On Monday I got a text from a friend with an Instagram screen shot, “Is this you?” I’ve had an Instagram account since late 2013, haven’t posted anything on it since 2014 (looks like I was active user for a total of about 3 months).
My screen name on Instagram is “ski_rick.” The screen shot showed an account with no posts with screen name “ski_rick12,” the same profile picture as mine (a picture of me at High Sierra Music Festival), and the name “Rick” where as mine says “Rick Winfield.”
I immediately reported the account as “impersonation,” and posted a screen shot on Instagram as well as a post on Facebook to warn my friends. I started getting reports that the account was peddling a “compensation fund” scam, asked someone who followed it to call an attorney, and several friends were having “strange” conversations with the account about grant money.
To my surprise, I awoke the next AM to a report that “the account did not violate Instagram’s Community Guidelines.”
Needless to say, this came as a total surprise.
After two more days of reports from friends that had been fooled into following it, I finally went on Instagram’s website. Through their help center I was able to submit a more detailed complaint including a photo of me and my ID and a description of what was going on. I also asked friends to report the account (many already had).
I also followed everyone that was following the fake account so that hopefully those friends would see my real account come up. Thankfully, one of those friends happens to work at Instagram these days and told me he would escalate it.
Not sure if it was my report or an internal escalation, but the account is down today.
I must say, I was very surprised it was so hard to get Instagram to take action quickly in what seems like such a simple case.
A few lesson learned:
- Don’t leave old, unused social accounts sitting around. I feel like I was targeted because my account isn’t used. Friends aren’t used to seeing me on Instagram, so it wouldn’t be a surprise for me to start friending them. I’m trying to decide now whether to be a bit more active on Instagram or just delete my account. Same with other social networks I don’t use.
- Keep an eye out for numbers in the username. It was the obvious sign to many of my friends that didn’t fall for the friend request. Preferably, don’t use them in your real usernames either.
- Don’t use “messenger” features on Social Media platforms for serious conversations. I never do anyway, I use phone, email, and text.
- Keep an eye out for one another out there! I really appreciate all my friends that let me know what was going on, we’ve gotta have each other’s backs!
- Don’t count on these companies to have your back. They’re driven by user numbers, engagement, etc, and fake accounts add to these.