Aussies say their Instagram accounts are getting cloned by scammers who are sharing a fake link to Pocketstars, a subscription-based porn site similar to Only Fans.

It sounds like the intro to an episode of Black Mirror but in the past twelve months it’s been a reality for young Aussies. Someone clones their Instagram, blocks them so they can’t personally report it and then uses their face and handle to lure their followers into following them and clicking onto an external link claiming to be a subscription-based porn site. The issue is so pervasive that some businesses have warned their staff about the scam.

“I was in a Zoom meeting for work and when it ended I had 25+ messages on Instagram from friends and followers sending me screenshots of an account that had just tried to add them, called ‘@(myname)_free’ and a link to a ‘Pocketstars’ account in its bio,” says Sarah*.

“It had an old photo from my Insta account as its profile picture and it had followed 120 of my followers. The account also posted one of my old Insta photos as a story, again with a link to Pocketstars.”

The scam could have legal consequences for 30-year-old Nurie Salim. She’s a Malaysian citizen and a former Dangerfield employee. It’s illegal to own porn in the southeast Asian country, and offenders can be fined up to $16,580 AUD and face a prison sentence of five years. An account claiming that she makes and sells pornography is a big deal especially because family in Malaysia follow her.

“I was terrified because I wasn’t doing porn and didn’t want it to get found out,” she says.

instagram pocketstars
Nurie Salim’s Instagram account (Credit: supplied)
instagram pocketstars
The account pretending to be her can be seen using her photos and adding suggestive text over them. A link to Pocketstars with her username is in the account’s bio. (Credit: supplied)

Salim says that a national retail manager at Dangerfield made an IG Story post on her personal Instagram account warning staff to temporarily switch their profiles to private.

Screenshots of conversations between Salim and other current and former Dangerfield staff show at least two other staff recall the post. Dangerfield did not respond to requests for comment. 

Derek Chi first noticed his account was copied on October 10th. He says he reported his clone “right away” and asked his friends to do the same. Not only is the account still live three months later but some of his followers are still following it.

“It’s kinda embarrassing when you don’t talk to these people on a regular basis and have to DM them out of nowhere and be like, ‘hey, I saw you followed my porn account’,” he says, describing the experience as “very awkward”.

Each of these victims has accounts that are public and have 1000 or more followers.

Sex work is legitimate work and none of these victims’ stories discredit that industry. They say their objection is to having their identity stolen, and what effect that can have on their careers, relationships and safety. They are uncomfortable about being sexualised without their consent.

“I had heard stories from friends of their accounts being deleted when these scam accounts of them had popped up because Instagram would just delete any account that looked like it was associated with it, so I was worried about losing the following I had built up around my art,” Sarah says.

“But what was more concerning was that I had friends in my DMs asking if it was real, and if I had made it myself. Rather than just assuming it was a fake account and letting me know.

“I was worried that family, work and colleagues would see it and think it was something I was doing myself. Or even worse, that someone had leaked inappropriate photos of me that were now circulating through this fake account.”

Salim’s partner Alex works in tech and looked into the website linked to her account. He tells us that it was built in the website builder Wix and was easy to take down. But not everyone has a tech expert on hand.

Salim also reached out to the Department of Cyber Security after reporting the clone to Instagram. In an email exchange seen by PEDESTRIAN.TV, a spokesperson for the department’s Cyberbullying and Cyber Abuse Section told her that “eSafety has no legislative power to investigate adult cyber abuse complaints formally”.

“In the most serious cases, we can use our existing relationships and escalation pathways with social media services to request the take-down of harmful material that is considered to amount to serious cyber abuse,” he said in the email.

“Where required, we will refer the matter to relevant law enforcement agencies.”

In a statement shared with PEDESTRIAN.TV, a spokeswoman for the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission says Scamwatch has not received reports regarding this. That said she does offer some advice for those that have been affected.

She suggests reporting it to Instagram and filing a report on the Scamwatch website. If you think the perpetrator is located within Australia you can report the scam to ReportCyber.

“If you suspect you are a victim of identity theft, it is important that you act quickly to reduce your risk of financial loss or other damages,” she adds.

“IDCARE is a free government-funded service which will work with you to develop a specific response plan to your situation and support you throughout the process. You can phone them on 1800 595 160 or visit their website.”

PEDESTRIAN.TV reached out to Instagram for comment but they did not reply at the time of publishing.

*Some names were changed for privacy.

Image: Supplied