Instagram Scams: If It Sounds Too Good to Be True, It Probably Is

In the realm of Instagram, where visual storytelling meets digital socialization, a new breed of threat is emerging - Instagram scams. But these aren't your run-of-the-mill scams. They've evolved, becoming stealthier, smarter, and more cunning, making them harder than ever to spot.
The chilling reality is that anyone, regardless of their tech-savviness, can unwittingly become a victim.

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instagram  scams

Illustration: L. T.

Gone are the days of blatant, easy-to-spot cons. The perpetrators of Instagram scams have upgraded their game. They’ve adopted the very characteristics of the platform they infiltrate, blending in seamlessly with the authentic content and connections we hold dear. 

What you should know about Instagram scams in 2023   

Nowadays, the promise of a jaw-dropping giveaway, a lucrative job offer, or an alluring online romance doesn’t just pique our interest; it lures us into a web of deception. Instagram scams have transcended demographics, targeting not only the unsuspecting novice but also seasoned netizens. 

One of our readers shared a recent story that happened to her. 

Namely, someone with an Instagram handle almost identical to her friend added her on the platform, even going to the extent of using her photos. 

Naturally, she assumed it was her friend’s new account and accepted the connection. 

However, the imposter quickly asked for her phone number under the guise of urgency, leading her to believe there was a pressing matter at hand. Concerned, she shared her number. 

To make matters worse, the fraudster then requested a seemingly innocent favor – a vote in a competition, assuring her that it would cost no more than a standard SMS. Trusting her friend, she agreed. 

However, when she later checked her bank account, she was met with an unwelcome surprise – a $30 deduction, a painful lesson in the dangers of these convincingly crafted Instagram scams. 

Moral of the story? 


Instagram scammers today will either give you a seductive offer, praising your Insta feed, or will emotionally manipulate you and act as someone close to you. Either way, they will ask for a small fee, something as small as $1-3 bucks. You’re gonna believe it’s not a big deal but, before you know it, your bank account will be sucked out.

Yes, it may sound way too obvious, and you might be the one who believes it would never happen to them but this is indeed a very thought-through process. 

Here’s some data to support the claim, published recently by The Guardian

  • 80% of purchase fraud cases reported to the bank come from platforms owned by Meta, which includes Instagram, as well as Facebook and WhatsApp; 
  • The national agency Action Fraud’s latest figures show there have been 842 online shopping crime reports relating to Instagram made so far this year, with victims losing £687,882 in total; 
  • Meta took $28bn in advertising revenue in the last quarter alone – 98% of its overall income. 

In other words, if you were to ask big tech do they want you to get scammed, of course their response would be negative. But are they profiting from it? For sure. 

The most common Instagram scams   

According to the official information available on the platform, these are the most common types of scams that Instagram recognized over the years: 

  1. Investment Scams: Scammers promise unrealistically high returns on investments, often claiming to multiply a small amount of money into a larger sum. Victims are lured into sending money, only for the scammers to disappear. 
  2. Romance Scams: Fraudsters send romantic messages, pretending to seek relationships with individuals they don’t know. They may claim to be divorced, widowed, or in a difficult marriage and eventually request money or personal information for various reasons. 
  3. Job Scams: Scammers use deceptive job postings to collect personal information or money from unsuspecting job seekers. These scams may promise lucrative opportunities or ask for upfront payments. 
  4. Lottery Scams: Scammers impersonate someone known or a legitimate organization, claiming that the victim has won a lottery. They ask for personal information and may request an advance fee to claim the prize. 
  5. Loan Scams: Scammers offer instant loans at low interest rates but require an upfront fee. After receiving the initial payment, they may demand more money or vanish. 
  6. Donation Scams: Scammers impersonate charities, orphanages, or religious figures and ask for donations online. 
  7. Inheritance Scams: Scammers pose as lawyers or representatives of estates and claim the victim is entitled to an inheritance. They request personal information to facilitate the process. 
  8. Commerce Scams: Scammers pretend to sell goods and services online at enticingly low prices. They may encourage victims to move the conversation to other platforms, demand payment, and then disappear without delivering the goods. 
  9. Paid Subscription Services Scams: Scammers offer lifetime access to premium subscription services for a one-time payment but fail to deliver the promised product. 

How do Instagram scammers choose their victims?   

While it’s true that scammers can appear to target victims at random, they rely on a set of tried-and-true tactics that make their schemes effective across a broad spectrum of individuals. In essence, they cast a wide net, knowing that someone, somewhere, will inevitably fall into it. 

  1. Mass Messaging: Scammers often employ mass messaging techniques, such as sending out thousands of phishing emails or creating numerous fake profiles on social media. While these messages may seem random, they are designed to reach as many potential victims as possible. 
  2. Emotional Triggers: Scammers play on common human emotions and desires. Whether it’s the promise of financial gain, the fear of missing out, or the need for companionship, their messages are crafted to resonate with basic human instincts that can make anyone vulnerable. 
Social media scamming as a full-time job
Indeed, social media scamming has evolved to the point where it can become a full-time occupation for those who engage in these deceptive practices. To put things more into perspective, you should know that there are around 30,000 website cyber attacks each day globally, but the number of attempted social media scams is about ten times bigger.
Scammers often rationalize their activities, claiming they're taking small amounts from many victims and that it’s a job like any other, minimizing the impact on individual lives.
However, even with basic math skills, you can conclude how probable it is that a scam like this will happen to you, too, because it’s random and so widespread.
  1. Deceptive Impersonation: Impersonation is a favorite tactic of scammers. They might impersonate trusted brands, government agencies, friends, or family members. The goal is to create a false sense of familiarity and trust, making it more likely for someone to engage with their messages. 
  2. Urgency and Pressure: Scammers often create a sense of urgency or pressure in their messages. They might claim that immediate action is required to avoid dire consequences or to seize a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This urgency can lead people to make hasty decisions. 

What does Instagram say about it?   

As the number of attacks grew, the number of reports followed, so Instagram had to come up with a consistent and thorough strategy to address it. 

Surprisingly enough, when our reader who submitted the problem in the first place tried to report it to Instagram, along with other people who fell victim by the same account, Instagram did nothing about it. More precisely, they said they “didn’t find anything suspicious”. 

So let’s just say their strategy isn’t bulletproof so be prepared to just “sit and feel stupid” after getting scammed. 


When it comes to Instagram shopping, one important tip is to go to the seller's profile and tap the 3 dots in the top right, then tap About This Account. Information provided here includes when the account was created, the country where the account is based and any former usernames. You may find this information helpful in assessing sellers on Instagram.

Anyway, what’s their advice in case you become a scam target? 

  • Slow down: Scammers often try to create a sense of urgency or threaten you with losing your account or other action. Take time to ask questions and think it through. 
  • Spot check: Scammers often mention a problem to encourage you to act. Do your research to double check the details before clicking links or downloading files. Does what they’re telling you make sense? 
  • Don’t send: Scammers often pretend to be from a familiar organization, they may use its employee photo they stole from the internet to convince you. No reputable organization will demand payment on the spot. 

Finally, in the digital realm, it’s crucial to be responsible and exercise caution. Even if you’re tech-savvy, remember that scammers are crafty, always finding new ways to deceive – so never overestimate your online skills and stay alert. 

A journalist by day and a podcaster by night. She's not writing to impress but to be understood.