There are plenty of scams out there but a lot of people assume that on Instagram they are safe from phishing scams and the like. Because of the fact that people feel like Instagram is a very official and moderated platform, it is easy to get sucked in by the scammers.
Fake brand accounts mimic the look of a legitimate brand account and market ‘products’ via their own profile or by using the sponsored posts section of Instagram. Effectively, they are trying to sell you a product that is either not what it seems, or it simply never comes at all.
What steps do these scammers take to draw people in? What are the methods of the fake brand accounts to look out for?
A lot of fake brand accounts will offer exclusive discounts or huge savings that you would not get on the high street. They are able to do this because they are either not going to send a product to you at all or because any product they do send will be counterfeit. They might have a small print to say that the product is a replica, but a lot of the Instagram accounts that will scam you are ‘burner’ accounts so they don’t care if they get banned in a week or two, as long as they make sales.
Some ads might request that you make your own profile on their site, or of course, they will ask you to sign up to place an order. This means that your details can be vulnerable. The scammers can collect details they don’t really need, and use these to try and scam you in other ways such as phishing scams which compromise your logins for other accounts.
How can you ensure that you are alert and vigilant and don’t get scammed yourself? What do you need to watch out for when you see an advertisement and think it might be a potential scam? How do you even spot a post that might not be trustworthy?
What are the best ways to avoid fake brand accounts? You should always do a little bit of research before buying something, especially if it seems like you are getting an amazing deal. Remember the rule that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
You can check public records in order to find fake brand accounts. You can use keyword public records searches to find out who is behind the social media accounts, searching by email addresses, keywords and any other details you have. If the name and branding of the Instagram account itself looks untrustworthy and unprofessional then this could be another sign something isn’t quite right.
Don’t compromise your location as some scammers can use this against you, and people who are involved in identity fraud can get a bigger picture from the location data. NBC news estimates that there are 65 million posts fraudulently posted each and every month on Instagram. Many of these are just trying to make a quick buck but some might have other plans to steal your information.
Your personal details should be protected at all costs. All too often, people freely and simply throw out their personal details on whatever site people request them. This can be extremely dangerous. Though there are methods in place to try and safeguard people, not all websites abide by them, and scammers definitely won’t protect your personal details, instead, they may use them against you for identity fraud or other scams.
If you use the same password for an account you have made to try and get an Instagram discount, the scammers can often use these details to try and access other accounts you have made, and this can lead to them getting more than just a few dollars that you are spending on a discounted product.
What are your next steps if you have been scammed?
You can report the scam to ensure that it doesn’t happen to others, either through public records sites, Instagram’s own report function or your country’s government’s website, which allows you to report all sorts of different scams that might be dangerous to others. Follow this link to make a report in the US.
If you have paid on a credit card then you might be able to file a complaint and try and get your money back. If you used Paypal, a similar claim function exists but for this reason, a lot of scammers won’t accept Paypal.
Surely you’ve heard of the blue verification tick on Instagram, that little sign that proves someone’s authority and influence, while increasing their reputation at the same time. Before influencers were a thing, only big celebrities like Beyoncé and Kim Kardashian had the right to that tick. Now, brands prefer social media influencers with an organic audience, a specific reach, and that blue tick to the right of their name.
With the growing desire to have a blue tick and its second to none impact on who you are on the platform, it only makes sense that hackers saw this as an opportunity to scam people for their money. Online scammers offer to sell verified Instagram accounts to users or offer to get the account verified in exchange for big money (it appeared that some people paid thousands of dollars for it). In trying to pay for a blue verification badge, users are redirected to a website that looks just like Instagram’s official page, through this site hackers are able to grab all of these users’ account information. This means that scammers gain access to email address, username, and password associated with the account. They then use this data as blackmail to withdraw more money from people. In some cases where the user is unable to pay the amount required, hackers can sometimes threaten to release the user’s data online.
Other scamming techniques included hackers finding users’ phone numbers and chatting with them on WhatsApp and by telephone. Some of the hacking network has been shut down, but it is just one of many groups of people seeking to exploit Instagram’s verification tick for personal gain. This dark new side of Instagram shows how concerning the verification system is. If people fall for this scam in the first place, it’s because, with influencers flooding their timeline, getting the blue tick now seems possible when it was out of the question only a few years ago.
Being ‘verified’ comes with perks. It’s harder to impersonate you, your comments stay on top of everyone else’s, and let’s face it, it just looks cooler. In 2018, Instagram introduced a public verification-request form, making the number of verified users balloon. The company never released the exact number of verified accounts, but more and more influencers seem to have it and the correlation between fame or even the number of followers you have has become more obscure. The fine line between celebrities and average users is now blurred and everyone wants to be part of the influencer category, macro or micro ones.
Screen Shot spoke to Mai Raunstrup Laursen, campaign coordinator at Brandheroes, a Danish influencer management company that just launched its own app in the U.K. “It seems like it has become way easier to get the tick. I see people ranging from 2,000 to 2 million followers getting the tick, which means the tick is becoming more and more irrelevant”, says Laursen. When asked about what needs to be improved on Instagram for the company’s business to thrive, she answered, “The removal of fake followers. Just like hackers, they make our job more difficult because we have to make sure brands get exactly what they paid for”.
Other legitimate companies have also started offering help on getting the highly coveted Instagram verification badge, such as PR News io which can help anyone with getting mentions in federal and global media to go through the verification process on Instagram and get the blue badge.
The way brands and people look at that blue tick has changed. It is more accessible than before, and therefore more common. But when something you don’t have is classified as common, you’ve got to have it—whether it’s free or whether you have to pay for it. It is easy to assume that if this many people have ‘achieved’ verification, it must be something you can buy. In other words, in the flurry to ‘not get left behind’, it has become easy to fall for a scam. Until Instagram publicly explains what the blue verification tick really means on the platform, and offers a transparent process on how to achieve it, hackers and online scammers will exploit people’s confusion and unquenchable desire for it.
In an effort to improve authenticity and boost trust, Instagram gave people more access to the blue verification tick. What did we do with it? We turned it into another thing that makes social platforms profitable for our own self-promotion and profits. This problem shows how dubious we should be, as social media users, and it should only push us to be more careful with how open we can be on the platforms we deem so trustworthy.
Just like with everything else, let’s question what we’re used to seeing, pay attention, and stop caring that much about how other people perceive us through our online presence. Paying for that verification badge should not validate your self-worth, and it is not going to work either, because like Mai Raunstrup Laursen said, “We are living in a time of catfishing”.