Initially released in 2010, Instagram started as a photo-sharing app, allowing users to upload and edit photos and tag friends and places within the snaps. An instant hit, the app proved so popular that it was purchased by its biggest rival, Facebook, in 2012, and the company has held controlling shares ever since.
Like many forms of social media, Instagram eventually evolved, growing to let users incorporate videos and create “stories,” which involve a series of photos or videos that disappear after 24 hours. And the app has also grown significantly in terms of usage, with roughly 1 billion active users as of 2021.
As such, Instagram has become a must-have platform for modern businesses, big and small. The app has adapted accordingly, including more marketing-friendly features that allow certain accounts to advertise more easily and share links to outside pages within their content.
Unfortunately, these features also make it easier for scammers to share their schemes on the app. Masquerading as a company—or even a regular user or “influencer”—scammers can easily get in touch with any number of people through advertising or direct messages, leading you to content cleverly disguised as legitimate posts but intended to suck you into their scam.
There are several different ways scammers have used Instagram to find would-be victims. Some may pose as companies looking to sell things; others may pose as people looking to help, and a few may even go as far as pretending to fall in love with you.
But whether they’re purportedly pithing products or popularity, these accounts all have one thing in common: They’re trying to take advantage of you.
Let’s face it; social media is all about popularity. And on apps like Instagram, users can even get paid for sponsored posts if they have enough followers. So, gaining followers and collecting likes is a huge goal for many Instagram users.
Scammers know this and have hatched many schemes aimed at those looking to grow their Instagram following. These scammers will often send you a direct message, advertising more likes or followers—for a price. But the pitch is almost always a hoax. They’ll take your money and run, without delivering any of the goods. (And even if they do, the followers will be bots or fake profiles, not actual people.)
Most forms of social media have given rise to investment scams, and Instagram is no exception. In this version, scammers reach out to you via direct message or sponsored ads, claiming that for a minimal investment, you’ll be able to make a large amount of money.
The scam involves exchanging financial information and finances with the so-called “investor.” It may even pay off in small amounts at first—but once you trust the scammer enough to send them a large amount of money, they’ll disappear and take your cash with them.
One of the cruelest scams targeting the app is the Instagram romance scam. This involves users reaching out to you—again, typically through direct message—and striking up a relationship.
Their “proof” of existing will be their Instagram profile and all of their posts, which will indeed look legitimate. The romance may even advance to other apps, like Whatsapp, to encourage more communication and strengthen the connection between you. But, eventually, the scammer will ask for funds for one reason or another—then ghost you if you get suspicious.
One of the most prominent scams on Instagram is fake brands and fake brand accounts. One count has the number of bogus accounts at nearly 50,000 and the number of counterfeit products offered in all fashion posts at 20%.
These accounts will aggressively advertise their goods—often at steeply discounted prices—but what they sell you will be counterfeit at best, non-existent at worst, and they’ll collect your personal and financial information when you order them to boot.
Phishing scams are another inevitability in the online world. On Instagram, they can take many forms but frequently look like direct messages with embedded links, urging you to click for one reason or another.
The sender can look like a trusted brand or friend, or even Instagram itself, alleging that there’s some problem with your account. But the link you click on could download dangerous malware onto your advice—and any information you enter into the website could be used to steal your identity.
Beating Instagram scams is not an exact science. However, scammers are constantly adapting their schemes to stay one step ahead of even an informed user.
That’s why a healthy amount of skepticism—especially when viewing ads or direct messages—is the best tool to fight off Instagram scams.
Still, there are a few red flags to look out for that tend to point to a scam in the works:
If you encounter any of these situations, it’s best not to interact with them. A scammer needs your information or, at the minimum, your participation to scam you.
It’s also a good idea to NEVER:
Instagram primarily promotes a strong defense as your best offense against scams and scammers. Additional ways to protect yourself, your account, and your personal information include:
Instagram is aware of the scams targeting its users and encourages the reporting of any signs of misuse, either through:
If you think you were the victim of a scam—especially a phishing scam that involved taking your personal information—you may also want to:
Again, the best way to protect yourself against scammers is by remaining wary—even of interactions that may seem innocent. In the online world, a little bit of vigilance can go a long way.
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