Social media scams are a growing problem in today’s connected society. While scams are more prevalent on Facebook and WhatsApp, Instagram and Twitter aren’t far behind, and victims can lose out financially. The vast majority of people (91%) contacted by a scammer via social media engaged with them, and 53% ultimately lost money, according to a 2019 Stanford Center on Longevity study.
“Instagram money scams have been around since the day the platform was born,” said Robert Siciliano, a security expert at Protect Now LLC. “It’s ultimately a communication platform where people are anonymously posting fraudulent or fake information or contacting unsuspecting users by a variety of means in order to extort them.”
What are Instagram money scams?
Instagram money scams happen when someone creates a fake account (or hacks into an account you’re following) and uses that account to fool you into revealing your personal information or giving them money.
With more than 1 billion active Instagram users, the platform is rife with people who may not be on the lookout for a scam—and social media is increasingly being used as a way for scammers to reach consumers.
It’s so common that Instagram itself offers tips for how users can avoid scams on the site, including a rundown of the types of scams that proliferate there.
What is an example of an Instagram money scam?
Instagram money scams come in various shapes and sizes. Here are some common themes:
- Instagram money flipping scams or false investments: Fake investment scammers approach Instagram users with investing schemes that promise quick riches. “They’ll throw out buzzwords such as ‘bitcoin’ or ‘cryptocurrency’ and even use social media proofs of return of investments from other individuals,” said Kenny Trinh, managing editor of tech review site Netbooknews. “As soon as the victim sends payment though, these scammers will just disappear into thin air, along with your investment.”
- Fake aid profiles: After a natural disaster, scammers will sometimes set up fake profiles that appear to be affiliated with legitimate aid organizations and ask for donations—or even just “likes” and follows that can raise its social clout and ensnare even more victims.
- Lottery scams: You might be alerted that you’ve won a lottery or prize, and that you must submit a small fee in order to receive your money. One woman was contacted by a supposed lottery winner who told her he wanted to share his prize money with her, and that it would be delivered via FedEx. When she was asked to pay $150 in order to receive her package, she got suspicious.
- Loan scams: Scammers will offer Instagram users instant loans for a small advance fee. (Hint: You’ll never get that loan.)
- Romance scams: Scammers pretend to be divorced, widowed or in dire need of help, sending romantic messages to people they don’t know. After earning victims’ trust, they’ll ask for cash.
- Job scams: Scammers might create false job postings in order to collect your personal information or money—you might be asked to pay upfront in order to apply for a job.
I’ve fallen for an Instagram money scam. What should I do?
First and foremost, do your best to stop payment, if you can. Whether you’ve sent the money via PayPal, Venmo or Western Union, contact the issuer and see if you can cancel the transaction. (Unfortunately, this may not be possible.)
Second, call the police. “Sometimes it might require a police report in order to get those funds back,” Siciliano said.
Third, alert the platform. Instagram requests that consumers report posts or profiles being used for abuse or spam.
How can I protect myself from online scams?
Avoiding online scams is, to a certain extent, about using common sense. Here are some strategies:
- Don’t accept money requests from people you don’t know. If you’ve never met them in real life and you don’t have a relationship with them, don’t send them payment in any form.
- Don’t be pressured. If a contact is putting time pressure on a transaction—they need you to send money right away, for instance—pump the brakes.
- Don’t share your information. Keep your full name, address, phone number, Social Security number, credit card number, usernames and passwords to yourself unless you’ve, for example, called your bank directly. There is no reason to share that information with the stranger who messaged you on Instagram.
- Be cautious. If a stranger has contacted you on social media and is trying to create a close or romantic relationship, be alert. If they start asking you for money and you’ve never met in person, cut off all contact.
- Research accounts. If you’re looking to give to an online aid effort after a disaster, start with the big players like the Red Cross, or check out social media “aid organizations” via Charity Navigator to make sure they’re legit.
- Double check. If your communications with someone seem suspicious, use a username search services to try and research the person who’s contacting you.
Social media can be a helpful way to keep in touch with friends and family and stay connected in general. By being cautious about your online connections and transactions, you can stay safe (and keep all your money in your bank account).