Not all we see on Instagram is true. This is your guide to learning how to tell if an Instagram account is fake, and what to do if you come across one.
Instagram has over 1 billion users. With the world population at 8 billion and counting, that means that 1/8th of the world’s population uses Instagram.
Or do they? Not every Instagram account out there is real. There are loads of fake Instagram accounts out there, created for a variety of reasons.
So: how do you tell if an Instagram account is fake? Keep reading for 15 ways to do just that.
Why do people create fake Instagram accounts?
Before we get into how to tell if an Instagram account is fake, it’s a good idea to understand why people create fake accounts.
Unfortunately, the answer is very often just to scam others. Here are a few common scams found on Instagram today.
Phishing involves people trying to steal your personal data via a virus or by getting you to fill out a form. Hackers can then use this info to get into your account without your permission.
Another common Instagram scam is catfishing. In catfishing, a user pretends to be someone they’re not in order to build a relationship with another unsuspecting person. Catfishing scams can last months or years.
And while sometimes they’re done out of pure loneliness, other times the end goal is more sinister, like stealing money. Your new friend or partner might ask you to send money for a family emergency, buy a plane ticket for them to visit you, pay for them to replace a stolen phone or anything else that pulls at the heartstrings.
Too-good-to-be-true offers or prizes
These scams want to trick people into thinking they’ve won some type of crazy prize or perk. Maybe you think you’ve won an expensive hotel stay, but you need to put your credit card number in to claim it.
But in reality, the scammers are just trying to get access to your personal data, financial information, or bank accounts. Be aware of anything that seems too good to be true. Most legitimate contests won’t ask for sensitive information to claim prizes.
False offers of brand collaboration
I only have about 400 followers on Instagram, but I’ve occasionally gotten DMs from “brands” wanting to “collaborate” with me. These collaboration offers usually have the same goal as the other scams above: they want to get your personal details or bank account info.
Be wary of brands you don’t recognize, and use the tips below to tell if the account is fake. These offers might start with unnatural, old-fashioned-sounding language like “Hey dear!” instead of using your name in the salutation.
Influencer fraud doesn’t exactly mean that the account in question is fake. But, lots of real people use shady tactics to make their profiles look more impressive than they really are. They might buy bot followers, or pay for fake likes or comments.
They sometimes also steal photos and videos from others and pass them off as their own content, or plagiarize ideas that other influencers have already used. Whenever you’re working with influencers, make sure to run a thorough audit before signing any deals.
How to tell if an Instagram account is fake: 15 ways
Here are 15 ways to check if an Instagram account is real or fake.
1. The account doesn’t have a profile picture
No profile picture is a pretty clear sign that an account could be fake. Instagram is a visual platform, and the whole point of using it is to share visual content. If a user isn’t even willing to set up a profile picture, chances are they didn’t sign up to Instagram for the network’s intended use.
Now, you could catch a profile before the person got a chance to upload their profile pic. But since it’s a step in the Instagram profile setup, I’d say this is unlikely. What’s more, if a user is worried about putting their own photo as their profile picture, they could always use an avatar or other image that doesn’t show their face.
2. The account has no content
Having no content is another sign that an Instagram account might be fake. An account with no content is probably a bot. If an account is private, you can still see their total number of posts at the top of their bio.
Other reasons why an account has no content? Maybe someone created a fake account to follow others without any intention of actually posting. I’m sure there are lots of moms and dads out there who have done this to keep up with what their kids are doing.
3. They have no followers and aren’t following anyone
Getting lots of followers on Instagram can be difficult. But real people who sign up for IG are almost always going to follow at least a few other accounts—their closest friends, their favorite brands, news channels, etc. They’ll almost always get a few followers in return, too.
Usually accounts with no followers or following are bots who post spam links in their bios. Don’t click any links on accounts like this.
4. They leave generic or nonsense comments on your posts
If an account leaves lots of generic comments like “nice pic!” on your posts, it might be a bot trying to get you to follow them back. It could also be a wannabe influencer trying to build their audience, so when examining their profile look for other red flags on this list.
If someone leaves comments that just don’t make sense, it’s probably a bot. If the comments feel like a human didn’t write them, they most likely didn’t.
5. They send you irrelevant DMs out of the blue
Similar to the last point, if an account you don’t recognize sends you DMs out of the blue that have generic or irrelevant messages, that’s another way to tell that the account is probably fake.
You might get the odd message from another real person who simply wants to strike up a conversation out of nowhere, however creepy that might be. But in most cases, DMs that come out of nowhere and have no clear purpose will be coming from bots or users trying to defraud you.
6. They follow a suspiciously high number of other accounts
If you see that an account has a really high number of following accounts compared to its number of followers, it’s another suspicious sign. If you see, for example, someone with 2 followers who is following 2,000 accounts, it’s probably fake.
True, some real people follow loads of accounts to hopefully get followers in return. But even then, that’s not necessarily a user who you want to be involved with for any type of collaboration or transaction on social media.
7. The account is brand new
Brand new accounts have a higher chance of being fake than older accounts. This is because they haven’t yet been subjected to any type of content moderation by other users or by Instagram itself.
But, it’s true that everyone has to start somewhere, and whenever someone joins IG, their account is brand new for a little while. So when analyzing brand new accounts, cross-check for things like profile picture, content, and followers/following counts to analyze if the account is real or fake.
8. The account uses someone else’s pictures
Identify theft is a serious issue for a lot of people, and Instagram isn’t immune to it. You may come across users who impersonate others in order to appear more attractive, famous, or impressive in some way.
It can be hard to spot this unless you stumble across someone using your pictures or those of a friend or celebrity. If you have any inkling that someone’s photos might be fake, run them through Google’s reverse image search to see if they’ve been stolen from someone else.
Keep in mind that if you see an account using pictures of a celebrity, it might be a fan account. A quick look at the handle or bio should reveal that the account is a fan page, like the one below.
This account clearly specifies in its bio that it is a Kim Kardashian fan page.
9. They claim to be a celebrity but aren’t verified
Now, a fan page is fine. But as long as the account specifies that it’s a fan page. If you see someone who claims to be an actual celebrity, but you’re not sure, look for the blue tick, which means Instagram has verified that account as true.
The one, the only. As evidenced by the blue tick.
If the celebrity in question is a more minor celebrity, Instagram might not have given them the blue tick yet. For example, actors who go viral or athletes who are just starting out might not have applied for verification before people find their account.
Take Anupam Tripathi for example. He was an actor doing bit roles in South Korea until he played fan favorite Ali in Netflix’s viral Squid Game. After that, he gained millions of followers to his IG account. Had you caught him before Squid Game debuted, you might not have seen that blue check.
10. They post continuous photos of random people
What else can be a sign that an account is fake? Well, if they post a continuous rotation of photos of random people, especially without tagging those users or mentioning why they’re posting, the account could be a bot trying to attract people to its profile.
This is commonly seen with attractive women. Think Instagram models. The goal here is usually for the visitors to click a link in the bot’s profile, which will either then steal their data or try to get them to spend money on some fake product or service.
11. They follow Instagram pods or auto-like communities
Instagram pods, also called auto-like communities, are groups formed by wannabe influencers. The goal of pods is to boost the engagement of its users by obliging all members to like and comment on each other’s posts.
In reality, this engagement is fake. The people in these pods don’t actually like the content they’re interacting with. They’re only doing it so others will do the same for them. You can usually spot a pod by its name, which will have something to do with becoming an influencer or wanting to increase engagement.
An Instagram pod will usually be a private account, and its bio will look something like the above.
If you see that an account follows IG pods, this doesn’t mean that the account is 100% fake. There’s probably a real person behind it. But, as far as brand collaborations and influencer marketing goes, you should consider this account fake.
12. They’re constantly offering discounts or sales
If an account simply peddles discounts or sales, especially for luxury goods, be cautious of it. Their goal is to get you to click links that take you to websites that instead of giving you a great deal, will steal your data or money.
Try to keep the old adage “if it’s too good to be true, it probably is” in mind when browsing Instagram. To double-check, you can also search for products on Google Shopping to see if the same deal pops up there too at a credible store.
13. They have a disproportionate follower count and engagement rate
If you don’t know, engagement rate is a measure of how much someone’s audience interacts with their content. It’s a star metric of influencer marketing and can help brands see how well a collaboration would work with a given influencer.
Engagement rates tend to decline as you move up the influencer tiers: while nano and micro influencers with small followings generally have the highest engagement rates, mega influencers usually have lower ones.
As an example, if you see an influencer with 5M followers who has a 20% engagement rate, that’s a big red flag. While the account might be real, their engagement rate is probably fake, falsified through fake likes or bot comments.
If you’re reading this post in preparation of an influencer campaign, make sure to read up on engagement rate and benchmark the IG averages for your country and category.
14. Their follower growth shows lots of peaks and falls
Another way to see if an account has falsified its data is to look at its growth over time. This is especially important when working with influencers. You can request this information from the influencer, or use an influencer marketing platform to analyze it on your own.
What you’re looking for here is sudden peaks and dips in growth. These spikes and falls might be showing you when an influencer bought fake followers, and then when they lost them. For organic growth, look for a smooth uphill climb in followers.
15. They fail a fake follower check
Finally, another way to determine if an Instagram account has fake data is to run a fake follower check. You can do this with an influencer marketing platform that analyzes influencer performance metrics.
The software will scan the influencer’s profile and determine which percentage of their followers may be fake accounts. To do this, the software uses many of the criteria we’ve already seen in this list.
What to do if you think an Instagram account is fake
Reporting an account to Instagram is easy:
- Click on the profile you want to report.
- Click on the three dots at the right.
- Click Report, and then follow Instagram’s instructions.
You can either report a specific post or the whole account. You can only report an account if it violates Instagram’s Community Guidelines, which include posting things that promote:
- Nudity or sexual activity
- Hate speech or symbols
- Violence or dangerous organizations
- Bullying or harassment
- Selling illegal or regulated goods
- Intellectual property violations
- Suicide or self-injury
- Eating disorders
- Scams or fraud
- False information
Instagram’s team will then review the profile to see if it in fact violates the Community Guidelines. If so, they may employ a shadowban, which reduces the account’s visibility, delete a post, or delete the account altogether.
If you believe that the account is practicing identity theft, there’s a specific form to fill out. But, only the person being impersonated can fill out the form. So if you think someone’s impersonating a friend, send them the details so they can file the report.
With these 15 tips, you now know how to tell if an Instagram account is fake. Unfortunately, these fake accounts often want to try to scam us into giving up our personal or financial details, or they’re influencers who want brands to pay them to market to a fake audience.
Whatever the case, be safe out there and make sure you audit any Instagram account you interact with before offering up any sensitive info.