Top Instagram Scams of 2021 and How to Avoid Them

Suspicious man on the computer stealing data from a woman on the computer
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Summary: Top Instagram Scams of 2021 and How to Avoid Them

Instagram is one of the world’s most popular social media channels. Cybercriminals know this and have several tricks up their sleeves to infiltrate your account and steal your personal information. These include:

  • Phishing Emails — Contain suspicious links that take you to bogus websites where you are prompted to enter your Instagram login credentials or credit card information
  • Fake Investment Offers — Promise you a great return for just a small investment
  • Bogus Brand Collaboration Requests — Offer to pay you for promoting their products then steal your financial data when you provide them
  • Selling Followers and Likes — Ask you to pay a nominal fee, but your financial data gets stolen when you send financial details
  • Giveaways — Entice you to try and win a prize, but then you’ll be asked to provide personal information or payment to claim your winnings
  • Nonexistent Job Offers — Seek personal information from you, like your home address, driver’s license info, and other data as part of the ‘hiring’ process
  • Imposter Brand Accounts — Sell counterfeit goods (or never deliver the promised goods at all) under the guise of a popular brand

Read on for tips to avoid these common tactics and the steps to take if you become a victim of an Instagram scam.

More than one billion people use Instagram each month, making it the fourth most popular social media channel in the world. This global success makes it a very attractive target for cybercriminals.

Using a variety of strategies, fraudsters leverage the interactive power of Instagram to rip people off in a number of clever ways. They steal not just money but account access, too.

You can avoid becoming a victim of these Instagram scams. It starts by knowing what to look for.

Most Common Instagram Scams Today

There are countless ways cybercriminals use social media to steal money from unsuspecting users, but there are a few tried-and-true strategies they love. Knowing what these tactics are will keep you from falling for the most common Instagram scams.

Infographic listing the most common Instagram scams

Phishing scams

Phishing emails come in many forms, but the intent is always the same — to get you to click on a sketchy link to a spoofed website. Once there, you are asked to provide personal information like login credentials or credit card data.

Once the scammer has your login credentials, they can get into your Instagram account, change your password, and lock you out. They then pose as you to con your friends, family, and other Instagram connections. If you pass along your bank or credit card information, they can also withdraw money, accrue charges, and wreak havoc on your financial life.

But it isn’t just phishing emails you have to worry about on Instagram. More and more often, cybercriminals are using Instagram’s direct messaging feature to send fraudulent links to unsuspecting users.

Fake investments

Instagram is the ideal place to perpetuate scams of this sort. Scammers often pose as self-made millionaires, posting photos of themselves in expensive clothes, posing in front of mansions and luxury cars to perpetuate an image of success. They are living the good life and want you to show you how you can, too — for just a small investment.

Depending on the complexity of their deception, they may even have fake websites that show how your investment is performing, which encourage you to keep sending more and more of your hard-earned cash.

Other times, they take your initial investment and you never hear from them again. Either way, the only secret to their success is that they are making their money by stealing from Instagram users who believe the hype. Often times, catfishing is quite popular on Instagram, so it’s definitely something you need to look out for.

Bogus brand collaboration requests

Influencers (and wannabe influencers) on Instagram are nothing new. They’re all trying to cash in by amassing followers and using their popularity to seal deals with brands. The goal? To get free stuff and get paid for promoting things to their followers.

Screenshot of a bogus brand collaboration request

Unfortunately for influencers, cybercriminals know how to entice them — with the lure of a lucrative collaboration. Scammers often reach out to influencers with promises of deals.

If the influencer falls for the offer, they provide bank details to the scammer so they can receive their payment. Alternatively, they pay the fees associated with the collaboration (as seen in the screenshot above).

Instead of a big payday or valuable product, however, all the influencer gets is a scam — and a drained bank account.

Selling followers and likes

Influencers become influencers because they can offer a large Instagram following to potential advertisers. But not every follower on an influencer’s page is the real deal. Oftentimes, influencers will purchase likes and follows to boost their numbers.

Cybercriminals know this and often set up fake accounts that purport to sell likes and follows. If an influencer falls for these fake offers, they provide financial information to pay for the like or follow packages, giving a scammer all the information they need to reap their own payday.

Giveaways

There are plenty of legitimate giveaways happening on Instagram every day. However, sprinkled among them are fake prizes being offered by cybercriminals. Often, to qualify for a giveaway, you just have to like and share a post. Other times, the claim is that the first X number of respondents will win something.

Whatever the approach, the goal is to get an Instagram user to provide personal information, log in to a bogus site, or send a small payment (often to cover “shipping and handling”) to claim the prize.

Nonexistent job offers

Who doesn’t like the idea of a dream job falling into their lap? Scammers know this and therefore prey on that emotion to extract personal information from you.

They’ll ask for the typical information you need to provide when starting a new job. This can include your home address, social security number, passport data, and even driver’s license information.

Unfortunately for you, there is no job — just the headache of identity theft waiting down the road.

Imposter brand accounts

Instagram shopping grows more popular by the day. Unfortunately, scammers like to pose as legitimate brands and lure you into buying fake goods.

Other times, they just want to gather your payment information, so they can make fraudulent charges or drain your bank account.

In these cases, the scammers aren’t the brand they claim to be. Rather, they prey on your love for a brand and try to trick you into believing their “too good to be true” offers.

How to Avoid Scams on Instagram

Infographic listing ways in which you can avoid scams on Instagram

Recognizing the most common scams on Instagram is the first step in avoiding them.

There are other things you can also do to further protect yourself from falling victim to a cybercriminal on Instagram.

1. Make your account private

Your Instagram is set to “public” by default, allowing anyone to see your posts. To protect your privacy, set your account status to “private.” Then, only followers you approve can see your posts, make comments, find your posts via search, and send you direct messages.

Here’s how to make your Instagram account private.

  1. Open the Instagram app.
  2. Go to your homepage.
  3. Tap on the hamburger menu (the three horizontal lines) in the upper right corner.
  4. Choose Settings > Privacy.
  5. Toggle Private Account to ON.

It is important to note that Instagram business accounts cannot be set to private.

Screenshot of Instagram privacy settings

2. Use strong passwords

There are a few rules regarding passwords that apply to all your online accounts: never use the same password on more than one account; always use a complex password rather than something easy to figure out; and don’t store your password list in an easily discoverable place.

To simplify your life, one good tool to use is a password manager. Whether it is the password manager built into your favorite browser or a third-party app, password managers help you create complicated, unique passwords and store them in a secure location.

3. Enable two-factor authentication

One of the best ways to protect your Instagram account from unwanted access is to enable two-factor authentication. When this security feature is turned on, it will take more than just knowing your login credentials to gain access to your account.

When someone tries to log in from an unrecognized device, they will need to provide a unique authentication code. This code is sent via an authenticator app on your smartphone.

To set up two-factor authentication on Instagram, do the following:

  1. Open the Instagram app.
  2. Go to your homepage.
  3. Tap on the hamburger menu (the three horizontal lines) in the upper right corner.
  4. Then choose Settings > Security > Two-Factor Authentication.
  5. Select Get Started.
  6. Choose your security method, either Authentication App or Text Message.

Follow the rest of the prompts to complete the setup.

Screenshot of Instagram two factor authorization settings

If you receive an unsolicited email purporting to be from Instagram, make sure it is legitimate before you do anything else to avoid falling for a scammer’s strategies.

It is easy to verify legitimate emails from Instagram. Here’s how.

  1. Open the Instagram app.
  2. Go to your homepage.
  3. Tap on the hamburger menu (the three horizontal lines) in the upper right corner.
  4. Then choose Settings > Security > Emails From Instagram.

Screenshot of emails from Instagram feature

Any legitimate emails sent to you from Instagram will appear in either the “Security” or “Other” tab. If the email you received is listed in one of these places, you can be confident it is the real deal.

5. Only buy from verified profiles

Before you buy anything on Instagram, check to make sure the account you’re dealing with is verified. All legitimate brands on Instagram will take the time to complete this step.

You can easily do this by looking for the blue circle with a checkmark next to the account name.

Screenshot of Roxy Instagram page

Make sure you are only engaging with verified Instagram accounts.

6. Monitor your login activity

Get in the habit of periodically checking your current Instagram logins. This will help you thwart unwanted account access before significant damage is done.

Check your login activity here:

  1. Open the Instagram app.
  2. Go to your homepage.
  3. Tap on the hamburger menu (the three horizontal lines) in the upper right corner.
  4. Then choose Settings > Security > Login Activity.

Screenshot of Instagram login activity

All current logins are displayed here. If you see a suspicious location, disconnect it by tapping “Log Out.”

7. Keep track of third-party apps

Over time, you have likely connected a number of third-party applications to your Instagram account. You should regularly review these applications to ensure no suspicious connections have been made.

Here’s how to review third-party applications.

  1. Open the Instagram app.
  2. Go to your homepage.
  3. Tap on the hamburger menu (the three horizontal lines) in the upper right corner.
  4. Then choose Settings > Security > Apps and Websites.

Screenshot of Instagram third party apps settings

You’ll see a list of all active, expired, and removed third-party applications here. Delete any you do not recognize or no longer use.

8. Don’t respond to unsolicited direct messages

If your Instagram account is set to public, anyone can direct message (DM) you. This is an open invitation for scammers to easily reach you.

If you don’t want to make your account private, then be vigilant when engaging with unsolicited DMs from people you do not know or recognize.

If you suspect a DM to be a scam, you should report the account to Instagram and block the account. Once you block the account, the message will automatically disappear.

9. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is

There’s a reason this saying has been around forever. It usually (always?!) rings true. If you receive an incredible offer from somebody you don’t know, chances are it is a cybercriminal trying to scam you.

Heed this sage advice, and ignore the request. It will save you headaches and hassles later on.

What to Do If You Get Scammed on Instagram

Infographic listing steps you can take if you've been scammed

Even the most vigilant Instagram user might fall victim to a very clever Instagram scam. If you think you’ve been scammed on the ‘Gram, there are a number of things you should do.

Time is of the essence since a scammer can gain control of your online assets and do any of the following:

  • Drain your financial accounts
  • Rack up credit card charges
  • Infect your device and spread malware to friends and family
  • Ruin your credit
  • Steal your identity

The key is to act quickly, so you can minimize the damage.

Report the scam to Instagram

Instagram, and its parent company Facebook, has been dealing with scammers on their platforms for years. As such, Instagram makes it easy to report suspicious activity to them.

Each page Instagram displays has a Report option. Just click on it and follow the instructions.

Monitor your financial accounts

It is a good general practice to regularly monitor all your financial accounts. Oftentimes, scammers with access to your accounts will initiate a series of smaller transactions to test the waters before they move on to bigger, higher-value charges.

By keeping a close eye on your bank account, PayPal account, credit cards, and the like, you can identify the little problems and put a stop to things fast.

Change your password

If you think your Instagram account has been breached, then changing your Instagram password should be your first move. But there are other accounts that might be compromised, too, especially if you re-use the same password on multiple websites.

As a general rule, anytime you tangle with a cybercriminal, you should immediately change your passwords on all sensitive accounts, including your bank and credit card companies.

Install antivirus software on your devices

One strategy scammers like to use is accessing your devices and installing malware on them. Anytime you click on a suspicious link, you open the door for this to happen.

You can prevent malware infections by installing and running a reputable antivirus program on all your devices. If you’re not sure which antivirus is right for you, check out our article on the top antivirus programs of 2021.

If you want to download one right now, we recommend Kaspersky. Why? Kaspersky is a highly regarded name in cybersecurity, and its antivirus software works on all devices. It also offers real-time protection and a host of other security features.

Visit Kaspersky

Freeze your credit

When a scammer gets their hands on your personal data, they can do all kinds of things that damage your credit. They can open bank accounts under your name; sign up for cell service; take out credit cards; and even obtain lines of credit — all using your identity.

If you think you’ve been compromised, one quick way to stop all of this is to place a freeze on your credit. When a freeze is in place, no new credit can be issued in your name.

If you are in the United States, you can easily do so at each of the three major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. You can take similar action in the UK and many European countries.

Consider an identity theft monitoring service

With identity theft at an all-time high, many people are rightly concerned with the damage that comes with having your identity stolen.

Although no service can prevent identity theft from happening, there are a number of companies that monitor for suspicious use of your data and alert you when they notice something.

One such company is LifeLock. You can read more about what LifeLock does in our LifeLock review. You can also check out their identity theft monitoring services by visiting their website.

Visit LifeLock

Staying Safe from Instagram Scams

Instagram is a fun platform to share pics and stories with friends and family. It is also a place ripe for bad guys to scam you.

Your best defense against Instagram scams is a good offense. Understand the types of scams that are out there, be skeptical of unsolicited emails and direct messages, keep a close eye on your financial accounts, and safeguard your devices and accounts with good online hygiene practices.

These common-sense strategies will help keep you safe on Instagram. If you want to get rid of the app forever, you can also permanently delete your Instagram account.

To read more about social media scams and how to avoid falling victim to them, check out these pieces below:

Top Instagram Scams of 2021 and How to Avoid Them: Frequently Asked Questions

Have more questions? Didn’t find what you were looking for in our article on Instagram scams? Check out our most frequently asked questions section for more information.

If you think a post you see or a direct message you receive on Instagram is a scam, it’s easy to report it. Instagram includes a “Report” feature on every post and message. Simply click on it, follow any additional prompts, and Instagram will do the rest.

Cybercriminals use a variety of methods to scam Instagram users. One of the most popular are phishing emails that try to get you to click on a bogus link and provide personal data on a spoofed Instagram website.

Other ways include bogus brand accounts selling counterfeit goods, giveaways and job offers that solicit personal information from you, and fake investment offers.

All scams have the same goal: to get you to give up your personal information, login credentials, or credit card and bank details — sometimes all three. From there, identity theft and draining your financial accounts are easy.

Phishing emails that contain suspicious links directing you to bogus websites are one of the top Instagram scams around today. There are also a lot of fake Instagram accounts trying to sell you everything from counterfeit goods to fake followers and likes. Scammers even use Instagram to offer fake jobs.

In all cases, the goal is to obtain enough personal information from you to steal your identity, hack your Instagram account, use your credit card, or gain access to your bank account.

Tech journalist
Liz is a professional writer with a special interest in online privacy and cybersecurity. As a US expat who travels and works in diverse locations around the world, keeping up with the latest internet safety best practices remains her priority.