How to Spot a Fake Instagram Account
Beware of fake Instagram accounts
Instagram may be full of pretty pictures, but it has a dark underbelly. While you’re scrolling past photos of stunning homes, smiling families and cool products, scammers are lurking in the shadows and looking for their next victim. Yes, they might try to hack your Instagram account, but they also have other Instagram scams at their disposal. So if you get a strange DM from a “friend” in need or an overly interested celebrity, your Spidey senses should start tingling because in both cases, you’ve probably encountered scammers on fake Instagram accounts.
“Fake Instagram accounts continue to be on the rise and are affecting the everyday consumer,” says Caroline Wong, a security expert and Cobalt’s chief strategy officer. They increasingly trick people into buying fake products, sending money for fake causes and more, and these online scams are incredibly convincing.
What are the different types of fake Instagram accounts?
There are two types of popular fake Instagram accounts: catfish accounts and bot accounts. With catfishing, a scammer pretends to be someone they’re not. Bot accounts are exactly what they sound like—accounts run by AI programs (aka bots), kind of like mini armies working on behalf of the scammer.
While they each have some distinctive red flags, the motivations of the scammers who run them tend to be similar: to trick you into sending money or to get your personal details, which will allow them to steal your identity and/or hack your financial accounts. Knowing how to spot these fakers can prevent you from getting hacked on Instagram or otherwise scammed.
The username doesn’t match
One of the best ways to spot a fake celebrity profile? Take a closer look at the account’s username. Typically, the username will be the name of the person or a profile name they are known to use on multiple platforms. Check what the person is using on other platforms to make sure the username makes sense. For example, Ryan Reynolds uses VancityReynolds across all of his social accounts. So, if you came across a Ryan Reynolds account and the account name was james1234, that would be a sure sign it was a fake. This tip can help you spot LinkedIn scams as well.
It’s important to note, however, that some Instagram users have started making backup accounts with the word backup at the end of their username. They do this in case their main account gets banned, they get put in Instagram jail or their account is accidentally deleted. If you see an account like this, it’s not an automatic sign the account is fake—it’s just a sign that it’s not the main account.
Next, find out how to tell if someone screenshots your Instagram story.
The photos are suspect
Photos are a big clue. For starters, see if the person in the profile photo also appears in the account’s other photos. If they are different, that could be a sign of a fake Instagram account. You would think a scammer would be smarter than this, but many times they’re not. They often make accounts like this quickly, scam someone and then delete the entire account, so there’s little evidence it ever existed.
Additionally, you should be wary of profiles sporting stock photos, according to Wong. Learn how to do a reverse image search on your iPhone to find out if the photo originated on a stock site.
Also check to see if any of the account’s photos are tagged. Most people will tag friends or family in group shots when the account is real. If they don’t, it could be a red flag.
The account has too few or too many followers
OK, many of us don’t have a ton of Instagram followers, but most of us have some. An account with only a few followers is a red flag, says Wong. An even bigger flag is if the account is new and already follows thousands of people. Some of the smarter scammers buy fake Instagram followers to beef up their count to look more legit. So even if the number looks good, you still need to be wary. Pro tip: If you really can’t tell, use inBeat’s fake follower tool to see if an account’s followers are real or bots.
The bio feels off
If a bio gives you a spammy vibe, it’s probably a fake account (and that’s true on Facebook too). Some things to look for include instructions to like a different account, listing just emojis in the bio or not having anything in the bio at all. Wong also says generic bios are a big sign of fake Instagram accounts. Here are a few examples that should give you pause:
- Click link in bio to learn how to make six figures a week.
- This profile is for following. Follow our main profile here: tinylink129232.com
- Autumn is amazing.
A celebrity slides into your DMs
Scam artists often use duped celebrity accounts to fool people. And we’re sorry to break the news to you, but that celeb who’s reached out to you in your DMs is probably a scammer—especially if they say they’ve lost their wallet and need to borrow some money. No matter how real it may look, celebrities almost never contact people through direct messages on Instagram. Even if they did contact you, they certainly wouldn’t be asking for money and you’re most likely being targeted for an Instagram scam.
Spotting this one is pretty easy. Always look to see if the celebrity account is verified before responding. No verification, no celebrity. Here are more ways to identify a scammer.
The faker pretends to be a friend
Sometimes, the scammer uses the opposite tactic and tries to impersonate someone you know. “The first step in identifying a fake Instagram account is to verify the source of information and [the person’s] identity,” says Wong. “Ask yourself: Did a close family member or friend recently join the platform or make a new account? Or is this a poser? If you’re unsure, reach out via a separate channel to confirm.”
Wong says that social engineering—i.e., phishing links and requests from close family and friends—is a common tactic used by cybercriminals to lower your defenses and exploit your personal information. It’s always important to conduct a thorough evaluation of the account and do your due diligence before sharing personal details. “If you receive a direct-message request from anyone requesting your personal or financial information, pick up the phone or send an email to the source to confirm,” advises Wong.
The messages are aggressive
You’ve probably experienced this one. The faker sends you a DM saying they want to get to know you better right now, under the guise of becoming a friend or romantic partner. They may also shower you with over-the-top compliments. Often, scammers on these profiles declare that you are the best-looking person in the world and say they love you. These tactics are meant to seem endearing, and sometimes these romance scams work when the DMs land in the inbox of someone who is lonely and feeling particularly vulnerable.
The person makes an urgent request
“Another key aspect to look out for in potential fraudulent accounts or direct messages is the sense of urgency,” says Wong. “Many times, scammers take advantage of breaking news, such as a natural disaster, by posing as a donation or support site. [They may also say they’re] a shopping website that needs personal info and money for shipping purposes.”
They may even pretend to be someone you know and claim that they’re in jail and need bail or they’re stuck on the side of the road and need gas money. Don’t give in to the urgency. Check to make sure the account is real before you take action, and if the person might be someone you know, reach out to them via text.
How to report a fake Instagram account
Reporting fake Instagram accounts is an important way to fight back against scammers—and not just to protect yourself from financial theft and identity theft but also to help others. First, report the account to Instagram:
- Go to the profile.
- Tap on the menu icon.
- Tap Report.
- Tap Report Account.
- Follow the instructions on the screen, and choose “It’s Pretending to Be Someone Else.” (Unfortunately, this is the best option, even though it doesn’t fit every fake account scenario.)
- Select who the account is impersonating.
- Tap Submit Report.
You can also report individual posts:
- Tap the menu icon on one of the posts.
- Tap Report.
- Choose Intellectual Property Violation if it is a photo stolen from another account. For other posts, select Scam or Fraud.
What to do if you’ve been scammed on Instagram
If the scammer steals money from you or if you feel like they may be trying to steal money or gain personal information, contact your local police department. Cybercrime laws vary from state to state, so see what applies to your area and specific situation. You can also file a report with the FBI.
If your identity was stolen, contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) online at IdentityTheft.gov or by phone at 1-877-438-4338. And don’t wait, because the more time that scammers have your information, the more damage they can do.
Now that you know how to spot fake Instagram accounts, find out which Facebook Marketplace scams to watch out for.
Caroline Wong, security expert and chief strategy officer at Cobalt