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This report was originally published in Portuguese in June 14, 2023, and you can read the original here

If you have lost your Instagram account or have heard of someone who's had their profiled hacked, you know: it's not and easy quest to get in touch with Meta, the owner of the platform, and recover access to your own account.

As official customer support is nonexistent for most people, some users in Brazil are resorting to unofficial solutions – often risky and not at all foolproof – known as 'account retrievers': self-titled specialists on digital security who charge a fee to recover hacked profiles.


It matters because...

Lack of support from Meta's Instagram makes room for opportunists and encourages con artists to stay online

Account retrievers thrive for want of legitimate alternatives, but don’t always give a bang for your buck


It is an easy service to find: typing recover or recover insta in Instagram's search bar to see such profiles by the dozens.

In order to restore your account, those 'good' hackers demand payments of hundreds of reais and may ask for sensitive information – like login and email passwords – as a part of the process. This might seem suspicious for some people, but others see it was worth to get their profiles back.

After having her account hacked and witnessing an acquaintance fall victim to a false ad posted in her own profile, Isabela Alves agreed to pay R$450 (roughly U$90) to retrieve one of her main work tools, since she got no help from Meta.

And she did get it back.

Alves, who is community articulator at the NGO Énois, a cultural producer and a multidisciplinary artist, spoke with Núcleo about her experience.

On November 12th, 2022, a Saturday, she shared a photo on Instagram's Stories while in the company of friends at a restaurant. In a matter of minutes, a fake account from the restaurant started to follow her and sent a message with a business partnership proposal.

As the conversation progressed, the restaurant's purported profile asked her to forward a code she was to receive via text to confirm the proposal. She didn’t pay enough attention to notice that the code being asked was, in fact, an authorization token to access her Instagram account.

“Although the fake profile had about 30,000 followers, the engagement was very low. I should’ve known better”, said Isabela to Núcleo.

Printscreen of a search on Instagram for "recover insta"
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My account was hacked. What now?

Your only option is trying to get in touch with Instagram's support via help sheet for hacked accounts. You must inform why you believe your account has been hacked and supply basic information, such as user name, telephone number and email address.

Important Instagram Help Center Links:
>> Hacked accounts
>> How do I prevent Instagram scams?
>> I think my Instagram account was hacked

Top reasons behind Instagram hacking

One of the main reasons is sharing networks of friends to lay financial schemes, sell fake products or ask payments via money transfer. Josh Costine, editor of Techcrunch, states that ordinary profiles have a bigger value on the clandestine market because they're not categorized as spam. Hackers may devise schemes or spread disinformation without being promptly identified by Meta.

ZERO SUPPORT

She tried to contact Meta through all sorts of channels to obtain company support. On that same November, Meta had made available a specific form for victims of hacking, which is on the rise on the platform. 

While she remained locked out of her account, fake ads of low-price products were posted on her Stories. One of Alves' friends was tricked into paying R$800 (some $150) thinking she was getting a good deal for a washing machine.

On the day after her account was hacked, Alves received, through WhatsApp, a message from the hacker, saying the would give her account back for R$1.000 (around $200). She considered paying the sum. “I have this account since 2013, and it's my number one working tool”.

Feeling distressed, she talked to a friend who suggested she seek the help of a 'good' hacker. According to this friend, an acquaintance of his was able to recover an Instagram account that way.

Isabela then got in touch with one of such retrievers on November 14th, 2022. The 'account retriever' assessed her profile and charged her R$450 for the job. The payment would be made onde after she got her access back.

To get the job done, Isabela was asked to provide login and password details of the email linked to her hacked Instagram profile. She regained access to her profile on the following day and said no picture or conversation had been deleted.

The sense of insecurity, however, lingered.

Alves remarked that, from then on, her feelings towards the platform changed – not only due to the lack of support from the company in a time of need, but also to the perception that her privacy was deeply violated.

A study conducted in Australia in 2021 revealed that being subjected to hacking causes negative impacts on the emotions, behaviors and beliefs of victims similar to those of more traditional crimes.

After she was hacked, Alves finally started to use two-step authentication apps on all her social media accounts, as well as adopting facial recognition to access WhatsApp.

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It's important to say that, although Isabela Alves regained access to her account by hiring the services of an account retriever, nor she nor Nucleo endorse such services.

A WORD FROM META. Meta states that “there is no paid account recovery service authorized by Instagram” and that “the process of account recovery is performed only by the app and Instagram's Help Desk”.

“Individuals must report problems with access to their accounts and instances of hacked accounts via the following link: instagram.com/hacked. By filing up this form, it is possible to forward a request of support to Instagram so that we can help to restore access swiftly”, said the company via email.

STRING OF SCAMS

The tale of Isabel's hacked account mirrors experiences of many other people. With a simple search, it's easy to find similar complaints on social media platforms.

A popular forum for victims of hacked profiles in Brazil, ReclameAqui offers an alternative route to post complaints. The website rates Instagram as “Not Recommended”, since it failed to respond to at least half of all users' grievances. Since it was listed in 2016, Instagram has gathered over 300,000 complaints related to diverse issues on the platform, only 37.8% of which got a reply.

About 9.31% of complaints refer to hacked profiles, a total of approximately 30,000 – the third most reported issue.

As recently as November of 2022, the Wall Street Journal reported that Meta supposedly fired over a dozen employees, including security personnel, due to their involvement in the sale of information and login details of users to hackers. Some of the workers in question allegedly obtained user information through support forms.

According to the story, an internal investigation carried out by the company showed that some members of the security team were illegally accessing accounts and providing information to hackers in exchange for bribes. So far, Meta has not officially commented on the matter. 

Reporting by Sofia Schurig
Art by Rodolfo Almeida
Editing by Alexandre Orrico
Translation by Paulo Vinicius Cerávolo
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