How to Avoid Getting Catfished by Fake Instagram Accounts

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At the height of the 2013 football season, a sports media outlet called Deadspin published a story entitled “Manti Te’o’s Dead Girlfriend, The Most Heartbreaking And Inspirational Story Of The College Football Season, Is A Hoax.”

As it turned out, Manti Te’o was the victim of an elaborate catfishing scheme in which an acquaintance tricked Te’o into falling in love with a woman online. Later, Te’o was informed that this woman, who never existed, died after losing her battle with leukemia.

If a famous football star who had access to coaches and private investigators could be fooled by a simple catfishing scheme, many other people are potentially vulnerable to making the same mistake on Instagram.

Fortunately, there are ways to determine if you are being catfished. Here are 5 tactics that can help you verify if an Instagram account owner is representing him or herself accurately.

1. Look at the account’s other Instagram followers.

Nefarious accounts are frequently followed by other nefarious accounts. Simply by looking through accounts that are following the Instagram account in question, you should be able to get a sense of whether the account is valid.

It is common for those interested in making a fake Instagram account to purchase fake followers through platforms like Fiverr or Instaboostgram. Inspect a handful of the accounts following the account in question. If follower content is varied and includes posts with likes and legitimate comments, it is a sign that the account in question is legitimate. Follower content that lacks variety may be a sign that the account  is not real. 

2. Read Instagram post captions and comments.

Another way to determine if an account is real is to read through Instagram post captions and followers’ comments. Are the captions coherent and spelled correctly? Do followers comment in such a way that leads you to believe the followers know the account owner? Are the accounts of commenters fully fleshed out?

If the answer to the questions above is yes, it is another good sign that the account in question is being run honestly. If the answer is no to at least some of the questions above, you should do further digging before coming to a conclusion.

3. Search for the owner of the profile on other social media platforms.

According to a 2016 PEW Research study, nearly 80% of American adults have a Facebook account, while 32% have an Instagram account. Chances are the owner of the Instagram account you are investigating has a social media profile on another platform. If you are unable to find a profile on another platform, it may be acceptable to ask the account owner for a link to the profile.

If the owner refuses to provide a link to their profile, or if the profile on another platform appears to be illegitimate, it is a red flag that the owner is not representing him or herself accurately. 

4. Research the person’s full name via digital directories.

There are a number of online directories through which you may be able to find the person’s name and address. Try simply “Googling” the person’s name. If that fails to turn up anything, you should note that many localities require by law that all home sales be published.

It may be possible to find information about the account owner by searching for a specific house sale via a local newspaper. Alternatively, if home sales are a matter of public record in the area you are searching, you should be able to call the local town hall to ask for more information.

Readers who are truly committed to learning about the identify of an Instagram account owner can also try using a background check service. Platforms like Hire Right and Intelius provide interested parties with some legal and financial information depending on the level of detail you request. Note, however, that some states have made it illegal to begin a background check without first obtaining the subject’s written consent.

5. Understand that verification can be challenging.

While it may feel like the internet is a relatively safe place, thanks to machine-learning programs that filter out offensive comments, as well as human moderators who clean up offensive content for organizations like Facebook and Google, the internet does have some safety issues.

It can be difficult to fully verify a person’s identity without either meeting the person, or at least obtaining detailed personal information in order to conduct further research. It is best to recognize that, at some level, relying on the accuracy of an Instagram user’s claims can be risky if you don’t know the account owner personally. 

Conclusion

To avoid becoming a victim of catfishing, it is important that you first and foremost understand that verifying an account owner’s identity will be challenging. That said, it is always a good idea to review the accounts of those following the account in question.

It is also smart to review the captions and comments from previous posts to see if the account owner appears to have made connections with other users in a meaningful way. Be sure to also research the account owner via other social networks and digital directories.

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David Epstein

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