Instagram fraud: How to avoid scams and stay safe online

July 5th · 9 min read

Rotem Tal - Senior Cybersecurity Expert |Writer & Editor|
Rotem Tal - Senior Cybersecurity Expert |Writer & Editor|

From Likes to lurkers

Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have become a crucial part of our daily lives. For better or worse, they provide seamless communication, business promotion, online transactions, romantic connections, and, of course, a never-ending supply of delightful cat videos.

As we embrace the ease of living an online lifestyle, we must also be aware of the potential risks and dangers that come with it. Doomscrolling and physical health concerns, like carpal tunnel syndrome and obesity, are definitely serious problems. But as we ‘post’ all of our personal information online, we also have to be aware of the ever-present, yet unseen threat of cybercriminals.

In 2022, social media scams accounted for $1.2 billion in losses.

Scammers are continuously looking for ways to exploit unsuspecting people and profit from their vulnerability. Due to the low cost of signing up, social media platforms are an ideal gateway for these scammers to operate in. Aside from that, the ability to hide behind fake profiles and the sharing culture make social media the perfect setting for scams.

In this article, we’re going to focus on Instagram scams that have become an overwhelmingly popular hunting ground for cybercriminals. Obviously, we’ll give you some tips on how to avoid them- we wouldn’t leave you hanging. Let’s dive in.

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Protect yourself from Instagram phishing scams & other online threats.

To be honest, Instagram scammers aren’t that tech-savvy and mostly rely on social engineering tactics to reel people in. In other words, these individuals aren’t a part of Anonymous and can’t take down Russian defense ministry websites. What they can do is manipulate you into pressing a malicious link, buying non-existing products, and con you into thinking you’ll get rich fast - all you’ll need to do is send them money first.
The scams come in many shapes and forms, but they all work on human emotion and utilize manipulation to establish an illusion of trustworthiness. The scammer's goal? To get your personal information and sell it on the dark web or blatantly steal your money.

Remember, being able to notice the scam is the first step in staying safe online, but normally, we only realize it once it's too late. That’s where having a secure browsing tool like Gaurdio comes in.

Guardio’s Chrome extension monitors suspicious activity and blocks hackers from stealing your data. Guardio, can strengthen your online presence and minimize the risks associated with malware attacks. Now available in the App store and Google Play .

Instagram phishing scams to watch out for

When it comes to Instagram scams, phishing takes the top spot. Scammers employ tactics like sending bogus emails and direct messages (DMs) from fake profiles, all with the aim of gaining unauthorized access to your Instagram account.

The DMs, and emails look like official messages from Instagram - same logo, branding, and colors, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. In these emails, you’re told that you’ve been locked out of your account, or they falsely accuse you of violating Instagram's copyright laws.

The urgency and tone of the email aim to catch you off guard, convincing you that it's a simple error fixable by clicking a link. This social engineering trick aims to make you believe your account is in jeopardy and pressures you to act swiftly for its protection. Wild, right?
How secure are your online accounts?

Protect yourself from Instagram phishing scams & other online threats, start your free 7-day trial today.

Romance scams

Romantic traps, are as old as love itself. In the digital age, they’ve adapted and have taken the form of catfishing, or in other words, being deceived and emotionally manipulated by a fake online identity.

When it comes to building relationships online , it's important to be on high alert for warning signs that might indicate that you’re about to be scammed. Scammers will create fake profiles, pose as if they’re in an abusive relationship, divorced, or even widowed, and then send you a flirty message. Once you reply, they’ll build up your trust for weeks or even months. Sending you pics (obviously fake) and creating a story of how they're in a tough spot.

All they need is for you to buy them a plane ticket, wire them money, or buy them things online. They’ll milk you for whatever you’ve got, or until you pressure them into meeting, in which case, they’ll simply ghost you and stop replying to your messages.

Investment scams

Wanna make $1000 in less than an hour? Who doesn’t! All you need to do is to wire me $100, and I’ll make it happen. Sounds like a good investment, right? Wrong! Cash flipping and get-rich-fast scams aren’t a new concept, but Instagram adds a little realistic twist to the narrative. You’d be surprised at how easy it is.

The scammer creates a fake Instagram profile with 10000’s of (fake) followers. While scrolling through, you’ll see them living a lavish lifestyle, going to fancy restaurants, traveling, and posing beside shiny objects - scammers love shiny objects. This is all to create a false guise of - Look at me #Selfmademillionare. Insider image Source: Insider

After they set the stage, they’ll send out DMs pretending to run investment funds that can turn hundreds of dollars into thousands by trading stocks or foreign currency.

All they ask for is an initial investment of a few hundred dollars, which you’ll more than triple in less than a week. A few days pass, and the truth sinks in. When you ask to get your investment back, you’ll either be asked for more money or they’ll block your account. Cash Flips Are Scams!!!! on Instagram Source: Cashflipscam

Job scams

The pandemic brought about widespread job losses, and just when we the worst was behind us, we experienced more mass layoffs in 2023 . This created a fertile environment for fraudsters to prey on desperate individuals with the ploy of offering them jobs.

Scammers will pose as phony recruiters, directing applicants to fraudulent job applications that request sensitive personal information. You all know where this is going, right? Unfortunately, sharing your confidential details with these criminals can result in your Instagram profile being taken over, financial ruin, and in more extreme cases, identity theft.

How secure are your online accounts?

Protect yourself from Instagram phishing scams & other online threats, start your free 7-day trial today.

Fake giveaway scams

This is basically a type of phishing scam where cybercriminals open fake accounts and pose as known brands like Best Buy, Hollister, Nike, Victoria's Secret, etc. The accounts will then try to lure you in with fake posts promising free coupons, flights, and giveaways, but there's a catch.

In exchange for the rewards, you’re required to like, share, follow, and comment with your email address. Ding ding ding - red flag! This is the scammer's way of getting you to hand them your personal information, which can lead to identity theft. What about the free shoes or tickets you were promised? Unfortunately, you can forget about them.

Lottery scams

Lottery scammers prey on our hopes for fortune and financial gain. They exploit the universal desire to win easy money, knowing that nearly everyone would be excited at the possibility of making cash. They may impersonate legitimate organizations (like a government agency) to claim that you're among the only winners of a lottery. Some even use stolen accounts or pages of people you know and impersonate them in order to reel you in.

All you’ll need to do is provide your personal information, like address and bank details to “verify your identity” Oh yeah, and they’ll also need a small processing fee in advance - before receiving your prize.

Donation scams

There's a special place in hell for donation scammers, as there’s nothing worse than preying on people trying to help others. To make themselves look legit, scammers use online accounts pretending to represent charities, orphanages, or religious figures and then hit you up for donations.

Loan scams

Thinking about buying a new car but are a few dollars short? Well, if you’re considering taking out a loan, Instagram is definitely not the right place to get it. With interest rates sky-high, the prospect of getting a loan for a reasonable rate does sound enticing, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, this scam falls into the “too good to be true” category.

Scammers send out DMs and share posts offering instant loans at a low-interest rate, all you have to do is give them a small advance fee. Once you pay the fee, they’ll either ask for more money with the promise of providing you with a larger loan or simply ghost you. Advance fee - gone.

Online shopping scams

Last but not least on the list of Instagram scams is online shopping - the most common type of fraud . Does 40% off all items sound enticing? How about 60% off? This is the type of language scammers use to lure you in. They’ll create fake profiles and claim to be selling goods and services online, often at a price that’s too good to be true.

Once you pay them, they’ll stop responding, and you’ll either get subpar fake goods or not get anything at all.

Scam Alert

How to spot an Instagram scam

General warning signs of things you should stay away from:

  • Money requests
  • You've won a contest or prize
  • Quick ways to make money
  • Job applications that come out of nowhere
  • An attempt to move the conversation away from Instagram
  • You receive a link to an unsafe website
Guardio’s Chrome extension , will warn you whenever you’re about to open a link or download a file designed to damage your computer or security.
  • An investment opportunity
  • Offers and discounts on popular items
  • Gift card sales and giveaways
  • Receive messages with spelling and grammar errors
  • A brand without a verified account
  • Personal information requests

How to stay safe an Instagram scam

Don’t give away information

This might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s totally worth mentioning. Whenever you receive a message that asks for personal information, be cautious, especially if the message asks you to provide your credit card number, bank account information, or private information.

Don’t press that link

Avoid using login links provided in DMs. Always use the official URL and directly log into your accounts. This is particularly important for Instagram phishing emails. Scammers rely on urgency to trick you into clicking the link without thinking critically. Take a moment to verify the real URL. If there is a genuine issue, a legitimate login will clarify it. You can also contact official support channels via email, chat, or phone to confirm.

Unusual giveaways

If something seems too good to be true, it likely is. Giveaways, job offers, and similar scams aim to entice you and cloud your judgment. It's safer to assume these are rarely genuine. When in doubt, reach out to the brands directly through their official channels and find out if the offer’s legit.

Look for the verified badge

Always search for official accounts before responding to messages. Verified accounts (indicated by a blue checkmark) can help identify authentic brands and individuals. Established brands typically provide links to their official social media accounts on their website and vis versa. If you don’t see a link to their website on Instagram, it’s probably a fake profile impersonating a real brand.

Block unwanted followers

A lot of scams involve building a false sense of trust through a relationship. Consider blocking unknown followers or those without mutual connections. Setting your account to private and only allowing people you know to follow you will also give you an extra layer of security.

Enable two-factor authentication

Make your Instagram account more secure by activating 2-step verification . Once enabled, the app will send a verification code to your default device whenever someone tries to log in from a different device.

Beware of suspicious messages

If someone you know sends you an out-of-the-blue, weird message, contact them directly. Call them, or try to meet up in person to verify if they actually sent the message. It's very possible that scammers are impersonating them and targeting you and others in their network.

Use browser and identity protection tools

Security Chrome extensions , like Guardio can warn you whenever you’re about to open a website or download a file designed to damage your computer or security. Guardio constantly searches malicious sites for your information and email address and, more importantly, scours the dark web for your data and alerts you if it shows up.

From phishing scams to romance scams, fake giveaways, to investment opportunities, Instagram has become a popular hunting ground for scammers who exploit the platform's features and the trust of its users.

To stay safe, it's important to be watchful and aware of the red flags. Avoid sharing personal information, be cautious of suspicious messages, and always verify the legitimacy of accounts and offers. Enabling two-factor authentication and using browser and identity protection tools like Guardio can provide an additional layer of security.

How secure are your online accounts?

Protect yourself from Instagram phishing scams & other online threats, start your free 7-day trial today.

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