Got a grudge against an Instagram user? Well, scammers may just have the perfect service for you - at quite an affordable price.
As Joseph Cox at Motherboard reports, the criminal underground has stepped beyond the likes of offering ransomware-as-a-service and DDoS-attacks-for-hire to advertise an easy way for anyone to target an Instagram account and have it banned - for $60 or less.
Motherboard found the ban-as-a-service operations advertised on underground forums, and - according to their investigation - prices can vary depending on the number of followers an Instagram account may have.
So, just how do these professional Instagram banning services work?
One of the main methods appears to be through a bogus impersonation claim. A scammer will duplicate the targeted account, grabbing the profile photograph and description, and post them on a verified account with a blue checkmark.
Then the scammer will lodge a fake impersonation complaint against the genuine account (which does not have a blue checkmark verification), claiming that the real account is an imposter.
Instagram's support department, in its wisdom, then bans the genuine profile - causing huge headaches for its owner, whether they be an individual or business. Clearly, it would be better if Instagram looked at all the evidence, rather than just whether an account had a checkmark or not.
Another technique used by those operating the Instagram account banning service, according to Motherboard, was to flood the service with bogus claims that a targeted account contains images related to self-harm and suicide.
Clearly, that's not the type of content that anyone would like to encounter on Instagram, and it's good to know that the social network's support team would block accounts that were reported as sharing such material… but it appears that Instagram often disables accounts purely on the basis of a complaint, rather than checking whether such content has actually been posted.
All this is clearly bad enough, but what's even worse is that those who have had their accounts disabled or banned have sometimes been contacted within minutes by services that offer to help "unblock" accounts.
Could the banners and unblockers be working in cahoots? It certainly seems plausible - and with unblockers charging up to $4000 to assist in the reinstatement of an account, there are clearly rich pickings to be made.
We would never condone paying a scammer to have your Instagram account restored. For one thing, there is no guarantee that they won't simply scarper with your cash, but also it does appear that you might actually be rewarding the very same people who arranged to have your account banned in the first place.
Unfortunately, many Instagram users have found using official channels to recover their account painful, even if it is free of charge.
Instagram won't talk to you about account recovery on the phone, insisting that you use its app to appeal an account ban. Frankly, because of its business model, customer service is never going to be a priority for Instagram.
But there are some things you can do to reduce the chances of your account suffering a successful "ban attack." One is to verify your Instagram account, if possible, to receive a blue checkmark.
Verification is not available to everyone, unfortunately, but it does appear that scammers find it much easier to ban non-verified accounts.
Secondly, you may wish to change the avatar you use on your profile. Impersonation attacks are most successful it appears against profiles that show a person's face as their avatar. Indeed, some attackers will refuse to target an account which does not have a real photo as their avatar. Of course, many individuals may be unhappy not to use their photograph as their account avatar - but it may make a lot of sense for businesses.
Finally, don't forget the importance of backups. If you do lose your Instagram account because it has been banned after a scammer targeted it, you may also no longer be able to access your precious photographs and memories. Uploading images to Instagram - or indeed any other social network - is no substitute for having your own backup of your personal data.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this guest author article are solely those of the contributor, and do not necessarily reflect those of Tripwire, Inc.