Every day, without fail, I have to block ‘widow fishers’ on Instagram. Sometimes it’s just one or two, other times, like today for some reason, so far it’s been more than five. If I’m ‘lucky’, they don’t try and send me messages at the same time, but some do, and they go something like ‘your smile stopped me in my tracks. You need love and support at a time like this, and I’d like to be your friend, or maybe something more’. Other times they just say ‘hello gorgeous’. Now I’m no supermodel, and know that I look anything but gorgeous since Rich died, and also that it’s fairly obvious from my page that I’m Rich’s Forever Wife, but what I do know, is that such men track down widows with the sole intention of getting their money by establishing a fake friendship/relationship. Sometimes they want to take advantage sexually as well, as some men dig vulnerability big time it seems, but mostly they see widows, mistakenly, as walking banks, and they think that they’re entitled to that cash. It’s sexism and misogyny all rolled into one, with women at their most fragile the target. And yet no one’s talking about it, and certainly not writing about it. We need to change that.
As I was a feminist researcher before Rich died, I anticipated that I’d become a target for such men, so it’s not come as a big surprise. But for those new to social media, or less worldy wise, I know that it has. I also know that many, many women are fooled by these men, losing money, and what little self-esteem they had left in the process. So much so, that they’re unlikely to want to tell many people about what happened.
How to spot the widow-fishers? They’ll use common names usually followed by a series of digits as their Instagram handle, will usually pretend to be US military, and use stock photos, many of which they’ve taken from legitimate users accounts, or posed deliberately, especially with children. If the pictures are just of one man posing, sometimes with one or two children, and the bio says something like ‘I love America. Loving, kind gentleman’, then it’s suspect. Not that I’m saying that loving, kind Americans don’t exist, but those that do don’t write it in their bios. It’ll come as no surprise that the men behind the widow fishing accounts don’t usually live in America, and English is usually not their first language, but I don’t want to cast any aspersions by saying where most of them are based. In some cases, they even pretend to be widowers, and post on Instagram pages that the profoundly bereaved rely on for support. This way, they then legitimise their identity. In other cases, they pretend to be women, and target women looking for female solidarity.
If they do start following you, I suggest you block them immediately, and decline all messages. Please do not engage with them, as my guess is they will become agressive as soon as they realise that you might have sussed them out.
What are your experiences of ‘widow-fishing’? Do you think it’s something that needs to be talked and written about more?