Instagram: beware of #cybercrime

Instagram is now the fastest growing social network. Cybercrime keeps an eye on its growth, electing it as the ultimate ideal place to scam a wide range of users. 

The number of active Instagram users in the world today is around 1.15 billion, and they share about 95 million photos every day. 

With such big numbers, it’s easy for a hacker to hide behind a fake account and earn the trust of unsuspecting users posing as a known person or brand. The goals of these criminal scams range from selling counterfeit goods to stealing sensitive information for profit. 

A scam post gets more credibility when many users interact with it because sharing or commenting a malicious post can make it look “legit”.  

As a consequence, likes and comments on Instagram, help to alarmingly increase the ability to spread scams. 

Unfortunately, these two numbers alone can never guarantee any reliability. The market offers various opportunities to boost one’s popularity on Social Networks, and it only takes a small investment to achieve great results. For example, with an investment of only 10 pounds, you could buy 990 followers on Facebook, 2,439 on Twitter, 3,846 on Instagram or 458 on YouTube. 

How can you defend yourself from these popular and well-designed scams? Learning to recognize them is the key to defeat them. Let’s take a look at them in greater detail. 

Instascams: the most popular ones 
  • Fake brands 

Fake Brand accounts are now rampant on Instagram. The data collected by the latest research shows that the posts offering counterfeit fashion items have reached a considerable percentage of 20%. Impressive, right? 50,000 “scams” accounts promote fake product every day, promising exclusive discounts. Their main goals are a direct scam to obtain profit, likes and follows increase to gain credibility. 

  • Fake Influencers sponsors 

Influencers can earn significant amounts of money by promoting the products of other companies on their profile. The more followers you have, the more money you are likely to gain. For this reason, many companies offer the chance to “buy” followers in different ways. Cybercrime has seized this tempting opportunity by creating false profiles of companies selling “low-cost followers”. Unfortunately, in many cases, these are just fake accounts, made up to scam unsuspecting users. 

  • False “investment” opportunities 

These scams are commonly known as “money flipping”. Criminals convince victims to pay small amounts of money, promising they will multiply their value thanks to legendary financial skills. But the investment soon turns out to be a scam. Once the bad guys get the money, they vanish in the blink of an eye. The Instagram success of these scams is due to the fraudulent exploitation of well-known credit institutions names. 

  • Fake Giveaways 

Many posts on Instagram offer legitimate giveaways and promotions, but some of them promise non-existent rewards. The fake giveaways seem to be launched by big brands, but they are nothing but imitations. In these cases, the chance to win a gift is conditional to the request to like, share or comment on the post. The real purpose of criminals is to collect sensitive information or increase the number of likes, to “gift”…credibility to their scams. 

  • Phishing email from Instagram 

Sometimes, phishing emails report suspected fraudulent activity on your account. In these cases, the email invites you to verify suspicious account activities by clicking on a link. Sometimes requesting personal information too. By doing so, the cybercriminal can gain access to an account, steal sensitive information, or change the password and block your access. 

Six Instatips to avoid scams 
  1. Don’t click on suspicious links - it’s important to remember that Instagram will never ask you to click on a link to update or verify your data. In doubt, you can access the “email from Instagram” section. Here you can find all the emails sent by Instagram in the last 14 days. 
  2. Protect your privacy: Instagram accounts are public by default, so to make sure only friends can view your posts, set your account to private. By doing so, only followers approved by you will be able to find your posts, see which posts you liked, or send you direct messages. 
  3. Check the Login activities: To check if the account has been hacked, go to “Settings” and check the “Login Activities”. This page provides a list of the logins made with your account, the active sessions, and their locations. If you spot anomalies, change your password immediately. 
  4. Investigate reliability: If you are not entirely sure whether an account is legitimate or not, you can access the “About this account” feature. Instagram will show you when the user has joined the platform, where they are operating from, whether they are running ads, whether they made changes to their username, and the followers in common with other accounts. If something doesn’t look right to you, block and report it immediately. 
  5. Check the connected APPS: sometimes, we all lose track of all the apps connected to the Instagram account. It happens! The good news is you can carry out periodic checks going into “Settings”, and in, “APPS and websites”. In this tab, you can either check the authorized apps and the active/expired ones or allow/deny access to the desired services. This feature doesn’t let malicious apps going unnoticed and protects your personal information. 
  6. Check the blue checkmark before shopping: you might want to buy products from a large brand account. Before doing that, ask yourself, “has it been verified?”. If it’s verified, you will find a blue checkmark next to the brand name. Always be wary if an unverified seller offers valuable products at too low prices with unusual payment methods. 
What to do if you suspect your account has been hacked? 
  • Check your bank account and credit card stats immediately. If there are abnormal transactions, please inform your credit institution and block your account or card immediately. 
  • Change your Instagram account password, using a different password for each account. 
  • Use the appropriate features made available by Instagram to report both the account breach and the financial scam.

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