Exposing Instagram Scams

Words by
Morgan Wilcock

JUN 12, 2023

Exposing Instagram Scams

Anyone who is active on Instagram has likely received a message from a scammer. Messages like this could be compliments on your page followed by a request to promote some obscure clothing, beauty, or sports brand, or it could be an urgent message requesting help with financial problems. These messages could even appear to be from Instagram itself and ask you to verify your profile or else lose your account forever. 

Typically, once we fall down the rabbit hole of accepting the brand deal that seems too good to be true, offering help to someone in need, or clicking the unsecured link that was sent, we realize too late that we’ve been hustled. 

It’s no secret that internet fraudsters work tirelessly to leech every bit of information, money, and resources they can from their victims. In fact, the FBI reported over 800,000 complaints of internet scams in 2022, with a shocking $8.8 billion in losses.

As kids spend more and more time on social media, they’re becoming the targets of internet rackets. People under 20 lost over $100 million in 2021 to online frauds, and that number can’t account for the millions of kids and young adults who were targeted, but who didn’t give in. 

With more kids on the internet, phishing scams are becoming easier for kids to fall victim to. How can we help our kids recognize and steer clear of internet trolls?

family looking at ipad together

How to Spot a Scam

While scammers may seem ingenious and creative, they typically get sloppy and betray some telltale signs of their nefarious intentions. Most internet sharks are prolific, sending as many lures as possible in a single day in hopes of capturing at least one or two individuals in their schemes. 

When we take a good look at these criminals and analyze their accounts, we can usually disregard their attempts after only a few minutes of investigation.

We can empower our kids by teaching them to recognize a few telltale signs of a scammer.

Followers vs following

In order to create as many fake accounts as possible in a short amount of time, imposters will use Instagram account generators that create authentic-looking accounts. However, because they’re made artificially, these accounts typically have very few followers. 

Fake accounts will usually be following hundreds if not thousands of people and only have a few followers themselves.

Suspicious biography

Biographies on Instagram are short paragraphs that users write about themselves. They are the first thing to greet people visiting a social media account. Most Instagram users will use them to tell a bit about themselves or list their other social media accounts. 

Biographies of fraudulent accounts can vary, so it’s best practice to pay attention to the general feel of a biography. A fake biography will often use lots of emojis instead of text in the bio to evade the Instagram spam account blocker. The bio may list a sale that sounds too good to be true, or it could be completely empty.

Bios can be just a few words, so scanning the rest of the profile will indicate the authenticity of an account.

sketchy instagram bio

Few Posts

Spam accounts will usually only have a few posts, and those posts will likely be perfect, modelesque photos. They could also have posts solely promoting a certain product. 

Using our own social media, we can teach our kids that the easiest way to spot fake accounts is to ask themselves if the account feels like it was made by a real person or by a computer.

Too good to be true

You know what they say: if it sounds too good to be true, that probably means it is too good to be true. Con artists will send messages to Instagram users promising money or work. They may offer a job as a model for a day, or they could extend a screaming deal on an exclusive product. 

When we spot a hoax on our own accounts, we can teach kids that if these unsolicited deals and offers are coming out of nowhere, it’s because there is someone on the other end of the account trying to rip them off. Legitimate business inquiries will never come over social media.

Emotional manipulation

We are emotional beings, and hustlers are quick to prey on our need for human connection. They will often use emotion to get what they want. This can include romance scams wherein a scammer declares their love before asking for money or recounts a sob story and asks for financial support. 

Children are particularly vulnerable to overtures of friendship by disingenuous criminals.

Swindlers will also pose as friends, coworkers, family, or employers to get what they want. When this happens, use it as a teaching moment to explain to your child that if you don’t typically receive messages from the CEO of the company where you work asking for $500 in gift cards by the end of the week, then that’s probably not your CEO.

Excessive urgency

Just like defrauders will use sob stories to get what they want, they’ll also use fear. They may pose as a bank or social media company and insist that an account has to be verified in order to protect it. The scammer will continue to use fear to elicit sensitive account or financial information.

Kids need to know that fraudsters may also make threats in order to get information, claiming that your account will be deleted unless you comply.

According to Instagram, the platform will never directly message a user in order to verify their account. Such can be said of all reputable companies.

In their messages, con artists also won’t likely be careful to proofread. We can teach our kids to recognize that the occasional spelling or grammar mistake is to be expected, even from a real company or user, but scammers’ messages will typically be rife with errors.

As parents and teachers, we can teach kids to never click an insecure link. 

Disreputable accounts will try to redirect their prey away from secure sites and onto unsecured sites. They will often reference another account in their initial message and invite you to “head over” to their other page to take advantage of a deal. 

Scammers will also link websites in their biographies or messages. A telltale way of determining the legitimacy of this website is in the hyperlink: “https://” is written at the beginning of reputable and secure websites, while “http://” is a sign of an unsafe and unsecured website.

Common Instagram Scams

All frauds are not created equal, however, we can teach young people to recognize a few widespread tactics that fraudsters employ.

This is not a comprehensive list, but it does cover a few of the frauds that our kids may come across on Instagram.

Investment scams

With investment schemes, fraudsters will often direct-message their victim and promise that they can “get rich quick.” They’ll typically ask people for a small sum and promise that they can invest that money and make their victim as much as ten times the original amount.

Third-party Payment Apps Commonly Used by Scammers

  • Venmo
  • Cash App
  • Zelle

Hustlers will usually solicit the money via a third-party money app, and once the money is received, the scammer will never be in touch about the investment return. This is usually when the victim realizes that they’ve funded a fake investment.

Kids are susceptible to these schemes because they don’t understand how investing actually works, and that rarely will they be approached directly for an investment opportunity. They can be empowered to ignore messages from individuals that aren’t looking out for their best interest.

Cash App scams on Instagram

Cash App is an app where users can transfer money directly to and from friends. The transactions on Cash App are quick and irreversible, meaning that once money is sent on Cash App, it can’t be taken back. 

Using methods of intimidation, urgency, or even posing as a representative from Cash App, scammers will prey on emotions to have a victim electronically send large sums of money quickly. 

The typical approach is to solicit a large sum of money with the promise to send an even larger amount back. The promised return never comes, and kids are left with nothing.

Kids may not realize that sending money through Cash App means that they will never see those funds again. 

Payment apps typically have fraud rates that can be three to four times higher than debit or credit cards.

–New York Times, October 11, 2020

Is Bitcoin mining a scam on Instagram?

Bitcoin scams are often conducted in an attempt to steal a victim’s existing cryptocurrency, cash, or even personal information. This type of fraud looks similar to the other scams listed here, however, perhaps the easiest way to avoid a Bitcoin scam is not to participate at all. 

Kids can learn that a Bitcoin giveaway or transaction isn’t legitimate because most legitimate cryptocurrency wallets don’t have a presence on Instagram. They won’t be vetting for new customers on social media, and no legitimate investor will reach out over Instagram, especially not with claims that will help you get rich quick.

Imposter scams

Older teens who use a debit card should learn about imposter scams. These scams have been used to lure victims for several years now, and the advent of Instagram has given scammers even more opportunities for deception. 

A favorite among swindlers is to pose as a person or organization in order to get money or secure information. For example, scammers will tailor a message that appears to be from a bank asking their victim for financial information to verify their account. Once they’ve secured this information, fraudsters will then access bank accounts, credit cards, and more, leaving victims vulnerable to identity theft. 

Another tactic is to use celebrity clout to extort people. Scammers will masquerade as celebrities and then promote a massive giveaway on their counterfeit accounts. Hundreds and even thousands of people will flock to the account to get a chance at winning the giveaway, only for it to be a hoax.

Once the fraudster has gained followers and notoriety on the account, they’ll post other giveaway scams or even redirect new followers to outside websites that further steal information. 

When we come across giveaway pages or imposter messages, we may consider sending a screenshot into a family group chat or showing kids directly. When they have a tangible example of what this may look like, they’ll be equipped to resist other schemes.

Romance scams

This fraud is particularly painful because it often involves emotional as well as financial manipulation. The victim meets someone online and pursues a relationship, after which the scammer begins asking for money sympathetically, citing family hardships or difficult times as the reason for their plea. 

Unlike other schemes, once they’ve gotten some money, romance scammers won’t stop leeching money from their victims until they’re found out as a fraudster. Romance schemes can go on for weeks or even months. 

Although teens may ache for connection with someone, it’s important that they understand that not everyone they talk to online has their best interests at heart; all the compliments and sweet-talking in the world don’t make someone fraud-proof.

Shopping scams

If you’re an Instagram user, you’ve likely come across ads for products that are being sold at a ridiculously low price. We may be able to spot that as a scam, but our kids may not be so aware. 

Shopping scams can occur in a few ways. Some may market a product for an incredibly low price and make extreme promises on quality. It’s only after you order the product that you learn that it was not what was promised–if it arrives at all. This can apply to subscription services as well; scammers may promise a year-long subscription at a bargain price, only to never follow through in providing that service.

You also may need to follow the ad to an outside website to purchase. This website may be unsecured and then be used to steal any identifying information that was given during the checkout process. 

Finally, hustlers love to use irreversible payment options like wire transfers or gift cards to get money. They may ask you to send payment via gift cards and then never give the product. 
Kids need to know that excessive pressure from a seller or any deal that sounds too good to be true is likely a scam.

young boy on ipad with hooded figure in the background

I Got Scammed on Instagram. What can I do?

The first step when you think you may have been a victim of Instagram phishing is to block the account of the scammer.

How to report scam on Instagram

There are a few steps to reporting a scam. First, you’ll want to report the account to Instagram directly to have it removed. You’ll do that by clicking the three dots on the top right of the perp’s account and then hitting “Report.” You’ll fill out a short form from there and Instagram will get to work taking the account down. 

Instagram also offers a similar reporting system for posts; you’ll just hit the three dots in the top corner of a post to report it.

How to get money back if scammed on Instagram

As long as your purchase meets purchase guidelines and was conducted on Facebook or Instagram and not through a third-party app, Instagram can refund the transaction. A claim will need to be filed with the seller within 60 days of the transaction. For more information on stipulations, or to file a claim, click here

If your purchase can’t be covered by Instagram, it’s best to contact your bank or credit union and ask if they can reverse the charge. Whether you’ll be able to get money back from your bank will vary depending on your bank and

From there, you can report any scams to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or, depending on the severity of the crime, go straight to the FBI

Scammers are good at what they do, and if you or your child has been scammed, it’s best to avoid shame and focus on supporting and helping one another.

young girl and sister or mom look at an ipad together during the holidays

How to Protect Kids from Scammers

Teaching kids to spot those red flags throughout their online interactions will help them be protected from predators and scammers. Here are a few action items and things to look out for. 

Spotting legitimacy

Young people will most likely not know that if a legitimate company needs to contact us, they will likely do so via email, not over text message or social media. As far as testing the legitimacy of an email, referencing the email domain of the person is a quick and easy way to verify. 

Legitimate organizations are connected to their own unique email domains. For example, if you want to contact Instagram’s support department, you would email support@instagram.com. Another example is support@gabb.com. This is a company domain that is secure and can only lead to and from the organization directly. 

It’s good for our kids to know that anyone who contacts them that is actually from a reputable organization will have a domain that matches the company name. If the domain is something like Gmail or Yahoo, it’s highly likely that the message is not from the company.

Vetting accounts

You can also see if a person is who they say they are by doing a simple Google search of their name. If this is a real person, they will likely have other social media accounts that will verify that. If it’s a fraudster, they’ve likely made a fake name and don’t have any trace on other social media platforms. 

When fraudsters create several Instagram accounts, they aren’t careful to make unique usernames that match the name on their profile. Instead, they’ll have a generic username like user4523, and then connect a fake name to their profile. 

You can also reverse image search the user’s profile picture. Once you search for the photo on Google, you may be able to see whether the photo is a stock image or from a modeling agency.

Protecting sensitive information

It can be very easy for kids to give out sensitive information without making sure that it’s going to a safe destination. We can warn our kids not to input any information on an unsecured website or to share it with strangers over social media. 

To ensure that they aren’t hacked, kids can also enable two-factor authentication on Instagram.

As kids navigate the world of tech, they’ll be faced with new challenges. We can empower them to seek out legitimate opportunities on the internet and ignore those that are too good to be true. Having a kid-safe phone that protects kids from unsolicited contact with fraudsters also helps! The Gabb Phone offers industry-leading spam detection and protection software to keep kids safe from scams.


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