Scammers taking to Instagram to find victims

Millions of consumers use Instagram to look through their friends’ vacation photos and post selfies. Unfortunately, scammers follow social media trends too and they’ve made Instagram another tool in their arsenal of tricks to try to defraud consumers. Over the past few months, we've received a number of complaints from consumers describing a new variation of the so-called “flipping money” scam on Instagram.

In a typical flipping money scam of this type, a consumer sees an Instagram account featuring photos of other users, often holding large amounts of cash captioned with a description of how easy it is to make turn a small investment into large amounts of money. All the consumer has to do is text or instant message the Instagram account holder and send a small initial “investment” (typically a few hundred dollars). Unfortunately for the consumer, the ploy is all a scam. The fraudster quickly breaks contact (after getting the cash in hand) and the consumer loses her initial investment. This a widespread scam. For example, there are more than 45,000 photos on Instagram tagged #flippingmoney. In practically every photo we reviewed, the pitch was a scam.

There’s a new variation on the flipping money scam, however. In the past, the scammers asked to send the initial “investment” via wire transfers or a prepaid debit card. However, in a number of recent complaints, the consumers/victim is not asked to send money. Instead, they are being asked to mail their physical debit card to the scammer as well as their account PIN, so that a check can be deposited in the account. The consumer/victim is told by the scammer that she will receive a percentage of the proceeds from the check to compensate her for her trouble.

If a consumer follows these instructions and sends a debit card, they often quickly see a large deposit in their account. The is almost as quickly followed by a large withdrawal, usually in the full amount of the deposit. and sometimes even more. The deposited check is, in fact, a fake, and the consumer is then left owing their bank money when the check comes back as a fraud.

A 20 year old consumer from Missouri shared her experience with one scammer on Instagram:

“I saw an ad on Instagram saying I could make money so I texted the number. The girl’s name was Alexis. She asked me to send her my debit card and she could make me $4,000. Shortly after, her Instagram [account] was deleted. She kept my card for about a week. Today I went into the bank and I owe $6,000. She (Alexis) will not contact me back.”

To avoid this scam, here are some helpful tips consumers should keep in mind:

  • Remember, people that you meet online are total strangers. If you would not hand over your debit card to someone you just met on the street, don’t hand it over to someone you met online.
  • Don’t fall for “quick” or “easy” money ploys. If making money this way were as easy as the scammers make it sound, everyone would be doing it.
  • Do not respond if someone asks for your debit card number, PIN number, or any other sensitive financial information.
  • Know that no legitimate advertisers on Instagram will ask you to mail a debit or credit card to them.
  • More information on staying safe on Instagram is available at the Instagram Privacy and Safety Center.

If you suspect that you might be a victim of this scam, file a complaint with us.

We asked our friends at Instagram what they are seeing, and here's what they said:

"We regularly analyze trends and make changes where necessary to provide a better and safer experience for our entire community, and as of now, we have no reason to believe that this sort of scam is widespread or on the rise. We’ve built a combination of automated and manual systems to identify and address ’spammy’ and other bad behavior on Instagram, which is prohibited by our Terms of Use and Community Guidelines."