GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Scammers are using Shane Nickel's Instagram page in order to convince women to send money to them.
“Some of them have sent tens of thousands of dollars to these fake profiles,” Shane Nickels said.
He says some of the women he's been able to make contact with have lost thousands of dollars. Others were so heartbroken by the situation, it drove them into the depths of depression.
It all started years ago, but Nickels says it got much worse after he deployed to Afghanistan in 2017.
"That’s when my photos started circulating, and it blew up from there,” Nickels said.
None of the profiles besides his account, which has roughly 115,000 followers, are real. Shane says most of the people doing the harm are from out of the country.
He says, the story he hears from victims of the scams often goes like this:
“Let's just act like I’m deployed, let's talk to these women, and say hey when I come back, let's meet up. But, I’m not going to be back for a few weeks, so can you send me two thousand dollars in the meantime,” Nickels said.
It's a tactic becoming more popular, using someone else's actual life to create a false narrative, says the President of Social Catfish, a California-based company that's helping Shane navigate the process of getting the fake profiles taken down.
“They steal images from people, that corroborate their story," Social Catfish President David McClellan said.
Shane says it often causes a lot of heartache for the women being manipulated. When he tells them it's not him, they often times already think they're in love with the person on the other end of the messages.
“A lot of times, they don’t even believe me. So it’s pretty wild,” Shane said.
Social Catfish President David McClellan says, he believes it. McClellan says data shows people in 2020 are spending more time on their phones and more time socializing online as opposed to in-person, which is perpetuating the problem. Social Catfish has a search engine tool to help people spot fake profiles.
“If somebody asks you for money online, they can’t video chat, they say they’re stuck overseas, or they ask you for gift cards, that’s a red flag,” McClellan said.
Shane just wants all this to stop and is hoping the more people know who the real Shane is, the less likely they are to fall for an impostor.
“It’s one of those things, where it’s getting out of control, where I need people to know about,” Nickels said.