The digital age continues to open up new avenues for connectivity like never before. However, with the many improvements to information access and communication comes a seedier side to the internet: online scams.
With easy access to every internet-connected individual, scammers last year stole money or personal information from roughly 14.4 million consumers. And within this pool of scams, social media––including Facebook and Instagram scams––has become increasingly prevalent, with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center reporting roughly one-third of the complaints they receive about sweepstakes and lottery fraud to be from social media.
In particular, Instagram scams appear to be on the rise, where it’s reported that roughly 20% of all the platform’s fashion-related posts are counterfeit products.
Luckily, there are some surefire ways to avoid falling prey to Instagram scams. We outline seven of the most effective methods below.
1. Don’t Give Out Your Personal Information
This is the first and by far the most important rule: don’t give out your personal info.
Scams on all media are essentially looking for two things: money or your personal info. Social media scams, in particular, are used to steal the details of your identity because we are already primed to be open to sharing who we are on these platforms. In many ways we find it logical that Instagram would want to “verify” more about who we are.
The reality is that Instagram and Facebook know the most about who you are and have consistently warned the public that as companies they will never ask for personal account details. So if anyone, no matter how seemingly legit, asks for your personal information, do not give it to them.
2. Recognize Common Scams
Another good way to avoid Instagram scams is to recognize the most common ones you’ll come across. To help their users with this, Instagram put together a list of the most common scams on their platform:
- Romance Scams: Scammers will send romantic messages to people they don’t know, pretending to be a distressed widow or divorcee, claiming to need money for flights or visas.
- Lottery and Loan Scams: Lottery and loan scams are often carried out from accounts impersonating people or organizations you know (such as a government agency). The messages will claim that you're among the winners of a lottery, or qualify for a low interest loan, and that you can receive your money for a small advance fee. The scammer might also ask for personal information, such as your address or bank account info.
- Job Scams: Misleading or fake job postings will try and get your personal information or money. Avoid job postings that sound too good to be true or that ask you to pay anything upfront.
- False Investment Scams: Scammers will promise unrealistic propositions like offering to convert $100 into $1,000 and use this false promise of return on investment to get your money.
- Paid Subscription Services: Scammers will offer lifetime access to a paid subscription service for a one-time only payment.
Notice a common theme? Advance fee. If someone asks you for a small amount of money now––in return for an unrealistic amount of money or reward later––it’s almost guaranteed to be a scam.
3. Recognize Signs of a Fishy Account
Does an Instagram account have a significantly higher number of people they are “following” than people who follow them (we’re talking hundreds versus thousands)? Do they have a low number of posts and photos that seem like stock photos? Do they have words like “giveaway” or “free” in their handle?
These are some of the telltale signs of a fake or spam account. However, even if they don’t meet all of the above criteria, they may still be fishy. For instance, are they providing something that seems too good to be true? A product that’s priced much lower than you’ve seen elsewhere? An overly eager, attractive stranger? All of these are signs of a fraudulent account as well.
Finally, always remember: almost all scams ultimately boil down to asking for your money or your personal details. If a conversation is headed in that direction, stop interacting immediately.
4. Interact with Verified Brands and Accounts
One of the easiest ways to avoid the above scenario? Look for accounts with a blue “verified” check mark next to the account name.
Now we should warn you, scammers have been able to get “verified” on Instagram, and it shouldn’t give you 100% confidence to see an account has a badge, but if a company doesn’t have one, it’s almost certainly not real. For instance, if you see an Instagram account claiming to be “IRS” and they are unverified, your gut should be sounding a strong alert that it’s a scammer.
5. Recognize Suspicious URLs
You see a shoe ad from a verified account called “Adidas shoes.” You click the link and get routed to a site with the Adidas logo and high-quality pictures of shoes. So far, so good. Then you see the URL is “addidasshoes.com.”
It doesn’t immediately appear suspicious, and with so many retail sites selling such a plethora of products, why wouldn’t they want to have multiple URLs? And that’s exactly the point. We believe these URLs make sense, so we don’t question them. But if a website ever has an address that’s different from the company name itself, don’t interact with them.
Instead, Google the website directly and see what turns up. If you want to make extra sure, call the company and ask if the site is associated with them. It’s always worth taking the extra 10 minutes to verify a site, than to hand over any valuable information to a scammer.
6. Get Two-Factor Authentication
With so many fraudulent websites out there hunting for your information, two-factor authentication is one of the best ways to defend against someone hijacking your account.
To set up two-factor authentication on Instagram, you need a cell phone number or third-party app like Google Authenticator, which will have you verify it’s you whenever you log on to your account. This makes it extremely difficult for someone to steal your account, as your login credentials alone won’t work.
7. Verify if Instagram Has Sent an Email to You
One of the harder-to-spot scams on Instagram right now is an email seemingly from Instagram itself, warning that someone has compromised your account (and you need to act immediately!)
While your warning against providing personal information should be going off, we also understand that’s a scary email, particularly as there have been several high-profile data breaches in the news. If someone truly has hacked your identity, time is of the essence and you want to act as soon as possible.
Luckily, to help users deal with this, Instagram recently made available a feature that lets you check to see if the company has in fact emailed you.
To access this feature, go to the three-lined icon in the top right corner of your app, then click “Settings,” and then “Security.” At the bottom of the first section should be an option reading “Emails from Instagram.” If Instagram truly has sent you an email, it should show up here. Otherwise, you know it’s a fake account (if the worst happens and you do actually get hacked, Instagram has a help page outlining what to do).
RISE Above Instagram Scams
If you follow the guidelines above, you will make it extremely hard for Instagram scammers to target you. Plus the good news is, once you train yourself, these steps require very little time or effort––and can potentially save you thousands.
Just remember: when in doubt, never give out personal information. And if you are having second guesses about a suspicious company, refer back to this checklist of ways to recognize––and avoid––Instagram scams.