Identifying a social media scammer is not as easy as it may look. It is commonplace for Instagram users to encounter the annoyance of receiving a few unsolicited messages in their DMs. Those victims might have initially dismissed these messages, only to later realise that they were fortunate not to have fallen for the lies of these influencers.

At the close of 2023, several scams came to light. One specific scam takes the top prize: “I need your help, I forgot my password!” Instagram, as one of the world’s leading social media platforms, boasts 1.4 billion profiles. This widespread usage means that it comes with a lot of safety and security protocols. Unfortunately, these protocols are not always airtight – allowing for for the occasional slip. Some common signs to look for when unsure if you are being scammed include offers that seem “too good to be true”. Scammers often entice individuals with free giveaways, holidays, and extravagant prizes for little to no money. Additionally, be wary of overly aggressive sales tactics, such as limited-time offers and threats. 

Scammers typically operate from countries where English may not be their first, or even second, language. Statistics show that a significant number of scammers operate from Nigeria. (However, keep in mind that scams can be run from anywhere in the world.). Another red flag to watch out for is that scammers tend to have poor language and grammar skills. Many scammers rely on apps like Google Translate to directly translate their dialogue from a foreign language. This is quite easy to detect, as their sentence construction would be weak and not make sense.  

Along with this, look out for the absence of verification. This does not necessarily mean the elitist “blue tick”.Legitimate social media influencers tend to have some form of website or company to authenticate their identity and brand. Scammers sometimes use fake brands, photos, and profiles to attract attention and followers. Alongside this comes the lack of legitimate followers. These followers usually have minimal posts on their profile, an empty bio and very pixelated photos. Another thing to be aware of is the amount of people this “influencer” is following. If they have more than 10K followers but only follow two or three people, chances are their profile is fake and solely exists on this platform to wreak havoc. 

The most effective way to manage these scammers is to report their posts and accounts to Instagram through the social media security platform. To report a post, click the three dots above the post, select “report” and follow the on-screen steps. Instagram usually responds to these reports within 24 hours and gives you a heads-up on how they are handling the situation. Last, but not least, keep your pins, passwords, and personal information safe! Do not share this information with anyone, let alone a random influencer who just wants to help themselves to a piece of your hard-earned money. According to an article on EarthWeb, social media accounts for around 12% of all cases where a victim clicks on phishing URLs. About 25% of all social media scams are classified as romance scams, and in 2022, organisations worldwide reported a total loss of $1.5 billion due to influencer scams. 

Social media platforms are actively being used to target victims through a range of scams including those mentioned above. Scammers have a lot of room to manoeuvre, thanks to the rising popularity of social media, and the anonymity and ease of access that these platforms offer. Awareness is key!

Marike Muller
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