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Instagram phishing: How it works and how to protect yourself

Instagram phishing attacks are a growing problem due to the sheer popularity of this social media network. You can even find openly shared code for pages dedicated to the practice on Github, which just goes to show how problematic the threat is. Every person with an active Instagram account should learn what Instagram phishing is, which is what we aim to cover in this article. We’ll try to explain how this type of phishing works, how to recognize and avoid it, and what to do if you’ve been phished.

Instagram phishing: How it works and how to protect yourself

What is an Instagram phishing scam?

To understand what Instagram phishing is, we need to understand what phishing is first. In this sort of scam, the hacker exploits fundamental aspects of human nature, like fear or curiosity, to access private information and online accounts.

Therefore, a phishing attack is the direct opposite of a brute force attack – the scammer only needs to impersonate an individual or company and urge you to act based on their instructions.

Phishing is one of the most common Instagram scams. Typically, a cybercriminal impersonates someone you know or a company whose services you use. They’ll send you a DM and try to get you to click a link, which will direct you to a page asking for sensitive information or installing malware on your phone.

This is only a broad example, and many hackers are capable of going further by using more complex attacks like clone phishing.

Whatever the case, the end goal is the same — to steal users’ sensitive information and monetize it. More specifically, they might want your bank info so they can steal your funds. Alternatively, they’re after your Instagram account because it has a lot of followers, and they want to use it for advertising.

How can hackers get hold of your account?

Hackers can use plenty of methods to get control of your Instagram account. Even if you’re generally thoughtful about your personal information online and believe you can easily recognize scams, you need to change your mindset.

Instagram phishing scams can be very convoluted and persuasive, and everyone can become a victim, no matter how knowledgeable they are about cyberattacks.

A hacker might catch you off guard, or they could impersonate a company so convincingly that you won’t even think to look for the small details. You might not even know that it happened. You’ll just go about your business, and when you return to Instagram, you’ll realize that your account is locked. After a few tries at regaining access, you’ll look online to understand what went wrong, and after a while, you’ll realize that your Instagram was hacked.

For example, scammers frequently try to impersonate Instagram itself or one of the platform’s support agents.

They could send an email from an address that seems official, copying the exact structure and design of a “Your Instagram password has been changed” email, urging you to reset your password. There might not be anything suspicious about this Instagram security email, and all it takes is to click the link provided in it.

These messages can get even more convincing by:

  • Starting the email with your exact handle.
  • Adding the blue badge sign.
  • Using the same font and font size as Instagram.
  • Incorporating Instagram and Facebook logos.
  • Making a proper footer like those in official Instagram emails.

A good example is a phishing scam that started in 2022 with emails using these elements. Users were informed that their accounts had been reviewed and were eligible for verification. A link led them to a fake Instagram login page where they had to share their Instagram credentials, which was all it took.

Even though Instagram doesn’t invite people to get the blue badge (unless they are major celebrities), people fell for this scam because it made them feel special.

Other than impersonating Instagram, cybercriminals might create posts with tempting promotional offers and wait for users to click links, or they’d send these offers through direct messages. The links would take you to a fake website the scammer controls, and they might install malware or misuse your personal information. The promotional offer could be a free iPhone or a product with a significantly lowered price. It might even be a giveaway from a fake brand account.

How to recognize Instagram phishing attacks

The first step in protecting your data and online account from online scams is to learn how to spot them. Since phishing Instagram scams rely primarily on human error, you should minimize your chances of falling victim to one chance of making one. Here are the common signs that point to a phishing attack message:

  • Grammar mistakes — Most social media phishing messages contain grammatical errors that are easy to spot when you look at the content more closely.
  • Shortened URLs — You shouldn’t click any URLs made with an online URL shortener like TinyURL or Bitly unless you know for sure that they aren’t malicious and they’re sending you a shortened link for a reason.
  • Personal requests — Instagram scammers often ask for personal information, something that Instagram or other companies never do.
  • Sense of urgency in the message — A typical Instagram phishing email often urges you to act.
  • Banking information inquiries — This doesn’t happen often with fraudulent messages on Instagram, but some scammers will ask for bank account info. Never share it under any circumstances.
  • Suspicious links or attachments — If a link or attachment looks suspicious, it’s likely a scam.
  • Inconsistencies in the email address — Pay attention to the email address. Instagram will only contact you about account security via email and through official email addresses, including @mail.instagram.com, @support.instagram.com, @facebookmail.com, @support.facebook.com, and @metamail.com.
  • Mismatched “mailed by” and “signed-by” points — These are found in the drop-down menu of an email, located beneath the sender’s email and next to the “to me” sign.

What to do if you have been phished

If you were a part of this type of Instagram scam, you must act quickly. Here are a few things you can do if you can still log in to your account:

  • Change your login credentials immediately.
  • Ensure the hacker hasn’t tampered with your email and phone number within your Instagram account settings.
  • Check the Accounts Center of your Instagram or Facebook account. It will show all accounts connected to Meta platforms. If you don’t recognize one, you should remove it.

If you can’t log in, see how you can get your account back.

Additionally, always report strange emails, even if a cybercriminal hasn’t successfully phished you. You can send that info to phish@instagram.com.

How to avoid being phished on Instagram

Here are a few tips that should assist you in preventing successful phishing attempts on Instagram:

  • Enable two-factor authentication (2FA). If it’s not active, turn it on and use a recommended app like Google Authenticator. 2FA is an added security layer that will protect your account if a hacker gets a hold of your password.
  • Use a strong password for your account. Even with 2FA, you shouldn’t have a weak password. You can use NordPass to create a strong password and autofill it.
  • Don’t click suspicious links. This is the number one rule you should remember, as most phishing attempts rely on an Instagram user clicking a link.
  • Learn to inspect URLs to verify their legitimacy. Always read the link carefully by hovering over it with your mouse or long-pressing it with your finger if you’re on your phone before entering the page. If you’re going to log in to your account, make sure the page is part of the official Instagram.com domain. In the case of a shortened URL, never click it, as already mentioned.
  • Inspect the email’s sender to ensure it’s from an official source. If you get an email from Instagram, ensure it’s from @mail.instagram.com or its other official email addresses.
  • Don’t trust DMs from Instagram. Instagram would never send you a DM unless it’s related to your account’s security, nor most other businesses unless you DMed them first.
  • Report every phishing email you run into, just as we’ve explained before. This can help others to avoid falling for the same attempts.
  • Get a VPN service like NordVPN with its Threat Protection product, which will safeguard you by blocking malicious websites and malware.
  • Secure your email. Ensure your email account is safe. If a hacker can get into it, they can take over your Instagram account, too.
  • Don’t use bots. If you’re interested in using auto-follow services or bots, don’t. They have much access to your sensitive data, and there’s always a chance they are made by malicious parties.

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