It is impossible to overstate just how huge Instagram is these days.
But the downside to such roaring popularity is that Instagram has become an obvious target for scammers and fraudsters trying to make a quick buck at the expense of innocent users.
So, if you use Instagram, what Instagram scams should you be on the lookout for? And what can you do to try and keep yourself safe?
In this guide, we will answer all these questions and more to help you become safer when using Insta.
Top 7 scams on Instagram
Let's begin by flagging some of the most common Instagram scams you might encounter.
This could be an extensive list, so we have tried to keep to those that we are seeing most frequently at the moment:
Phishing is far from unique to Instagram but with so many people having Instagram accounts, it is no surprise that there are literally thousands of Instagram phishing emails doing the rounds.
These usually have a similar sort of format. There is some sort of urgent reason why you need to log into your account and then a link you are asked to click to do so.
Once you click that link, you are redirected to a phishing scam site where all your login details are harvested.
With this information, scammers can then log into your account, change your password, and then do what they like. If you have bank or credit card details attached to your account, these could be compromised too.
As well as emails, we are also seeing a growing number of phishing scams through Instagram instant messages/direct messages too.
Be aware, and if you get a direct message offering any suspicious links, never click on them. In fact, never open a link sent to you by someone if you are unsure what it is about.
2. Fake investment scams
These scams are a bit more unique to Instagram… but not entirely so.
They usually centre on a bogus self-made millionaire posing in various designer outfits or with fast cars. They claim that, for a small investment, they can help you to have the same luxury lifestyle they have.
Some are just looking for a one-off fee. Others may even go so far as to have a fake website showing you how your initial investment is performing to encourage you to send more money.
But at some point, they will disappear with your money and you will never hear from them again. There is a simple rule to deal with this type of scam; if something looks too good to be true, it probably is.
3. Fake influencer/brand collaboration scams
The Instagram app is packed with social media influencers and people who aspire to be a social media influencer. Unfortunately, it is easy for scammers to prey on this and target your own account.
Common scams involve the fraudster pretending to be an established brand or public figures and offering to pay unsuspecting users to promote or advertise their wares.
Typically, during any such advertising deal, an Instagram user will be asked to hand over bank account information to receive the money and then the scammer will disappear while using those bank details for all kinds of nefarious purposes.
As before, if a deal sounds too good to be true, and you might wonder why someone wants to pay you to influence your handful of followers, it is safe to assume it is probably a scam.
4. Fake followers/likes
While we are on the topic of influencers, a lot of Instagram users will look to buy followers and likes in order to boost their numbers and get brands interested in working with them.
Scammers have cottoned onto this too and some now run fake sites and accounts offering to sell both cheap followers and likes to other users.
But when a potential buyer shares their financial information to buy followers or likes, the scammer disappears, taking their financial details with them.
Alternatively, the quickly amassed followers and likes are removed once Instagram gets wind of it.
5. Fake Giveaways
There are literally thousands of fake giveaways littering Instagram.
Some will offer a prize for people who like and share a post, others will claim that the first so-many respondents will win something.
More often than not, there is no prize, except for the scammer who will be looking to walk away with personal information like ID documents or otherwise seek to get you to part with financial details to cover shipping fees and handling costs or something similar.
There are legitimate giveaways out there, but that only means that you need to be very careful when you choose which one to participate in, especially if you need to provide your personal information or payment details.
6. Fake job scams
Job scams are usually done to commit identity theft.
They are really very simple. You are approached with a job offer that sounds like a fantastic opportunity. But you will need to hand over information, as you would with a regular job offer.
This can include such things as full name, date of birth, home address, passport and immigration information, social security or national insurance numbers, driving license details, and so on.
Once they have that information, they will use it to apply for loan scams, credit cards, and all sorts of other things in your name.
7. Romance scams
While most of the above scams tend to be quick and direct, romance scams are a much more long term problem.
They involve the fraudster entering into a long-term online relationship with another user, often finding them on dating apps or online forums, but also Instagram itself.
This can take place over weeks, months, or even years. They will be operating from a fake account with fake information and images on it.
Once they have established trust, they will start requesting money for flights, travel expenses, or visas to come and visit. But there is always an excuse as to why they are never able to come in the end.
They will usually continue to come up with reasons to ask for money for as long as someone is willing to send it.
There is a simple step not to fall victim to romance scams. Never send money to anyone you meet on Instagram.
How to avoid Instagram scams
If you want to avoid falling victim to the Instagram scams outlined above, or the various others that are also doing the rounds, there are a few simple steps that you can take:
1. Make your account private
When you sign up for Instagram, your account will be set to public by default. But you can easily change those settings to private (unless you have a business account) and it is highly advisable to do so.
All you need to do is:
- On the Instagram homepage, click on Settings
- Click on the Privacy & Security tab.
- Toggle the Private Account setting to On.
2. Pick a strong password
Make sure you are using a password that cannot be easily guessed with your Instagram account.
It should be complex and contain numbers, letters, and characters. It should also be different to all your other passwords. Making sure that you don't use the same password for all your accounts is very important.
If you have difficulty remembering unique passwords, it is worth investing in a password manager to keep your Instagram account and all your other online accounts private and secure.
3. Use Two-Factor authentication
Instagram offers the option of 2FA, but it is not enabled by default. It is a good idea to set this up though, to help keep your account secure, especially if it is compromised or your Instagram password is stolen.
To enable two-factor authentication, all you have to do is:
- On the Instagram homepage, click on Settings.
- Click on Instagram Privacy & Security.
- Select Two-Factor Authentication and ‘Edit two-factor authentication setting'.
- Then choose your security method. This can either be a verified Authentication App or a Text Message to your chosen mobile device.
Then just follow the onscreen instructions to complete the process.
4. Disable activity status
Did you know that if you follow someone on Instagram or engage in a conversation with them, they are able to see when you were last active on Instagram.
This is information you have no reason to share, so you would be well advised to change this setting to.
It is easily done as follows:
- On the Instagram homepage, click on Settings
- Click on Privacy & Security.
- Toggle the Account Status setting to Off.
5. Monitor Login activity
It is worth keeping an eye on your account log-ins to be sure that no-one else is accessing your Instagram account without your permission.
This feature is built into Instagram and can be easily checked as follows:
- On the Instagram homepage, click on Settings
- Click on Login Activity
If you do see any logins that you don't recognise, log out of your account immediately and change your login credentials.
You may also want to report the incident to Instagram.
6. Only use verified accounts
If you are going to buy something on Instagram or engage with a brand in any other way, make sure you are using a verified account. Anyone can create fake accounts and try to trick people until they are noticed and blocked.
Verified accounts representing large companies will always have a blue tick next to their name. If an account isn't verified, you would be wise to avoid it.
Similarly, if an account is offering suspiciously low prices or unusual payment methods, you would also be best to stay clear.
7. Avoid unsolicited links
If you are sent a link on a private message, an email, or in an Instagram post, do not click it under any circumstances.
This is a common way to send you to a fake website that will harvest any personal data you might enter.
8. Use your common sense
This is perhaps the most important rule of all. Always be on your guard and apply good sense to your decisions when using Instagram.
To avoid scams, don't click a suspicious link or respond to suspicious messages; Look for poor spelling and grammatical mistakes in unsolicited emails, and stick to official channels; If a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.
Always remember the next thing you look at could be an Instagram scam with your name on it.
What to do if you have been scammed on Instagram
If you are unfortunate enough to fall victim to an Instagram scam, there are a few things you should do straight away to try and minimise the damage:
1. Report the scam to Instagram
Every Instagram post has a report button on it. Use this to report any scam posts or messages you encounter as soon as possible.
2. Check your bank accounts and credit cards
If you think your financial information might have been compromised, keep an eye on accounts and credit cards and if you see anything unusual, report it to your bank or provider as soon as possible.
The faster you move about this, the lesser the chance that someone can gain access to your money, personal info, and alike, so it is essential to act quickly if you think your sensitive data is stolen or if you notice any suspicious activity, yourself.
3. Change your password
Change your official Instagram account password as soon as you can if you think your account's personal details might have fallen into the wrong hands.
4. Freeze your credit
Some scammers may do things that can damage your credit rating and take out loans and credit cards in your name.
By freezing your credit, you can stop this from happening until the situation is resolved. Talk to your financial providers about what to do.
5. Use anti-virus software and a VPN
Using third party apps to protect you from viruses, malware, and other malicious software when using Instagram is always advisable.
Similarly, a VPN will encrypt all of your data and help to keep your IP Address and much of your personal information private too.
6. Identity theft monitoring service
You could also consider signing up for an identity theft monitoring service.
These services will monitor for any suspicious use of your personal data and alert you when they notice something unusual.
They are a good precaution but it is a service that comes with some privacy compromises.
There is no lack of scams and fraudulent activity on Instagram. But there are also lots of tools and options available for you to keep yourself safe.
In this guide, we have provided you with all the information you need to keep yourself safe and ensure a secure setting on Instagram, meaning you can enjoy this excellent social media platform without worrying about the possible consequences.