I never thought this could happen to me. I had heard of it happening to others, but surely it was because they weren’t active users. Because they didn’t keep their passwords safe. Because they didn’t have two-step verification enabled.
Well, I was sorely mistaken. I had taken all the possible precautions, and I still got hacked.
I woke up one morning, and, as I usually do, I opened Instagram right away. But this morning was different. I couldn’t check my notifications or see what my friends were up to, because I had been logged out of my account. I didn’t panic, because there had been a few other incidents where the app decided to log me out for no reason.
But I couldn’t get back in. I kept entering my password, just to be informed that it was incorrect. I change my passwords pretty regularly (because that’s supposed to make it easier to avoid being hacked), so I thought that I might have just forgotten to take note of what I had most recently changed it to. No matter, we all know what to do when we forget our passwords. I sent myself a link to reset the password, but I was horrified by what I saw next.
Now, the first red flag was that this was not my email address. But what I found to be more alarming was the “.ru” at the end of the address. If you live in the US, you’ve probably been hearing a lot in the media about Russian hackers. Well, if an email address, or any URL for that matter, ends with “.ru”, it’s Russian. I do not live in Russia. I do not have a Russian email address. But now, some stranger across the globe has complete access to my account, and I have no way of getting back in.
At least, that’s how it appeared to be. Understandably, I was in a panic. I had had that account since 2011 when Instagram first took off, and I had over 2,200 photos saved there. I was facing the reality that all of that could be lost. And, those fears were confirmed when I looked my username up while logged into my business account, and discovered that the account was completely gone.
I looked up “instagram support number”, and found nothing. I looked up “how to get your instagram account back from hackers”, and found nothing that was helpful. I felt like there was nothing I could do, and no one who could help me.
HOW I GOT BACK IN
After I had calmed down (it literally took me about 24 hours), I made an important discovery.
I noticed that if I entered my username and password (or at least, what the password should be), and then hit “Get help signing in”, I was redirected to this page on the right. Then, I hit “need more help?”
* Even if you don’t enter your information first, you’ll still be redirected here when you click “Get help signing in”, but you won’t be redirected to the NEXT page, and that’s the important part.
The “request support” page is the ONLY way you can get ahold of Instagram. It’s pretty self-explanatory; fill in your details, and hit “request support”.
*If you end up on the “account assistance” page, it’s because you didn’t enter your information before hitting “get help logging in”.
It took about a day, but I finally received an email from them. I should mention that, since Facebook now owns Instagram, I was dealing with Facebook Support, rather than Instagram Support.
I followed the instructions they sent me, and waited for a response. It took about another full day, and then I received the most unhelpful message they could have sent.
The good news was that my account had been deactivated by Instagram’s administrators, not deleted by the hacker. The bad news was:
• Instagram/Facebook obviously didn’t understand that I had been hacked, even though I had very clearly stated so in both my report and the email in which I verified my identity.
• Instagram accounts are usually only disabled for a few days, which meant that when it was re-activated, my content would be in the hands of the hacker again.
I was furious now, and replied to their email, asking if there was actually anyone on the other side reading our reports, or if it was just a bot. I got no response, so I filed another report.
At this point, I’d been locked out of my account for several days. I’d posted about the whole situation on Facebook to see if anyone else had experienced anything like this, and a friend of mine left a comment informing me that my instagram account had been reactivated.
This whole time, I had been wondering what this hacker had to gain from seizing my account. It’s not like they had a way of acquiring my credit card information or anything, and I had received no ransom notes offering to return my account for a fee. So what was this all for? Just a prank? Just some lonely teenager with nothing better to do?
When I looked up my newly reactivated account, I finally understood what it had all been for.
Honestly, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Everyone who knew me would obviously be able to figure out that I had been hacked, and that I had not become a blond sex worker named Isabella Martin over the weekend. So it wasn’t that I was embarrassed, but I was so extremely angry that someone was profiting off of scamming people behind MY account.
Still, I laughed at the bio and the fact that they changed my profile picture to someone who looks nothing like me when I had photos of myself right there in plain sight. It would be obvious to anyone that this account was not legit. Even so, I guess it looks more like a real person’s account with 2,206 photos than if they had just created a new account for “Isabella”.
So, I filed ANOTHER report with Instagram. At this point, I was so done with their unhelpfullness, and I made it known in my extremely thorough description. I recapped everything that had happened, and attached the screenshot of my hacked profile. I told them I didn’t want people being scammed, and that I just wanted all of this madness to come to an end. My persistence paid off, and the next day I received a link from them where I could change my email and password, and reclaim my precious account! It felt SO GOOD to have my account back!
WHAT TO DO IF YOU GET HACKED
• If you use the same email and/or password on other social media, change them immediately. You don’t want the hacker to gain access to these accounts as well.
• Stay calm, and act fast. Follow the steps I listed above in order to contact Insatgram’s administrators. They’re your only hope for getting back in.
• Be assertive. If the support team are unhelpful, file another report. Give them all the relevant details. Help them help you.
If you can’t find your account, there are two ways to find out if it’s been deleted:
• Create a new temporary instagram account. Make the username the same as your hacked account’s original username. If it informs you that the username is unavailable, that means your account still exists, and has probably been temporarily deactivated. If it allows you to create a new account under that name, it means that your account has either been deleted, or that the username has been changed. Keep the temporary account until you get your original one back, that way you can hold onto that username so no one else can take it.
• Some hackers will change your username (and some change it every few days so you can’t find your account). If that’s the case, you can go on your friends’ accounts to find photos you’ve been tagged in. If your account is still active, the tag will still be there, and it will show you the new username. You can also try searching places you’ve been, or hashtags you’ve used (obviously the less popular they are, the easier it will be to find your photos). If you find your account this way, bookmark one of the images so you can easily return if they change the username again.
PRECAUTIONS YOU CAN TAKE
• Activate Two-Step Verification – Unfortunately, even this didn’t save me. This feature was designed to virtually eliminate the possibility of being hacked, but I had it activated and I was not notified of their attempts to get in. But, it’s better to have it activated than not, because there’s a chance it will save you.
• Change your passwords regularly
• Be wary of websites and apps that claim to show you who has unfollowed you, or that claim to give you more followers. Or basically any app that asks for your instagram login info. These are scams. They do not work, and their only purpose is to give hackers your information.