(RNS) – Mat Auryn had been hearing for months from customers saying they responded to Instagram’s offers for psychic reads, paid for them and received nothing. Others said they were getting preventative readings that didn’t make sense.
At first, the complaints would come once every two months, then increase every week, and eventually four to five times a month, Auryn told Religion News Service.
The biggest clue that his clients have been scammed, however, is that Auryn, author, blogger and witch who lives in northern California, does not offer psychic readings, let alone on the internet.
He is one of a number of high profile metaphysical practitioners who are increasingly frustrated with social media as imitators thrive on their accounts.
RELATED: “I didn’t have anyone in my life I could talk to about this”
As well as hurting her followers who turn to her reads for soul-searching and solace, “it’s hurting my reputation and my sales,” Auryn said.
Theresa Reed, better known online as The Tarot Lady, said she finds at least one new impersonator account every day, mostly on Instagram. Like Auryn, Reed does not give readings online.
Still, crooks usually clone their account by copying their content, bio and photo and creating a new one, slightly changing the account name: @TheTarotLady instead of @The_TarotLady, for example.
To build up followers, “copycats work with bot accounts,” Reed said. Then they reach out to their own subscribers via messaging and offer a read for cash. âThe messages use lingo I would never use, like ‘Dear beloved, I get energy from your photoâ¦’ or ‘Thank you, my love’,â she said.
The scammer usually deletes the account a few days after receiving the money. This is a âsmash and grabâ setup, Reed said.
Tarot readers, witches, psychics and psychics, including some who do not offer online services, have all told a similar story.
Auryn, who recently posted a blog post to help customers spot “spiritual imitators,” said readers already have the “stigma of being fraudsters,” he said. “Things like this are so frustrating because they perpetuate this idea.”
Guaranteed or not, metaphysical services have long been linked to fraudulent activity, and many municipalities across the country still have often archaic legal codes in their books outright prohibiting fraudulent “fortune telling” services, though they do. are often challenged under religious freedom laws.
There would also be e-commerce sites this will not do business with readers, whose work is classified as “high risk”.
âThere have always been thugs in our industry, just like in any industry,â Reed said. Social media crooks are just an online protest.
John Edward, psychic medium and creator of the popular “Crossing Over” TV show, has been plagued by copycats online “for years,” he said. âWe block all the time. “
To help cut down on the scams, Edward deprived his accounts.
âI had no choice,â he says. âIf I can protect the energy of my clients, I will. Even if it is the deficit of a growing account.
Other practitioners of metaphysics have left social media platforms altogether. Paige Vanderbeck, host of the Fat Feminist Witch podcast, left a note on her Instagram page that said, “The Fat Feminist Witch podcast is no longer on Instagram. Beware of scammers.
Many practitioners try to have their social media accounts ‘verified’ – a designation that indicates that Instagram, Facebook or Twitter has identified the person behind the account as who they claim to be. Status, however, is not easy to gain.
âInstagram verification requirements,â Auryn said, âare unrealistic for many in our community,â as it requires a certain level of visibility in mainstream media, according to experts he spoke with. Occult practitioners “won’t have a mainstream press like those in mega-churches,” he said.
Neither Facebook nor Instagram responded to a request for comment.
Edward, who is verified, still battles con artists on a regular basis, which suggests that the designation doesn’t necessarily curb scams.
Reed, despite having repeatedly asked to be verified by Instagram, has repeatedly taken to Instagram to block imposters. Reporting through the app itself is the quickest route, she said, but only if the crooks haven’t blocked her before she can. In this case, she scours the website and reports copyright infringement for the use of her photo.
âSometimes (Instagram) deletes the account,â she said. Sometimes he only deletes his photo.
Her account was recently closed during a live broadcast due to “suspicious activity”, she said, for filing “too many reports”.
The experience is similar on other social media platforms.
Some practitioners have blocked entire regions after discovering that the crooks are from a particular part of the world, although this option is not available on all platforms.
Others don’t wait for Instagram.
Zai Nova tarot reader was recently chosen by a group of 20 readers to create and manage a Collective Scammer Alert page, an Instagram account warning people about fraudulent metaphysical accounts. âI launched the Scam Alert page for the purpose of educating scammers in the tarot community,â she said.
RELATED: Insta-Famous: Nadirah Pierre’s satire draws on the experience of black Muslims
None of the practitioners removed the problem from the Internet and filed formal legal complaints. Healer Tess Whitehurst said she wouldn’t know where to start as most crooks are unidentifiable and are said to be operating from outside the country.
As with much of online culture, social media has proven to be a double-edged sword, expanding the reach of metaphysical practitioners while questioning the legitimacy of their profession.
âSo many people have worked really hard to help clients and educate the public,â Reed said. “It’s like it undoes everything we’ve worked for.”