“We will close Instagram accounts for you” - that’s the tagline of one of the numerous Instagram banning services that can be found in the dark corners of the web.
That’s right - the latest scamming trend sweeping through Instagram involves criminals intentionally getting accounts banned - and then extorting money from the account owners to reverse the ban or stop it from happening beforehand.
Keep reading to learn how scammers manage to get innocent Instagram accounts suspended and banned, and what to do if you’re currently being blackmailed.
The rise of Instagram ban services
Criminals have found a way to take advantage of Instagram’s policies against suicide, self-harm, and impersonation to get accounts banned from the platform.
It works like this:
- Scammers own verified, blue tick accounts
- They turn one of their verified accounts into a carbon copy of a victim’s account, uploading the targeted account’s photos and copying its bio
- The scammer then reports the targeted account to Instagram, claiming it is impersonating their verified account
- The targeted account gets banned
There are scammers offering these “Instagram ban” services on the Web. One such service we found states to potential clients that the victim’s account must show a human face in its profile photo, and should have less than 5,000 followers (to ban accounts with more than 5,000 followers, you need to get in touch).
The same service even offers to re-ban accounts for half the price, should they manage to get reactivated. It seems that even criminals worry about customer satisfaction.
Sometimes, the same criminals who’ve been paid to ban an Instagram account will contact the victim beforehand, offering an opportunity to outbid the client - essentially a ransom in order to keep the account. Others will go through with banning an account, then offer a service to the victim to un-ban their account.
You might be interested in: How Instagram accounts get hacked: 6 tactics used by hackers
According to Vice, the extortion for restoring banned accounts sometimes reaches thousands of dollars. One scammer, who goes by the name of "War", told Motherboard his banning-as-a-service has generated over five-figures in under a month.
So who exactly is paying these scammers to target accounts and get them suspended or banned? It’s usually people with personal grudges against the victim, and unfortunately, there is no known method for 100% protecting yourself against such attacks.
So what do you do if you’ve been targeted?
What to do if you're being held to ransom to unban your Instagram
“My Instagram got banned, and now a scammer is forcing me to pay to get my account unbanned” - if you’re searching for this, you’re likely in a tricky situation. Unfortunately, apart from trying your luck with Instagram support and appealing your ban, there is no magic formula for unbanning your Instagram account.
However, if Instagram suspended your account as a result of a bogus, targeted banning campaign by a scammer, there are 3 recommended steps you could take.
1. Report the user
The first thing you should try doing is reporting the scammer’s account and your communication with them to email@example.com. Give as many details as you can, and there’s a chance Instagram support will get back to you. However, don’t hold your breath - as shown in our interviews with hacking victims, Instagram support rarely provides concrete assistance.
2. Make your account private and change your profile picture
If a scammer has contacted you that they’ve been paid to get your account banned, and that they’re willing to not do this if you cough up the money - try making your account private and changing your profile picture to an image that doesn’t show your identity. As we highlighted earlier, Instagram banning services require their victims to display a human face in their profile photo.
At the same time, block the scammer and ensure they’re not following you. If you act swiftly enough, this might succeed in pre-empting their strike.
3. Temporarily disable your account
If you’ve not been banned yet but a scammer has stated their intention to ban your account, another way to thwart their attempts is to disable your account for a week or more. The goal of this would be to make the scammer lose interest and move on to the next target.
Protecting your Instagram account
Unfortunately, hackers and scammers keep finding ways to steal from and extort Instagram creators. In fact, Notch’s data shows an account gets hacked every 10 minutes in the U.S alone. Without meaningful changes from the platform itself and better customer support, these cases will continue happening, with creators left to pick up the pieces.
Here’s an important piece of information though: Instagram started rolling out a support page where users can go to get help with their account, and there have been rumors of people already getting access to customer support. It looks like we’re running in the right direction, but they’re not quite there yet.
"Notch’s data shows an Instagram account gets hacked every 10 minutes in the U.S alone"
Notch launched the world’s first insurance for Instagram accounts to protect creators against the damage of being hacked. Creators all over the U.S are insuring their accounts with Notch to get peace of mind, knowing they'll receive a crucial financial safety net if they get hacked and a team helping to retrieve their account.
While our insurance doesn’t cover Instagram suspension or bans at the moment, we are working to add this to our offering in the future.