Instagram is all about sharing captivating pictures and envy-inducing content. Each day, users flood the platform with millions of pics, gifs, and videos - that they've either created themselves or found on other accounts. Most of the time, when users post non-original content, it's simply because they've stumbled upon something inspiring, educational, or just plain funny, and they feel the urge to share it.
At this point, you may be asking, what’s wrong with posting content created by other users? It's what Instagram was built for, and most Instagrammers want their content shared, saved and commented on - since it helps them rank higher in the omnipresent algorithm. I mean, who could resist sharing a video of a cat wearing a Santa outfit singing Christmas carols? There's no way I could, and honestly, it should be seen by everyone!
All jokes aside, hacking into social media accounts is no joke, as it’s become a lucrative business for scammers. The Instagram copyright scam is just one example of how the “share, like, subscribe” culture is exploited by cyber-criminals. To put it another way, cybercriminals are taking advantage of users' love for sharing content and using Instagram to steal accounts that they can resell on the dark web.
Scammers send out emails that look identical to an official message from Instagram. The email contains the same logo, branding, and colors - you wouldn’t even be able to tell the difference. The email claims that you’re in breach of Instagram's copyright laws and threatens to suspend your account within a day due to these supposed infringements.
If you consider the amount of content that’s posted on Instagram daily, an accidental violation of copyright law seems plausible. Maybe you did share a post you weren’t supposed to? Perhaps that cat video belongs to someone, and they’re angry that you’re getting all the attention?
That’s exactly what the scammer wants you to believe. The email's tone is urgent in an attempt to catch you off guard — making you believe it's some error that can be fixed by clicking a link. This emotional rollercoaster is meant to make you feel like your account is in trouble, and you need to act fast to protect it. Crazy right?
If you’ve been following our blog, you know how we feel about clicking every link you see - “just say no”. Or, in other words, don’t click them! However, maybe you were multitasking (I mean we all do), and you didn’t notice that the email was fake and clicked the link anyway. Then what?
Once you press the link, you’ll be sent to a fake copyright appeal webpage that looks incredibly legit. There, you’ll be asked to enter your date of birth, username, and password. Oh boy.
At this point, it’s game over - you’ve just given the scammer your Instagram login credentials. Just like other online scams, your passwords, personal information, and even your identity are now at risk. There are numerous paths this scam can take once the scammers get a hold of your login info, but the ultimate goal remains the same - to make money off your misfortune.
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The vast amount of personal information stored in these accounts has the power to wreak havoc on the lives of unsuspecting users. And can be used to hack other sites like banks, online shopping accounts, and other social media platforms.
Once they've taken over one social media account, say Instagram, it’s pretty easy to get into your Facebook account as well (assuming your passwords are similar, but let’s be honest, they’re probably the same password, right?). What’s even more crazy is that they can use your profile to lure followers and friends to phishing sites.
Think about it, if your friend or coworker sends you a link to a website that looks interesting, you’d probably check it out. But if you’d receive that same link from a stranger, you’re less likely to press the link and fall for that bait.
What actions can you take to stay safe?
When you come across email subject lines marked as [URGENT], it's crucial to put on your safety goggles and conduct a thorough inspection. Pay close attention to the sender and link domains for potential signs of scams or hacking attempts.
Pay attention to the link's ending
Legitimate Instagram links typically end with ".com", whereas like in the example above, scammers may use different endings, such as ".cf". When in doubt, perform a quick Google search to identify the genuine domain.
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Weird grammar and typos
Whenever you receive an email read it carefully and check for any typos or grammar mistakes - or in other words, weird English. Even with the help of ChatGPT and other AI tools, scammers tend to mess up when it comes to typing. Remember, it's highly unlikely that a platform like Instagram will send you a message with incorrect English.
Go directly to the source
To verify the legitimacy of an email, visit the official website of the alleged sender. Check for any reported issues or procedures for handling cases like this. Instagram's Help Center, for example, provides comprehensive information on copyright issues and their approach to addressing them.
Don't equate "secure connection" with safety
The subdomain in this example is “Instagram”. This might sound a bit techy, but here’s an example to simplify things. In a link like "mail.google.com", the domain is "google", while "mail" is a subdomain specific to Google's mail service. It's important to note that subdomains have no connection with the main domain (e.g., mail.com). Therefore, having Instagram in the subdomain is the scammer's way of making you believe the email is coming from them when in fact, it’s not.
When in doubt, use your desktop
The best way to inspect suspicious links is with a desktop computer, since mobile devices make it difficult to see the full domain length.
Use password management tools
Keeping your online accounts secure and strong requires good password management tools. It’s also a good idea to update your passwords regularly, especially if you use your social profiles to log in to other websites.
It’s important to have security tools that keep you out of trouble before you even receive that scammy Instagram email. Take Guardio’s Chrome extension, for example, it warns you whenever you’re about to open a website or download a file designed to damage your computer or security. It 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. Best of all, Guardio comes with a 7-day free trial.
Keeping an eye out for potential hazards is important, if all of us work together, social media can continue to be enjoyed for years to come. Share this article with your Instagram friends!
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