work,” says Gemma. “I wouldn’t really want people from my advertising agency seeing that these types of people are commenting or going on my page.”

Thankfully, Instagram has introduced a new filtering system that hides message requests from accounts that look like spam. I’ve found it hides a lot of the message requests I receive from scammers, but some often slip through. This filtering feature also doesn’t block the accounts from following you.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like Instagram will be free of sugar daddy scammers for a while. “They’re looking for automated ways to detect the scammers. It’s a big priority, but there is no foolproof solution yet… The engineers protecting this system really have their work cut out for them,” Dr Cohney says.

For more on sugar daddy Instagram scammers, try this.

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