Bram and Manon were living the dream: the couple were travelling the world together, staying in fancy hotels, collaborating with brands, and earning a living through their Instagram account, which had amassed 50,000 followers. Then, on one Christmas Eve, they opened an email that looked to be from a big brand, offering a sponsorship. The next thing they know, they'd been locked out of their account and were being held to ransom. Keep reading to learn how exactly it happened and their experience trying to retrieve their account.
The start of Flip Flop Wanderers
“We started our Instagram and blog back in 2016 when we went on our second world trip. Manon has always been into photography and during this trip she started to learn a bit more about photography and editing. People really liked following our adventures and our audience started to grow towards a point that we realized that we could even make money with it while we traveled the world.”
Making money through Instagram
“After 2 years of traveling our Instagram page had grown to over 50.000 followers and it went really well. We focus on couple travels and monetized our content by promoting brands, products, hotels, activities and such.
We were also close to launching our first Lightroom presets (advanced photo filters) when we were doing a housesit in Vietnam, and we suddenly received an email from someone who said he had hacked our Instagram and asked for a ransom.”
From hobby to full time job
“At the time we got hacked, Instagram was our only source of income and a full time job (or more, since we were working on it day and night!). For us, Flip Flop Wanderers is a social media profile which became our business too.”
Instagram hacked: How it happened
“We were staying in Vietnam on Christmas eve in 2018, when we received an email from a (seemingly) big clothing brand offering a sponsorship opportunity. They even included links to an Instagram page they claimed was theirs.
We don’t normally click links, but we wanted to have a look. Since we did this on our laptop, Instagram - or at least what looked like Instagram - asked us for our password. But the Instagram login wasn’t from Instagram, it was a fake website created by the hacker. As soon as we tried to login, they got our password and locked us out. All it took was a quick lapse of concentration.
"The Instagram login wasn’t from Instagram, it was a fake website created by the hacker. As soon as we tried to login, they got our password and locked us out. All it took was a quick lapse of concentration."
We suddenly received an email from someone who claimed to have hacked our account and wanted us to pay to get it back. We thought this email was a phishing email so we opened Instagram on our phone - and we really freaked out when it said we were logged out because our password changed.
We tried to recover the page, but the hackers had already changed the email address so they received the email about our attempt to recover our account, so they also knew immediately that we knew we got hacked and they sent us a time limit to pay a ransom or they would delete everything. They also changed the handle and turned the page offline so we couldn’t recover it via the automated service from the Instagram help desk”.
Losing a business as well as memories
“We were devastated. Instagram was our full time business, we had built a huge active community, we had several collaborations with brands and it was our only source of income - and suddenly it was all gone. If we couldn’t get it back, we had to end our world trip because we didn’t have a lot of savings and we were really relying on Instagram.
But all the photos and memories we posted on our Instagram was way more than just income. It was a kind of diary which we shared with a lot of online friends. We really grew a bond with many people within our community and suddenly it was all gone. The mental impact was terrible. We didn’t sleep much and were going nuts.”
"We were devastated. Instagram was our full time business, we had built a huge active community, we had several collaborations with brands and it was our only source of income - and suddenly it was all gone."
Trying to retrieve the hacked Instagram account
“We first tried several ways within the Instagram help desk, but nothing worked. It was all automated processes, and we couldn’t get hold of a real person to help us. We created a new account with our handle, to prevent someone else taking our name while we were hacked (later we learned we should not have done this). There was no way to get it back with the support Instagram offers.”
You might be interested in: 6 ways hackers steal Instagram accounts
Paying the hackers a Bitcoin ransom
“With the new account we reached out to some other influencers within our community to see if they could help find a solution. We knew another couple who got hacked before and asked them for tips. They said that they paid the amount and got their account back, and since the hackers were really pressing us with paying in time we decided to pay them the $215 in Bitcoin they were asking for. They said we would give it back in 15 minutes, but they didn’t give it back. They somehow still kept replying to our emails saying they were trying to give it back but it didn’t work.”
"We decided to pay them the $215 in Bitcoin they were asking for. They said we would get it back in 15 minutes, but they didn’t give it back."
Security advice for other Instagram creators
“NEVER click links without checking them first! Always check if the email address is real and use common sense. When an offer is too good to be true, it’s often a scam so be alert! And set up your 2 factor authentication!”