Instagram Extortion Scam Forces Victims to Betray Their Friends

“Ashly just helped me invest $1,000 and got me back $8500. What an amazing way to end the day and I feel so blessed and so appreciative of this process. It’s guaranteed. I suggest doing it. It happened for me in under an hour, so, yeah, thanks Ashly.” So said Emma Zoller in a video she sent to her friends on Instagram. The video, captures of which appear below, includes an image of the money in her cash app. For those not up on modern slang, “caping” means ‘supporting’ as if she had just done all of her friends and followers a big favor by letting them in on this great deal with Ashly Jason.

In fact, Emma was scamming her friends. It’s not something she wanted to do. It was something she was forced to do to get her Instagram account back. But how did it get to this point?

In the same way Emma was scamming her trusting friends, she was scammed by someone she trusted. Her friend had posted information about making money on Bitcoin and gave her a link to the site they used. When she clicked on the link, she, apparently, was sent to a fake Instagram login site and, to make a long story short, her Instagram account was taken over. That’s when Emma’s problem began.

According to Vice, Emma was first told that, to get her account back, she would have to make a nude video. She wrote back to the hackers, “I am bawling my eyes out. I can’t take a nude video. I am going to kill myself, please you stole everything from me. Please give me my Instagram back please.” In a change of heart, or, more likely worried that a suicide would draw too much attention to their scam, the scammers told her to make a video promoting a Bicoin scam instead.

Had she made the original nude video, they would have blackmailed her by telling her that they would send the video to all of her friends, family, and work associates unless she paid them some money. They would have asked for an unrealistic amount of money and made her scramble to find it. In the end, she still wouldn’t have escaped from the scam. They would return from time to time whenever they thought they needed more money.

Instead, probably because she used the same or a similar password for all of her accounts, they took over her Venmo, email, and banking app.  Apparently, she didn’t have much money in her account as they only used it to purchase $1000 in Bitcoins. But the main damage will be done when her friends are scammed in the same way that she was and the scam spreads logarithmically, making a small fortune for the scammers.

Keep in mind that once these scammers take over a person’s account, they have inside information on the victim which can be incorporated into the scam. For example, when they found information on a person looking for a kidney transplant, they took over his account and sent out emails to his friends asking for monetary assistance. One of the woman who responded had her Instagram account taken over in the same way as Emma did.

According to the post on this incident, the victim, Makaylah Lervold, sent $1000 to the scammers thinking it would go to help her friend. That’s when the trouble began.

 “I’m so distraught…it was really scary,” she said. They drained all the money that I had saved for my wedding in June. It’s devastating. …  They forced me to make a video just like the last video they posted on my friend’s hacked account. …  They said if I didn’t do it they would completely drain my account. It was the scariest situation I have ever been in.”

But once the scammers took over her account and found out about her wedding plans, they sent her friends messages asking for money for her upcoming wedding. Who knows how many victims were lured in by this. It just shows how they are leveraging information they find in a person’s account to make money. If they can’t find much, they just force the person to make the standard Bitcoin scam video to get their account back. You don’t think this guy was scammed, do you? I mean, he seems so enthusiastic.

This video brings up an important point. He may not have many followers and may feel that what he does won’t matter much. But what if one of his contacts does have many followers and is fooled by this video. This is where the “I have nothing to hide” argument really doesn’t hold up. You may have nothing to hide, but you could be instrumental in destroying your friend’s life.

Two-factor authentication (2fa) is good but it doesn’t always work. Scammers have learned ways to bypass this if you’re willing to help them. I’m not sure how the woman who donated to her friend’s kidney operation lost her Instagram account, but I can guess. My guess is that when she transferred money to the scammer’s Zelle account, as they suggested, they told her that she would soon get an SMS which would have a code they needed to verify the transaction. The truth was that this was a code from Instagram that the criminals would use to take over her Instagram account. She either didn’t pay attention to the message or assumed this was her friend and that nothing could possibly go wrong. Always remember the first commandment of 2fa; never share your code with anyone, not even your best friend.

But if you have the misfortune of falling for this or similar scams, do not make the video they ask you to make. Making the video will not get your account back. You will only receive the emotional distress that comes with being instrumental in destroying a friend’s life. As Makaylah Lervold noted, “when you add a layer that you were an instrument of victimization involving people you know and love, who are part of your personal network. that just adds another layer of emotional grief.” You can work with Instagram to get your account back and, in the meantime, send individual messages to your contacts warning them of the scam.

But social networks are notoriously slow in their response to complaints. One victim wrote, “a  lot of my followers have banded together and are pushing and helping me, but Instagram/Facebook [have] been zero help and have not gotten back to me, meanwhile people are losing their pages, money, and identity.” My own dealings with Facebook and having them remove scammers found that it usually takes months before anything is done, and that’s plenty of time for the scammers to make money.

For those who are not yet victims, be careful of friends asking for money or help in any way. The request for money may seem appropriate to a particular friend, like an operation or a wedding. Other messages claimed that a friend had been kidnapped and needed to pay a ransom. Contacts have been sent links to take surveys or support a business. The links lead to pages that try to gather enough personal information for the scammers to take over a person’s account. And, of course, be careful of messages from friends that claim they found a way to make quick money.

The reason that this scam is growing at such a pace is that people simply trust their friends. If a friend needs help, they are happy to do what they can. This is a triumph of empathy over caution, and this is what the scammers hope to leverage into a paycheck for themselves.

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