Internet celebrities who have seen their Instagram accounts hacked and personal information compromised say they've had to hack back in order to get their profiles returned.
Several "influencers" told VICE's Motherboard that Instagram's process to regain control of their accounts is so slow and difficult they've been forced to find alternative means to recover their profiles. Despite repeated calls and emails to Instagram to help them out, hacked influencers say they only get unhelpful automated emails in return.
Influencers on social media have turned their online activity into lucrative full-time jobs, hawking products from advertisers to tens of thousands of followers. These social media accounts, on platforms like Instagram and Snapchat, have become key to their livelihoods and hackers have taken notice.
"I had an emotional breakdown," influencer Cassie Gallegos wrote in a blog post. "I had worked so hard to become an influencer, to make the life I wanted to be living, I had partnerships with Hotels.com, PierHouse Key West, Dick's Sporting Goods, Living Proof lined up to name a few. GONE. ALL OF MY WORK WAS GONE."
According to the Motherboard report, many hackers gain access to influencers' accounts by posing as brands interested in sponsoring or advertising. Using emails containing phishing links, hackers access an influencer's Instagram account and change the email and password, which then locks out the account's rightful owner.
But when affected influencers have reached out to Instagram to recover their accounts, the Facebook-owned platform has reportedly been unhelpful. Instagram's policies say that without an account's email and password, users need to go through a verification process to ensure the user is actually the account owner. The process includes taking a selfie with a code Instagram sends directly to them written on a piece of paper.
Despite following appropriate steps, influencers told Motherboard their efforts were "to no avail." One Instagram influencer said in a blog post she only gained back her account after fans and others also reached out to Instagram and piled on the pressure.
Instead, users have turned to "third-party social media experts" and "white-hat hackers" to help them recover their accounts. One such expert told Motherboard he has tricks to speed up the progress on Instagram's end in recovering an account. Another method is identifying the person behind the hack, and then hacking that person as well in order to get the account back.
"We know that losing access to your account can be a distressing experience," an Instagram spokesperson said in a statement. "We have sophisticated measures in place to stop bad actors in their tracks before they gain access to accounts, as well as measures to help people recover their accounts."
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