Instagram Using Technology in a Bid to Outpace Gomez the Hacker

Gomez - Ney Grant

With a reported 2 billion in active monthly users, even a conservative 0.1% of current accounts hacked is 2 million hacked accounts. Instagram’s response? Build an impenetrable customer support wall with no inbound calls, emails or chatting, and try to solve the problem with technology.

“Hey Ney, I see on Instagram you invested in Bitcoin and made a lot of money”, a friend texted. “Should I get involved?”. It was one of many messages and calls I received from friends. My Instagram account had been hacked and Gomez the hacker was using my online presence as a shill, an enthusiastic customer in his fake investment scheme. In this case online-me had invested $1,000 and got $10,000 back in four hours for a very solid 890% interest rate. Online-me, who previously had only ever posted adventure photography, was very happy about this. My sister, who I thought knew me better, called me up and said, “Bitcoin scheme? Really Ney? WTF”.

A few days earlier I received a direct message in Instagram from someone I knew saying they were starting a clothing line and would I sign up on their list. Why not, I knew them and this would help them out. I clicked the link. Nooo, don’t click the links! That account had been hacked by Gomez.

Most times of the day I’m not a stupid person but apparently early in the morning I am. The reaction to my stupidity was ugly and swift. I was logged out of Instagram and received codes that I didn’t ask for on my phone to log back in. What? I thought maybe the hacker could somehow read those codes (and I guess he could) so I turned off my phone and ran to my computer. Instagram reported that my account was gone – didn’t exist. I was mystified. None of Instagram’s recovery instructions would work because the account just wasn’t there.

Well, Instagram allows you to delete your account and within 30 days reinstate it. A few days later my account reappeared, now securely controlled by Gomez.

But hey, my account is @neyoutside and my email is [email protected] and the name on the account is Ney Grant and I run and there is a photo of me right there in the profile and I also know Instagram tracks devices, emails and phone numbers you have used in the past and certainly the account doesn’t belong to Gomez. And on and on.  So THIS is an easy one.

Ney Grant

Not so, after more than month not a word from Instagram. At first my goal was to successfully submit a report and I submitted dozens of reports using different methods. Then my goal was to try to find out if I was in any kind of queue, or whether I should concede defeat to Gomez and continue to watch my 7,500 followers get fleeced in my name.  I was unsuccessful in getting any kind of status. It seems Instagram could cut down on the number of reports coming in if they just sent an email that says, “Yeah, sorry, not going to happen”.

At one point I realized I’m a consistent advertiser. Hey, I give them money, I’m a customer and not just a user. I’m special! Most Instagram advertising is run by Facebook (both owned by Meta) and Facebook recently instituted chat support for advertisers. I was hopeful. Unfortunately, I found out that at my advertising budget level I’m not so special. I found the support agents friendly and optimistic, so it was with some dread that I read a chat message from a support agent that said, “The process is indeed a long one. I must say Ney, it would take at least a month”.

Gomez - hackerAfter about a dozen of chats (I would ask questions about an invoice or something and then plead my case about the hacking), I finally had to believe the friendly agents when they said they could not escalate hacking events. One agent, in earnest, gave me a “secret” Instagram support email address which a quick Google search told me wasn’t secret and wasn’t monitored any longer. I dutifully tried it anyway.

Instagram now has a reported two billion users worldwide, so even a small percentage of hacked accounts is a mind-numbing number of accounts. Google estimates 20% of social media accounts will be hacked at some point, a number backed up by Norton Security at 16%. At any given point in time that number will be much smaller, but even a conservative and believable 0.1% to 0.5% of current accounts would be 2-5 million hacked accounts. “Yeah, sorry, not going to happen”.

In response to the staggering number of hacked accounts and other support issues Instagram has erected a wall that is quite impenetrable. Very impressive, really. No inbound calling, emailing or chatting. Reporting problems is done through the app in a very structured and automated way.  It doesn’t seem they can respond to most reports. For example, I had dozens of friends and followers report my account as exhibiting fraudulent behavior and impersonating someone else, but no one heard anything back. Instead, Instagram is trying to utilize technology to track devices, track IP addresses, intelligently detect hacking attempts and try to catch up with the hackers in an automated way. In this case? Gomez 1, Instagram 0.

Facebook’s support team emailed me about Instagram’s hacked accounts: “…in regards to Instagram it is setup with smart detection tools followed by our Instagram Account security backend team to handle the issues with risk securely. The owner and user has only given the leverage to file the request for hacked account directly through the Instagram provided materials with lots of research from the Instagram engineers.” Frankly it looks like Gomez wrote that, but if you read it a few times it says Instagram is using intelligent detection technology and the only recourse for a user is to use the Instagram recovery process (which doesn’t always work).

That Instagram process in recovering an account is sending you a login link or code that starts an identification process, except in my case it only sends that link or code to my hacker. I found a way for Instagram to reveal the hacker’s email address but the only progress I made with that is that that email appears to belong to a guy named Gomez in El Salvador. Gomez has received many links and codes as I have attempted a recovery and in response, he once sent me the devil emoji with pitchfork and horns. I had to laugh. Gomez knew he had me, and he had me good.

I understand the problem. I started and ran a technology company along with a technical support team and it is difficult to deliver quality support, and to deliver support to millions is understandably daunting. Using technology to automate support is realistically the only way; however, there needs to be a more humane treatment for those that fall out of that process. I think Instagram needs to understand that “Yeah, sorry, not going to happen” is actually a positive message because, well, it’s a message.

Online-me? Well, online-me now has a clothing line. Online-me is going down my list of followers and sending a direct message: “Would you like to sign up on my list?” Gomez is waiting…

You can follow up with Ney at [email protected],  or on Instagram at – oh wait, never mind.

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