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As Instagram scammers slide into our DMs, millions of users are now possible victims. Phishing scammers are flocking to Instagram in search of money, personal information, and whatever else they can get their hands on. Learn how to spot and avoid Instagram scams and how to protect all your online accounts from scammers with Avast One.
An Instagram scam is a type of online scam that specifically targets Instagram users. Scammers send direct messages or leave comments on Instagram feeds to lure victims into turning over valuable information or money. Instagram scams might even try to trick victims into downloading or spreading malware.
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Since its launch in 2010, Instagram has become one of the most-used social media apps. With over one billion accounts and 500 million daily active users, the worldwide popularity of Instagram is second only to Facebook. With this popularity comes several hazards — especially scams.
Scammers and other would-be cybercriminals operate wherever they can most easily find victims. Since Instagram has become so big, scammers have flocked to the app in search of easy prey to swindle.
The most common Instagram scams are similar to other internet scams. Well-known examples include romance scams, phishing attempts, Bitcoin scams, and giveaway scams. Scammers have become increasingly creative in using classic scamming techniques in new ways — especially via popular social media sites.
Here are some of the most common Instagram scams to watch out for:
As more and more people look for love online, scammers are trying to take advantage, working a long game to woo and extort money from unsuspecting victims. In a romance scam, the scammer strikes up a conversation and builds trust with the victim over time. Then, they start asking for money — usually so they can travel and supposedly meet in person.
However, some kind of emergency always “comes up” after the victim sends the cash. Depending on the victim’s cooperation, the dating scam may continue in this cycle for a long time: The scammer continues to ask for money and the victim continues to oblige, until the victim figures out the scam or runs out of funds.
On Instagram, romance scams usually start with the scammer liking your posts. Then, they’ll send you a direct message (DM). If you respond to the DM — which is often full of friendly, flattering, or flirty phrases — the scam truly begins.
Instagram is also a prime platform for scammers to deploy phishing attacks, a kind of scam where malicious links or attachments are sent to you with the hope that you’ll take the bait and click. Originally sent through email, phishing scams now include all types of electronic communication, including text messages, phone calls, your Apple ID, and now social media. Phishing remains one of the top online scams.
All phishing scams have the same goal: to trick you into clicking a malicious link. They may try to get you to download malicious software, give up private information, or, in the case of webcam scams, extort you while threatening to leak private footage.
Here are the most common types of Instagram phishing scams:
In loan scams, the scammer offers you a loan with a great interest rate. They only request that you pay a deposit (usually small in comparison to the amount of the loan) before you can take advantage of the offer. A loan scam may include a fraudulent PayPal address, Venmo account, or other online payment address where you’ll send the funds. Of course, once you pay the deposit, the scammer disappears with your money.
Get-rich-quick schemes are popular among scammers, and the latest scam type is cryptocurrency. Similar to a loan scam, Bitcoin scams exaggerate the amount of money you could earn from an initial investment. To get in on the opportunity, you only need to pay a small investment to see big rewards. Then, the person you entrust with your Bitcoin investment disappears with your money and is never seen again.
Fake job ads also sound like an amazing opportunity that you can’t pass up. But job scammers ask for personal information such as your ID or social security number, home address, passport scans, or other personally identifiable information. Then, they’ll use this information to open up credit cards in your name and steal your identity.
Some scammers on Instagram target influencers as well as ordinary users. The fake-follower market is a booming business in the world of social media influencers, and scammers have taken advantage of this, offering to get you more likes and follows for a good price. In the end, you pay for a promise that never materializes.
Money scams on Instagram often take the form of get-rich-quick investment scams, like the Bitcoin investment scams mentioned above. These money scams differ from phishing scams in that rather than getting a suspicious link, you are directly asked for banking or personal information. With this info, the scammer takes your money or identity, and you’re left out in the cold.
Some scammers have exploited the influx of branded accounts by impersonating them. Fake brand accounts often tout exclusive sales for a limited time or offer high-end products for low prices. But what’s on sale is actually counterfeit — or maybe what you ordered never arrives at all, but you’ve already given your payment card information online.
Some scammers offer subscription services through Instagram, claiming they can provide you free or lifetime service after a one-time payment. However, third parties are rarely authorized to offer subscriptions — especially ones you’ve never heard of. Anyone offering you this sort of subscription deal should raise an immediate red flag. Like with all other scams, they get your money while you get nothing.
Popular influencers often have sponsored giveaways in which free products or services are offered to a select number of followers. Scammers may impersonate influencers to exploit this giveaway strategy, adapting the notorious phone-call scam to Instagram.
In these scams, the scammer will inform you via tag or DM that you’ve won a giveaway but that you will need to pay a shipping or processing fee, or provide personal information. Either way, you become the one doing the giving away.
Scammers are also adept at masquerading as tech support — including Instagram support — and even spoofing their phone number so the calls or messages look legitimate. Be wary of any supposed tech support contacting you out of the blue.
While some scammers have found clever ways to disguise themselves, there are still telltale signs you can look for when deciding whether someone is scamming you on Instagram.
Scammers on Instagram usually do these things:
Ask for money or information
Send messages with suspicious links
Have an unverified account they claim is affiliated with Instagram or large organization
Follow many accounts but have few followers themselves
Have little engagement from followers
Lie about their location
Claim you have won a prize
Have profiles consisting of stock photos or photos stolen from other accounts
Make simple grammar or language errors
Try to convince you to move the conversation off Instagram
If you’ve caught a scammer on Instagram, immediately report and block them. Read on for more details about how to avoid and report scammers on Instagram.
Once you know how to spot Instagram scams, you can more easily avoid them. Here are some simple, straightforward steps you can take to avoid scammers on Instagram.
“We recommend anyone receiving these emails to delete them. If you have doubts about whether a message is real or fake, do not click on any links or attachments. Instead, reach out to the company from which the message appears to be, directly, by visiting their website and using the contact information listed on the site.”
Pavel Novák, Junior Threat Operations Analyst
Don’t click suspicious links
Don’t send money or private information to unknown accounts
Don’t leave the app to talk to someone on a different platform, unless you know them
Check that brand accounts are verified with the blue checkmark next to the username
Change your privacy settings to hide sensitive information
Set your account to private so accounts you don’t follow can’t find you
Block accounts you don’t trust
Disable your status, which shows if you’re online
Monitor login activity
Log in directly on the app/site, never from a link someone has sent you
These steps can help keep you secure when using Instagram — or pretty much any other social media app that’s prone to scams.
If you spot an instagram scammer, report the scam immediately. Thankfully, you can report scammers on Instagram pretty easily. Instagram is most often used as a smartphone app, and these instructions show you how to report Instagram scammers using the mobile app.
Tap the scammer’s username (or search it) to go to their profile.
Tap Options (the three dots) in the top right of the scammer’s profile and select Report.
Select Report Account. Then, select the reason for reporting. To report a scammer, choose It’s posting content that shouldn’t be on Instagram or It’s pretending to be someone else.
If you selected It’s posting content that shouldn’t be on Instagram in the previous step, next choose Scam or Fraud. If you selected It’s pretending to be someone else, then choose the relevant option according to the scam type. Then, tap Submit report.
Tap Next. Then, unfollow and block the scammer so they can no longer contact you.
If you’ve already fallen victim to the scammer, you should report the scam to the relevant authorities. And, if the scam resulted in identity theft, report the identity theft immediately — it may prevent the scammer from doing more damage.
Scams can be pretty easy to spot if you know what you’re looking for, but everyone is vulnerable to deception and fraud. That’s why it’s more important than ever to shore up your security and start protecting your personal information against scammers.
Avast One immediately alerts you if any leaks involving your personal information are found online. Then, Avast will help you strengthen your online accounts to prevent scammers from finding you again. Plus, Avast One features a built-in Privacy Advisor to help you manage who can view your social media accounts to keep you safe from Instagram scams and other social media frauds.