New Social Media, Same Old Scams

It was only a matter of time before scammers started taking advantage of Instagram, the photo sharing smartphone app. Instagram is so new that many legitimate business don’t yet have an account, and scammers are more than happy to fill their absence.

How the Scam Works:

You are on Instagram, and you spot an account from an established business. The business is trying to get more followers by giving away a prize.

You’ve seen this on Facebook before, so you follow the account. The weird thing is that the reward seems way too good to be true. In the example at left, the “Delta” account is offering free round trip tickets for 50,000 people.

Soon after following the “business,” you start getting messages asking you to click on a suspicious link or share personal information. Don’t do it! The account is a scam.

This scam has numerous forms and spans many industries. Scammers have impersonated everything from airlines to big-box retailers to luxury fashion brands. With many businesses not yet on Instagram, it’s easier for scammers to claim to be the real deal.

Tips to Spot an Instagram Scam:

It can be tough to tell a real account from a fraud, so here are some tips:

1. The account contains words like “Giveways” or “Free” in its name: The real business may already own its name on Instagram, so scammers will create a fake account supposedly dedicated to giveaways or freebies.

2. Be wary of shortened URLs: Many scam accounts will disguise a website by using a URL shortening service, such as bit.ly. Real organizations use these too, so verify the account before clicking a shortened link.

3. The account has no photos or uses only stock photos. Instagram is for sharing photos, so not having any real photos is a big giveaway.

4. They promise something for free: This is another area where real businesses and scams can overlap. Be wary if the reward for following seems too good to be true. A real business may offer you a chance to win a prize, but scammers will offer that same prize to 1,000 followers.

5. They ask for your password: No legitimate company will ask for your Instagram password. If you do give it out, be sure to change it ASAP.

6. Contact the business: When in doubt, call the business’s customer support line to check the legitimacy of the offer/account.

For instructions on how to flag an Instagram account as spam, please see their instructions here.

For more information about scams, see BBB’s Scam Stopper.

April Lewis-Parks has more than 15 years of experience in the financial sector, she is a certified financial counselor, and a consumer affairs advocate. As the director of education and public relations for Consolidated Credit she is dedicated to generating awareness about personal finance issues and acts as their consumer affairs advocate. As host the of MissMoneyBee.com, she promotes financial education and offers timely and informative personal finance articles to educate the public. April’s promotional efforts can be seen in past issues of the New York Times, Washington Post, Newsday, Consumer Reports, the Business Journals, Money Magazine, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Family Circle, among others. Connect with April on Google+.