Common Instagram Scams & How to Protect Yourself
Michelle Wilson - October 29, 2021
Social media is a great way to keep up with friends and family; however, it also has a dark side. Cybercriminals can easily use social media to earn your trust by pretending to be an individual or a brand. These fraudsters may spend weeks talking to you before pulling their scam.
The most common scams involve tricking you into giving away money or revealing information that leads to your identity being stolen. In fact, according to the FTC, there were 4.8 million identity theft and fraud reports in 2020. An increase of 45 percent from 3.3 million in 2019. Identity theft complaints amounted to 29 percent of all complaints received by the FTC, while 2.2 million reports were fraud cases in which 34 percent reported having lost money.
Clearly, you need to be prudent and learn the signs of a scam to avoid losing your money or identity.
The Rise of Instagram Scams
Since its launch in 2010, Instagram has acquired over 1.15 billion active users who share an average of 95 million photos every day. Unfortunately, the platform’s popularity, coupled with its open nature, makes it an ideal place for scammers to prey on people.
Among the most popular scams on social media are ad scams. These schemes involve ads that look real, but the product or service doesn’t exist. Instead, the scammer pockets the money, and the person is left high and dry. These scammers will even remove negative comments from their ads, so even when people are sharing on social media about their bad experiences, people still get fooled. In fact, in 94% of reports sent to the FTC complaining about eCommerce sites that don’t deliver the promised goods, either Instagram or Facebook was the social media platform mentioned.
Another popular scheme which the FTC received complaints about is the romance scam. Approximately half of all romance scam reports since 2019 involved social media, generally either Instagram or Facebook. In the romance scam, a cybercriminal convinces someone to enter into a romance with them and then uses this relationship to bilk them for money.
There are a number of scams happening on Instagram at any given time. Unfortunately, this means that if you use this platform regularly, you are vulnerable. Fortunately for you, we’re going to list the most common Instagram scams to watch out for, so you’re ready should a cybercriminal target you.
Fake brand accounts are accounts on Instagram that pretend to be a well-known brand to either sell imposter goods or trick consumers into paying for a product that doesn’t exist. In general, these imposter accounts will pretend to be luxury or high-end retailers and will copy the branding and design of the actual brand. Some well-known brands that fakers have copied include Nike, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Apple. And according to Ghost Data, there are more than 50,000 accounts on Instagram promoting and selling counterfeit products every day.
A big business that Instagram has given rise to is the Influencer business. Influencers receive payment and free products from companies and brands to promote their products and services through their Instagram account. To be an Influencer, a person must have a significant following of engaged fans. Therefore, scammers will often try to tempt people to purchase from them by offering them free or very cheap followers or likes. However, it’s very easy to tell when someone has paid to boost their follower numbers, and you’re unlikely to get brand sponsorship this way. Furthermore, it will hurt you in the long run because it will tarnish your reputation as an influencer.
In a phishing scam, the scammer pretends to be Instagram and will send you an urgent message, telling you to act now, or you’ll lose access to your account. Alternatively, they might tell you to act now because they’ve approved you for a verification badge. In either case, you’ll receive a prompt to click a link and then enter your login credentials. Once you’ve done this, the scammer will have access to your account. They can lock you out of it and either pretend to be you, steal any personal information you have stored on the account, or blackmail you into paying them to get access to your account back.
This elaborate con involves someone reaching out to you and offering to hire you to represent their brand. The offer will usually include a photo-shoot or filming a campaign for the brand. Once you’ve accepted, the brand will ask you to pay some fees upfront, for which they “promise” they’ll reimburse you. Or they might ask for your personal information to book flights and other travel arrangements. In either case, you’re being bamboozled, and you may lose money or your identity.
If you’re an aspiring blogger or influencer, you may be lured by the offer of a master class that will teach you the secrets of being successful. Scammers know this and will prey on you by offering so-called expert courses that are fee-based and offered either online or in person. Once you’ve paid the fee, you’ll find out that the course either doesn’t exist or the course offers useless information. Therefore, before you sign up for any course, make sure to look up the course’s reputation. Check for real testimonials and research the instructor to make sure their credentials are the real deal. Also, remember that if something is too good to be true, it’s probably fake.
What to do if you’re Scammed on Instagram
In general, social engineering scams are designed to hit you where it hurts. This means that the scammer will try to use your personal information to steal your identity, steal your money, access your online accounts, destroy your credit, or spread malware to your contacts. Therefore, if you believe that you’re a victim of an Instagram scam, you need to take immediate steps to minimize the damage. Here are some things you can do to:
The first password you need to change is the one for your Instagram account. Then, you want to change all your other passwords. Leave no stone unturned. There are infinite ways scammers can use your personal information to get into your accounts, so don’t take any chances. Change every password.
Furthermore, make sure that you use a different password for each account and make each password challenging. In other words, don’t make your password something related to you, like your dog’s name. Instead, make it random and use numbers and other characters. You might even consider using a password manager to ensure your passwords are as hard to crack as possible.
Let your banking institutions know that there’s a possibility somebody may have gotten your account information. Then review all recent transactions with them to ensure that nothing unauthorized transpired. If there’s a transaction you don’t recognize, have the institution flag it and begin the process of disputing the charge.
The next step is to have your bank freeze your credit. This will prevent cyber criminals from opening new bank accounts or credit cards in your name.
If you think someone may have stolen your identity, you can run a background check on yourself. This check will show you whether your identity is being used to open up credit cards or take out loans. A background check report will also show you whether a scammer is opening social media accounts in your name or otherwise impersonating you online. Once you’ve confirmed that someone has stolen your identity, you can start a police investigation and take other actions to prevent further damage.