A comprehensive guide to spotting and avoiding Instagram scams
January 12, 2024
With more than 2 billion active users, Instagram has tons of opportunities for creativity and community. But it also opens the floor for cyber criminals to scam you.
Instagram scams exploit the platform's social nature to steal your money or data. These scams range from phishing links to fake merchandise offers, each posing a unique threat to your online security and privacy.
You don’t have to give up social media to stay safe. Learn more about the nuances of Instagram fraud to know how to protect yourself.
10 most common Instagram scams
You might think it’s easy to tell when someone’s account is fake or a message is meant to scam you. But deciphering between real people and bad actors can be tricky, especially if you spend a lot of time online.
Knowing what different scams look like can help you stay alert. Here are 10 prevalent types of scams to keep on your radar:
1. Instagram phishing message
Phishing scams often involve urgent direct messages (DMs) or emails impersonating Instagram itself. They warn of account suspension or other alarmist circumstances to get your personal information like usernames and passwords, leading to account takeover or data theft.
2. Account takeover
In this type of scam, cyber criminals gain control of your Instagram account. This could be due to phishing or an actual hack. Then, they’ll change your login details and use your identity to scam your followers or access your personal information.
3. Fake merchandise scams
Not all scams have to do with your account. In this case, criminals use Instagram to post ads or create accounts selling counterfeit products at seemingly attractive prices. If you buy one, you may receive poor-quality goods or nothing at all, and you risk identity theft when you offer your address, name, and credit card information.
4. Fake influencer accounts
Some accounts masquerade as influencers, boasting fake followers and promoting dubious investments or services. The high number of likes and followers makes these accounts look legit. In some cases, criminals will also hack legitimate accounts for fraudulent activities — so the followers are real, but the person posting isn’t the account owner.
5. Sponsorship scams
Also known as ambassador scams, these involve fake or compromised accounts posing as brands. They offer lucrative advertising or sponsorship deals, but they just want your personal and financial information. They might also use you for advertising without actually paying you.
6. Lottery, sweepstakes, or giveaway scams
These scams lure you in with fake prize-winning messages, asking for personal details or redirecting you to unsafe websites. They often impersonate real giveaways to appear legitimate, which makes them especially tricky to spot.
7. Money-flipping scams
Scammers frequently promise quick financial returns in exchange for an upfront payment. They might say they can help you make money fast, but once you pay, the scammer quickly disappears with the money. To stay safe, avoid payments to any suspicious users — no matter how enticing.
8. Romance scams
Romance and dating scams play the long game. Using fake profiles, scammers gain your trust and start a romantic relationship with you, eventually requesting money, gifts, or personal information. This practice is also commonly referred to as catfishing.
9. Investment scams
Scammers present false investment opportunities, promising wealth and success without the real intention of getting you there. They often use images of luxurious lifestyles to entice you into making an initial investment.
10. Blackmail scams
This last scam happens when someone steals your information and threatens to release it unless you pay them. But these scammers may claim to have hacked your files or account even when they haven’t. The goal is to panic you into handing over the money.
How to spot fake Instagram accounts
Instagram is rife with fake accounts, and recognizing them is key to spotting scams before they catch you. Here’s a more detailed look at the signs of a fake Instagram account:
Unusual follower-following ratio: A skewed ratio, such as having many followers but following few, or vice versa, can be a red flag. Scammers might have created fake accounts to artificially boost their followers, or they could follow many people to catch more attention for their scam. For instance, an account following 5,000 users with only 10 followers is suspicious.
Unusual username: Watch out for usernames that are a jumble of letters and numbers. These often indicate bot-created accounts that aim to mimic real users or brands for deceptive purposes. Usernames like “john12345xyz789” or “adidas_89q31” are examples of bot-generated profiles, often lacking coherence or context.
Private account: Many fake accounts are set to private, which means you can only see their posts if you follow them. This makes it harder to scrutinize their content and motives. This setting can also make an account appear more exclusive or hide malicious activities.
Generic or stock photos as profile pictures: Fake accounts frequently use non-descript images or stock photos to avoid identification. For example, an account using a common stock image of a landscape or a generic silhouette image instead of a personalized photo might be fake.
Zero or very few posts: Accounts with little to no content can be suspect. They may be avoiding detection by Instagram's spam filters or waiting to gain followers before beginning scamming activities. An account with thousands of followers but only a few posts, which might be generic or irrelevant, can be another sign of a scammer.
Irrelevant content and comments: Content that seems out of sync with the account's purpose or theme can be a sign of concern. For instance, an account purportedly about cooking but posting about cryptocurrencies or leaving spam comments like, “Great post! Check out our profile for amazing deals!” on unrelated posts is a tell-tale sign of a scammer.
Promotional DMs and posts: Be wary of unsolicited promotional direct messages and posts. Fake accounts often use these to scam people or phish for personal information. Unsolicited messages like, “Congratulations! You've won a gift card. Click here to claim!” or posts that aggressively promote products with little to no other engagement are warning signs.
I got scammed on Instagram, what should I do?
If you find yourself a victim of a scam on Instagram, act swiftly to stop any damage before it happens. Here are detailed steps you can take to address the situation:
1. Report the scam to Instagram
The first step is to report the incident to Instagram. Simply head to the scammer's profile, click the three dots in the top right corner, and select "Report." From there, choose the option that best fits the scam you experienced, whether it's a phishing attempt, fake sales, or something else.
You also have the option to report specific posts or messages by selecting "Report" on the questionable content. This alerts Instagram of the scammer's activities, which means the company can take action against them and protect other users from danger.
2. Contact your bank or credit card company
If you used a credit or debit card for a suspicious transaction, your next step should be to contact your bank or the company that issued the card. Inform them that the transaction was unauthorized and request a charge reversal. Be prepared to provide evidence of the scam, such as screenshots of conversations or payment receipts.
After reporting the scam, keep an eye on your account statements. If you gave away your entire credit card number or PIN, scammers could be using it. You might have to get a new card entirely.
3. Contact the money transfer company
If you made a transaction through a wire transfer service like Western Union or MoneyGram, or if you used a peer-to-peer transfer app like Venmo or Zelle, you should immediately contact the service provider. Notify them that the transaction resulted from fraud and request a transfer reversal and a refund of your money. You’ll need to provide the transaction ID number, which is usually on the receipt.
It's important to remember that wire transfers are often irreversible, and there's no guarantee that you’ll be able to get your money back. The best way to prevent scams is to avoid them in the first place, so don’t send money to anyone unless you’re confident it’s going to a reliable place.
How to protect your Instagram account from hackers: 5 tips
Understanding the threats is actually step two to protecting yourself. The first is setting up your account to avoid hacks and scams. Here are the steps to take to secure your Instagram account:
Enable two-factor authentication (2FA): 2FA adds an extra layer of security by requiring a second form of verification beyond just your password. You can use your phone number or an authenticator app for this purpose. Although it isn’t a foolproof way to protect your account, it adds an extra layer of security.
Update your phone number and email: Make sure the email and phone numbers linked to your Instagram are up to date. This is important because if something happens to your account, Instagram will use these details to help you recover it.
Be aware that Instagram will never send you a DM: If something does happen to your account, Instagram won’t message you about it. Be cautious of accounts that DM you claiming to be Instagram, especially if they request sensitive information like passwords. Check under the “Emails from Instagram” tab in your settings for authentic communication from Instagram.
Enable login requests: When you set up 2FA, you'll receive alerts when someone tries to log into your account from an unrecognized device or browser. These alerts provide details about the device and its location, allowing you to deny access when someone other than you tries to log in. In your settings, check the “Login Activity” tab to monitor recent attempts and spot hackers quickly.
Regularly check the Support Inbox: Within the app, Instagram has a Support Inbox, which lets you track the status of any reports you’ve made or content violations attached to your account. This feature helps you stay informed about potential suspicious activity.
Protection starts with IronVest
Being vigilant and informed is your first line of defense against Instagram scams. But protecting your digital presence takes more than just knowledge.
Use a comprehensive super app like IronVest for maximum protection. You’ll go beyond 2FA with biometric authentication, password management, and a decentralized infrastructure — so you, and only you, can access your account. And if you do need to give out your contact or payment information, you can use IronVest’s masked phone numbers and virtual credit cards to protect your real digits. Browse Instagram without worrying about scams.