Instagram is easily one of the world’s most popular social networks, especially with younger people, but that popularity is also why it’s a regular stalking ground for scammers. In this guide we’ll tackle 10 of the most common Instagram scam types, and how you (or your friends and loved ones) can avoid them.
10 common Instagram scams and how to avoid them
Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority
1. Lottery/giveaway scams
While sweepstakes and other giveaways on Instagram are often genuine — since it’s an ideal way of promoting a brand — it’s important to doublecheck the authenticity of any source account(s). Scammers will sometimes open impersonation accounts, steal images, then run a giveaway in which the “winners” are asked to pay money or share unnecessarily sensitive information, such as banking data. They may even skip the impersonation part but try to craft a reputable-looking facade.
A real giveaway (normally) won’t demand much more than liking, following, tagging, or commenting on Instagram content, or perhaps signing up for a outside newsletter. Some contests may alternately demand creative content submissions, but you’ll know about that upfront. The company will eventually have to reach out and contact you, but always be careful about tapping on outside links — while they’re sometimes necessary, if a URL looks suspicious, it could be a phishing attack (see below).
Phishing is the use of fake webpages to trick you into sharing private info, such as your bank or Instagram logins. Apart from immediate consequences like financial theft or losing control of Instagram, there’s the risk of extortion, impersonation, or scammers using your Meta info to login into other services.
Thankfully, once you know what to look for, phishing should be simple to avoid. Meta/Instagram will never threaten to suspend your account unless you verify it, for instance, certainly not by tapping on an email, WhatsApp, or SMS link. Phishing URLs (web addresses) also look different than ones that belong to real companies, so if a URL doesn’t start with something like “instagram.com” or “bankofamerica.com,” that’s probably a red flag. If you do end up at an outside link, keep an eye out for spelling errors, awkward translations, and other signs that a webpage is illegitimate.
Some scammers claim to be selling luxury goods, often at a sharp discount. You’ll be able to send them money, but if you receive anything at all in return, it’s going to be a lower-quality dupe. In some cases they may even pretend to be the brand they’re selling.
The best rule of thumb here is that if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. A bag from Hermès or Louis Vuitton isn’t suddenly going to be as affordable as something sold at Target, and Apple rarely offers any discount on new iPhones, much less enough to make one as affordable as a budget Android phone.
As with phishing, you can potentially identify counterfeiters through spelling errors, poor translations, and/or unusual or misleading URLs. An addition here is that they may use badly-Photoshopped product images.
Keep in mind that counterfeiters many not necessarily approach you via Instagram, even when a scam is connected to it. You could be targeted via messaging apps like Telegram or WhatsApp. The good news is that that’s an obvious sign, since reputable businesses don’t need to attract customers that way.
4. Fake influencers
This is a very broad category that can overlap with others (see the next one for instance), but sometimes you may be approached by users claiming to offer things like investment advice or wider Instagram exposure. In the latter category, that means someone claiming they can get you more likes or followers, whether they’re real people or just bots.
Fake influencers are often pretty simple to identify by visiting their profiles. Their descriptions tend to be vaguely worded and/or focused on getting you to open an outside link, which you should probably avoid in case of phishing or malware. The person’s photos, meanwhile, will frequently feature an attractive woman, but have nothing to do with what they’re promoting. There’s a reasonable chance they’re stolen from another Instagram account or a model’s online portfolio.
5. Crypto scams
Some people have legitimately become rich off of crypto currencies like Bitcoin, but there’s an whole (exploitative) cottage industry dedicated to selling the idea that anyone can end up driving a Ferrari by the end of the week. Anyone “guaranteeing” profits from crypto is likely trying to make money off of you, instead, especially if they expect you to pay for a secret guide or an initial investment in crypto mining.
More aggressive scammers may claim they can get you profits in hours or days. Be warned, though, that even someone promising a more realistic timeframe may be still be a scam artist. Before investing in any crypto currency, research objective sources on the topic, make the investment yourself, and be prepared for the possibility of losing thousands of dollars if the market tanks. Very few real-world investments are always in the black.
6. “Flipping”/investment scams
These sell you on the notion that you can get rich quick after an initial investment. That could be something like crypto, as mentioned, but might also involve things like stocks or physical goods. More likely than not, the scammer will disappear or cut off contact once they have your money. Even if they don’t, you might be left holding the bag and unable to make your investment back, as in a multi-level marketing (MLM) scheme.
The flags for this are similar to other scams, but there’s a strong emphasis on promoting the “success” of a scammer through their Instagram account. They’ll show themselves living a rich lifestyle, for instance driving expensive cars or taking exotic vacations, and market the idea of “being your own boss.” Remember however that Al Capone was his own boss, too.
7. Fake sponsorships
If you’re an influencer yourself, you could be approached by someone promising a sponsorship deal with shady terms. These could be as obvious as wanting your banking info to deliver an initial “bonus,” but another possibility is that you’ll be asked to meet someone far away and cover the associated travel expenses until you can be reimbursed. Generally speaking, any company expecting you to travel should be willing to cover a hotel and airfare upfront.
It might not seem like it on the surface, but this is potentially one of the more serious scams out there. If you’re lured out to a distant place, you could potentially be robbed, kidnapped, sold into sex trafficking, or even murdered. Before agreeing to anything, do your homework on a company and its social media accounts to make sure they’re honest with a verifiable track record.
8. Fake jobs
When you’re unemployed, you can potentially become desperate for a new job to pay the bills. There can be real openings shared via Instagram, but if someone asks you to share private info like your bank account or Social Security number without an onboarding process including an interview and a contract, that’s a scam.
You can usually avoid job scams by hunting on career-focused sites first, such as LinkedIn or Indeed. No matter what, any employer that promises a lot of money for little effort or experience is usually a scammer, or at least trying to conceal a serious downside.
9. Romance and prostitution scams
A lot of male Instagram users, at least, have been approached by strangers promising paid or no-strings sex. You’re not going to get what you want if you fall for this, but these sorts of scams are usually transparent anyway, thanks to dubious links and other content in a scammer’s profile.
More insidious is the romantic long con. Some scammers will flirt and build up the illusion of an authentic relationship, waiting until the time is right to ask for money. At that point they’ll manufacture an emergency such as a medical condition or visa problem, hoping you’ll be gullible enough to send cash to someone you don’t actually know that intimately.
Long-distance relationships can be a real thing, don’t get us wrong. But Instagram isn’t a dating app, and you should never be too quick to trust someone you’ve never met in person.
10. Astroturfed music promotion
These days, a surprising number of people are bedroom musicians hoping to break out. If that’s why you’re on Instagram, you could end up targeted by scammers claiming they can get your music out to a mass audience. This is a form of fake influencer scam, naturally, but distinguished by the fact that if you pay, the fake music promoter may string you along — even supplying statistics showing you how well you’re doing. The truth is that if the figures aren’t completely made up, you may only be getting exposure from bots. Bots don’t listen to Spotify or pay for albums on Bandcamp.
You can avoid this type of scam by refusing unsolicited Instagram pitches (unless you recognize the person) and being skeptical of terms. There are honest, established promoters out there just waiting to work with you if you can demonstrate enough talent, or at least a marketable image.
What to do if you get scammed on Instagram
First, document as much as possible. Get profile info for the suspected scammer, and capture as many related screenshots as possible, since you never know when the person will disappear. That includes any DM, comment, or outside messaging exchanges.
Don’t try to take revenge. Instead, report the scam to Instagram. They probably won’t be able to get any money back, but they can at least ban the scammer and take measures to prevent them from hurting anyone else.
If you’re sure a serious crime has been committed or could threaten someone else, take your situation to the police if possible. We say “if possible” because you’ll definitely need evidence, and the police need jurisdiction. There’s not much police in Louisiana can do if a scammer is based in, say, China or Lithuania.
You may not be able to tell if they’re playing the long con, but if they’re a stranger, aggressive about promoting something, and immediately want you to tap a link or share sensitive info, that’s an easy call.
Criminals are unlikely to (successfully) hack into Meta’s servers, but anything you share on your public profile can potentially be used against you, and phishing scams might trick you into sharing details like your Instagram login or your bank account, if you fall for them.
Usually, no. You need personally identifiable information like a phone number or email address, and of course, a scammer’s not about to share anything real. There might be some telltale signs of a scammer’s nationality though, and if a scam is widespread enough, it might be known to authorities and/or the news media.