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What is Instagram Phishing and Ways to Counter it

Instagram accounts have been under threat of phishing attacks for years now, but there are no signs that things are getting better. Instead, the platform has resorted to new security features to help users combat these scams.

While enhanced security is always better, phishing is a more challenging threat to combat. Most of these scams play on the human psyche to induce emotions like fear. These tend to drive us to make snap decisions – which is when the scam triggers.

As with many things, public education plays a vital role in countering Instagram phishing attacks.

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How Instagram Phishing Works

Example of Instagram phishing email
Example of Instagram phishing email

Instagram phishing can work in several ways, but most will fall within the parameters of general phishing attacks. The ultimate objective of the attackers is to gain control over your Instagram account by making you provide them with login credentials.

If you’re asking yourself why you’d be dumb enough to do something like that, it’s a lot easier than you might think.

One typical Instagram phishing attack method is using another Instagram account to send you a Direct Message (DM). That account will often impersonate an official account, contacting you with a warning or request for information. 

Another method is when the scammer provides some tempting offer that’s “unique” to your account. They’ll direct you to click a link that directs towards a website they control. Once you enter the information requested, the scammers can seize control of your Instagram account.

There are other phishing scam models, but the theme and objective generally remain consistent. 

Protecting Yourself From Instagram Phishing Scams

Stay Calm

The modus operandi for phishing attacks is always to try and pass on a sense of urgency, panic, or even temptation to get you to complete an action without thinking things through. Attackers prey on the human psyche, where we react instinctively under certain conditions.

As humans, we tend to act quickly to protect something important to us. While that’s natural, a hasty decision often misses out on essential elements of the critical thinking process. If you get a DM that prompts urgent action, stay calm, slow down, and think things through.

Check with Instagram’s Email Center

Instagram offers several tools to help protect user accounts.
Instagram offers several tools to help protect user accounts. You can access the email center by navigating to “Settings -> Security -> Emails from Instagram” in your app. 

Instagram is well aware of the high number of phishing attacks and offers several features to help combat them. One such tool is the Instagram Email Center, where you can verify if the message you receive is legitimate.

Here, you can find records of all official communications from the platform. It’s split between “Security” and “Other” for easier reference. If the DM or email you get is not on this list, it’s almost definitely a phishing attempt.

Instagram’s official email address is security@mail.instagram.com but there are some phishing email cases sent from similar email addresses. It’s just a minor spelling difference and you can’t tell if you are not paying attention to it, so double-check the email address whenever you want to take further action.

Activate Two-factor Authentication

You can enable 2FA security in your app from the settings menu via “Settings -> Security -> Two-factor Authentication.” Select this option, then choose the authentication method you prefer (source).

Two-factor Authentication (2FA) is the use of a secondary means for confirming an action. For example, aside from using your login credentials for Instagram, you will require an additional means to prove that you’re the person acting.

Instagram supports two methods of 2FA verification. You can either use an authentication app like Google Authenticator or your mobile phone for SMS.

The first option will require you to launch the authenticator app and enter the code associated with your Instagram account. The code is constantly changing, so there’s no way to duplicate this process.

Opting for SMS means that Instagram will send you a code within a short message on your mobile phone. This method is slightly more old-school but still relatively effective in most cases. For app authentication, you need to scan a QR code to link it with Instagram.

Be Cautious When Clicking on Links

Link shortening services can quickly help mask malicious links
Link shortening services can quickly help mask malicious links

Hyperlinks make it easier for us to navigate the internet. Unfortunately, this simplicity often leads to us forgetting to verify the links are legitimate. Phishing scammers generally construct entire websites that mimic legitimate ones very closely. 

However, the moment you try to log in to those scam websites, the scammers will gain your credentials and access your account, then lock you out.

Mobile devices make it harder to verify links since you’ll need to take additional steps to view the URL. At the very least, observe caution about link clicking.

  • As far as possible, type URLs directly instead of using links
  • Avoid shortened links such as those from Bitly or Tinyurl.
  • Read link text carefully as scammers sometimes try to get URLs as close to identical as possible.
  • Use a good antivirus for phishing scam protection.

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Watch What You Install

Phishing attacks sometimes take another more complex form, and that’s the stealing of your credentials via other apps. Given the number of apps available, it’s typical that many of us install quite a number of them.

Always make sure the apps you install are reputable and keep a close eye on the permissions that they require during the installation process. Be especially wary of apps that want to access your Instagram account no matter how tempting auto-follow or other services may sound.

Boosting Your Digital Security

Instagram phishing scams can be terrible, but many more forms of cyberattacks threaten us daily. All of them can cause havoc to our personal lives, from financial loss to severe reputational damage.

Thankfully there are various ways to protect against such threats. Some highly recommended tools include;

Virtual Private Networks

How VPN works
How using a VPN can protect your privacy.

Increasingly popular today are Virtual Private Networks (VPNs). These services help encrypt your data and route connections through secure servers. However, not all are a good choice as some may steal and sell your data. Use a recognized brand to ensure your online safety and privacy.

Internet Security Applications

Make sure you download and run a reputable internet security application. These are often comprehensive and protect against virus attacks, other malware, and even phishing attempts.

Secure Web Browsers 

Google Chrome may be the most popular web browser today, but it is not particularly great for data privacy. Consider using an alternative, more secure web browser like Mozilla Firefox or Brave Browser.

Recovering Your Instagram Account 

Thankfully, Instagram offers various means of recourse if you think your account gets compromised.  Here are some of the ways you can try to recover it. Remember, though, that the options available to you may vary depending on whether or not you still have access.

1. Check Instagram Official Email in the App

If you think you have provided information due to phishing, check the Instagram Email center mentioned above. If it tallies with the message you’ve gotten, chances are things are all right. As reassurance, you might like to change your password.

You can report to phish@instagram.com whenever you encounter any phishing or strange email.

2. Get Help from Instagram

For those who can’t log in to the app, there’s an option to get assistance from the login screen. Select “Get help logging in” or “Forgot password” (the text varies depending on your phone platform) and enter your email address, username, or phone number. You’ll need to follow directions, and Instagram will send you a login.

If that fails, another option on the same menu allows you to get a security code. Once you get it, you can follow the instructions to recover your password.

You will need to verify your identity for Instagram to assist you with account recovery.  This verification usually takes the form of a video selfie that you have to send to them. Do note that you have to follow the requested video format carefully, or they may decline the verification.

Once you’ve recovered your Instagram account, make sure to perform the following activities;

  • Immediately change your password.
  • Enable 2FA to improve security.
  • Check your settings to see if they’re still correct.
  • Check if unauthorized accounts were linked.
  • Check if new apps were given access.

Is Your Instagram Account At Risk?

Phishing is a numbers game, and hackers often cast a wide net. Because of this, all Instagram accounts are technically at risk. However, various conditions can increase the risk factor of your Instagram account.

As a rule of thumb, the more “power” your Instagram has, the more likely it will be to come under threat. The more followers you get, the higher your status, the more your commercial value goes up. Even if hackers gain control for a few days, they can rapidly sell shoutouts or other actions for various amounts of quick cash.

Instagram offers an account verification feature that you might think increases security. However, verified accounts are often highly prized by hackers as they’re often more valuable. They can use these accounts to carry out phishing scams more easily.

Hackers sell verified Instagram accounts for around $45. However, the actual value may be higher depending on how much influence the account has.


It’s important to understand that phishing attacks leverage human emotion more than technology. You can keep your Instagram account safe from phishing attacks by following good security best practices and thinking things through before acting.

Always be wary of messages claiming to be from official sources if they come in an unfamiliar manner. Don’t trust too quickly, and always verify.

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Article by Pui Mun Beh

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