How scammers target Instagram giveaways with fake accounts | #socialmedia

Scammers are targeting giveaways on Instagram by impersonating competition organisers, leaving users and small business owners struggling against a rising tide of fake accounts. 

Businesses and individuals who use Instagram to organise giveaways will often ask their followers to comment on a particular post to be entered into the draw to win a prize. 

But fraudsters are targeting these legitimate competitions by impersonating the accounts running them. After setting up a lookalike page, they will then message individual users, telling them they have won the contest, before proceeding to ask for details including credit card and banking information. 

Although fake accounts are sometimes removed once reported to Instagram, users say new copycats are popping up all the time. Both organisers and entrants of competitions have told iMoney that the scourge of copycat accounts has made them less confident about running and entering contests on the platform. 

In one instance, iMoney was able to identify 23 fake accounts currently live on the platform imitating popular food-themed Instagram profile Mob Kitchen, which frequently runs large competition giveaways. 

The brand’s director of operations Michael Sladden told iMoney that these types of copycat now appear and begin contacting Mob Kitchen followers as soon as the official account posts a new giveaway, and that the phenomenon has emerged during the past year. 

“It’s almost like a fad, it came out of nowhere – we were doing huge giveaways for ages, and then it was like a switch was flicked.” He estimates that the influx of copycats began around nine or 10 months ago. 

Other users confirmed that the scam has emerged in the past year, at a time when fraudsters are taking advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic to target people online, conning them into giving away valuable personal data and often leaving them open to financial loss. 

Brands have now taken to adding anti-scam measures to their terms and conditions on competition posts (Photo: Getty/Moment RF/Alexander Spatari)

“Unfortunately scam accounts have become a huge issue, for almost every single giveaway – no matter how big or small the brand running it is, there are fake accounts which follow and message you impersonating them,” says Emily Clark, who runs giveaway roundup website and the Instagram account @competition.finder 

“It’s been a common problem across Facebook for a number of years, but we’ve really seen this become a much bigger issue on Instagram over the past six months or so.” 

Brands have now taken to adding anti-scam measures to their terms and conditions on competition posts, and sharing additional warnings on their pages to be on the lookout for scammers. 

Tips for avoiding scams 

  • Never click links sent to you in Instagram messages 
  • Triple-check that accounts contacting you are the official organiser of the giveaway 
  • Use Instagram’s “save” function to bookmark giveaway posts you enter so you can double-check details 
  • Never provide bank or card details over Instagram, most organisers will only require your contact details and address if you win 
  • Report any copycat accounts you spot  

Most Wanted Wines, a brand owned by Cheltenham-based Off-Piste Wines with 18,500 followers on Instagram, has adopted this approach. 

“Recently this has become such a big problem,” explains social media manager Sarah Watkins.

“We have started to post about it regularly when we have a competition running as I am inundated with messages from disgruntled users who have been contacted by scammers asking them to enter credit card details to win a prize.” 

While warnings help prevent followers from being caught out, Ms Watkins would still like to see the social media platform come up with a solution itself. 

“We have had literally hundreds of people contact us to say they have received messages from scammers and that they have reported it to Instagram. We have reported to Instagram via report buttons and as emails with screenshots of the offending accounts. It would be really helpful if Instagram were to act upon this.” 

The problem has hit small and growing businesses especially hard, with several telling iMoney they do not have the resources to keep dealing with copycats every time they appear. 

Lucy Locket, founder of activewear brand Lucy Locket Loves, told iMoney she has now ceased running giveaways. 

“Despite spending a lot of money on advertising with Instagram and Facebook, the process of reporting these people imitating my business was awfully drawn out, most times I’d never get a response. Hundreds of our customers were also reporting the accounts but as soon as one was deleted another popped up. It took days and sometimes weeks for accounts to get banned and sometimes they would not get banned at all; by that time any damage will have already been done! 

“We had to stop doing these giveaways on our social channels, as we felt like there were more negatives than positives, we had to fend for ourselves in trying to stop these accounts from scamming people and it just was too exhausting for our social media team.” 

Individual influencers and bloggers have also found themselves being imitated. Kirsty Poole, a blogger with almost 7,000 followers on Instagram @kirstypoole, has run more than a dozen giveaways on her profile since April last year. However, after noticing an uptick in scammers in late 2021, she has become nervous about hosting another giveaway. 

“I used to absolutely love hosting giveaways and often did it to help small businesses promote themselves, but now I am a fearful of hosting another giveaway, which is a real shame,” she told iMoney. “I also personally enjoy entering giveaways as well, but the fake accounts have put me off from entering as many as I used to.” 

Another blogger, Cecile of The Frenchie Mummy, who has 29,000 followers, has shifted all contests to her own website to avoid the copycat accounts. She is afraid of the repercussions for her own account if scammers continue to target people using her name. 

“I am not risking my followers being scammed or even my page being taken down. I worked really hard to grow my page.” 

A spokesman for Facebook, Instagram’s owner, said: “We have removed several accounts brought to our attention. We do not want fraudulent activity on Instagram and we invest in people and technology to block millions of fake accounts every day. We have also donated £3m to Citizens Advice to deliver a UK Scam Action Programme to both raise awareness of online scams and help victims. We encourage people to report suspicious accounts so we can take appropriate action.”

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