How to identify scam accounts on Instagram

Onyinye Okonkwo
*While there are many legitimate giveaways and promotions on Instagram, there are also a lot of fraudulent ones promising non-existent prize | *Common scams include phishing emails that ask users to click on a link
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Instagram has become a central social trading platform and is arguably the most preferred for many vendors, who understand how to connect easily with clients and sell to them. But, the rise of more vendors on the platform has drawn scam activities.

The app has about 1.15 billion active users who share millions of photos every day. This popularity, coupled with the open nature of the platform, makes it the ideal place to connect and have discussions. Unfortunately, scam actors use this opportunity for their illicit activities.

We have listed scam highlights that may help you avoid losing money or property.

Signs to look out for

  • People or accounts asking you to claim a prize.
  • A request to move your conversation off Instagram to a less public and less secure setting.
  • Messages or posts with poor spelling and grammatical mistakes.
  • People who misrepresent where they are located.
  • Messages that appear to come from a friend or a company you know asking you to click on a suspicious link.
  • A message from someone you don’t know requesting money.
  • Someone claiming to be from Instagram security asking you to provide account information, or to verify your account.
  • Accounts representing large companies or public figures that are not verified.

By hiding their true identities behind fake profiles and accounts, cybercriminals can collect personal information to be used as blackmail against their targets, sell fake goods, impersonate known family and friends, trick people out of money, put out wrong information under someone’s name, set up innocent people or spread fake news just for financial gain.

Unfortunately, scams can spread at an alarming speed as more people like, share, and comment on malicious posts.

Listed below are some methods to adopt to avoid being on the receiving end of these scammers and their schemes. 

Scam

1. Avoid Fake Giveaways

While there are many legitimate giveaways and promotions on Instagram, there are also a lot of fraudulent ones promising non-existent prizes. They usually mimic big brand names and request that you like, share or comment on the post to have a chance of winning. The real aim is to draw you in and then proceed to demand delivery fees from you to be sent to them before the non-existent gift is sent to you. When that fails, they could harvest your personal information or get you to follow their account to add credibility to their scam. Always ensure you report these scam accounts so they can be taken down. 

2. Avoid Phishing DMs

There are several types of phishing scams on Instagram. Common scams include phishing emails that ask users to click on a link, verify activity on their account, or submit personal information. avoid messages from accounts that tell you “they have checked your profile and you fit into what they want as a brand ambassador”. That is hilarious and obviously fake because they ask you to hurry and contact them because there are only a few slots left. Avoid such messages and just delete and block without response. If a fraudster gains access to your account, they can steal your personal information or change your password and lock you out. 

3. Free Instagram Followers and Likes

Influencers can make huge amounts of money by promoting the products of different companies on their profile. The more followers they have, the more money they can make. Cybercriminals have been quick to capitalise on this business model by masquerading as companies selling cheap followers and likes to help influencers bump up their numbers. These accounts may appear to be real but they’re often fake automated accounts set up specifically to defraud users.

4. Avoid Fake Brand Accounts

Fake brand accounts are rampant on Instagram, and according to research from Ghost Data, nearly 20% of all posts about fashion products feature fake goods, and about 50,000 accounts promote and sell these fake products sold at ridiculous amounts every day. A quick way to know they are scams is to do a quick Google search of that item and you will most likely find the exact picture of the product they are trying to sell to you at a ridiculous price, on other sites at a way cheaper price. These imposter accounts promise exclusive discounts, but the real aim is to buy likes and followers to add credibility to their scams.

5. Avoid Fake Investment Scams

In June 2020, £358,809 was the reported amount of money lost by those who fell victim to fake investments on Instagram. Action Fraud, an anti-fraud organisation in the UK, reported it received 164 reports from individuals who fell victim to these schemes. Most fake investments scams go unreported because the victims are often too embarrassed to even admit to their families that they have been scammed let alone report it to the appropriate authorities. Fraudsters will often approach victims via the instant messaging feature of the platform after advertising their service. They’ll claim to only require an initial investment of a few thousand which will then be used to trade on the stock market. Once payment has been made, they’ll disappear with very little chance of the money ever being recouped.

Tips to help Avoid Instagram Scams

  • Do your research – If you’re unsure if an account is legitimate or not, you can go into their profile and select ‘About this Account’. Instagram will show you when the user joined the platform, where they’re located, if they’re running any ads, if they’ve made any username changes, or if they have accounts with shared followers. If something doesn’t seem quite right, you can then block and report the user.
  • Keep a close eye on third-party apps – It can be easy to lose track of all the third-party apps you have connected to your account. Whilst the vast majority are considered safe, you may have unintentionally installed a rogue app hence exposing yourself to fraudulent data harvesters. you can go view expired or active apps from the settings of your device in the ‘Settings’, menu.
  • Make your account private – Instagram accounts are set to public by default so to ensure that only friends can view your posts, you should make your account private. Only approved followers will be able to find your posts through search, see which posts you’ve liked, or send you direct messages.
  • Check if accounts are verified – If you’re buying products from what appears to be a big brand account, check that the account is verified with a blue tick. Suspicions should be raised if a seller is offering expensive products for low prices or if they have strange payment methods.
  • Block accounts – If someone is harassing you or posting inappropriate content, you can manually block them. Open the three-dot menu on the account and select ‘Block’. It’s also worth reporting the account to Instagram. If they find that the account, comment, or video has breached its terms of service, the account will be suspended


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