Instagram Bans Hundreds of Accounts With Stolen User Names

Instagram is coordinating with other social media platforms, including Twitter and TikTok, to ban users who have been involved in stealing hundreds of single-word usernames.

These short, covetable handles, known as “OG usernames” (keywords such as @Killer, @Sick and @Miracle) are valuable, as they are eye-catching and conference states; Those who had previously snatched them were early adopters. Cyber ​​Criminals buy and sell usernames on dedicated forums and messaging apps.

The crack, which began on Thursday, following a month-long investigation into by Instagram, is the primary platform in which these accounts are sold and traded. Instagram discovered that the names of stolen accounts were obtained through hacking, extortion, blackmail and harassment – and could then be sold for $ 40,000. Such manipulations have largely gone unchecked over the years. ( was also the forum where last year Giant twitter hack Former President Barack Obama, Elon Musk and many other celebrities were affected.

38-year-old Ajay Pondicherry, a real estate software entrepreneur in Los Angeles, was one of the first few thousand users of Instagram, so he was able to claim to handle @Ajay with ease. Over the years, people had offered to buy or trade his username, but he always refused to give it.

“It was a sign that I was one of the early adopters of Instagram. I have always been a big fan of the product and that handle proved that I was on board early, ”he said. “I appreciated it because people tried to kill me and do business and buy it from me. It was cachet.”

On February 21, 2019, Mr. Pondicherry found himself locked out of his email accounts. Then, his phone stopped working. When he checked his AT&T account the next day, his number was connected to a new phone.

What Mr. Pondicherry experienced was Sim swap, Whereby a cyber provider exploits someone’s personal information to gain control over their phone number from a wireless provider, then uses two-factor authentication to gain access to their personal accounts. After Mr. Pondicherry gained control of his AT&T account and tried to log in on Instagram, he discovered that his handle @ Ajay had been stolen by a hacker.

SIM swapping has been the preferred method of many cybercriminals to obtain valuable Instagram accounts and social media handles. (This was also the method Used by hackers To handle Twitter account of Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey in 2019.)

But recently, cybercriminals pursuing OG usernames have resorted to harassment and threats. According to Instagram, some of the accounts behind which people stopped on Thursday had millions of followers – subject to owners of desirable Instagram handles to avenge swat, intimidation, porn and violence.

The 22-year-old Jackson Weimer, the administrator of the meme account called @ VishalPlocatechup8, said he has encountered hundreds of people who commit this type of behavior online.

“Their main purpose is to grow their pages, and selling these OG usernames is a game for a lot of them,” he said. “Their aim is to do this for as many people as possible. Each mem page has encountered one of these people. “

After Mr. Weimer noted these practices on his Instagram, he met with a barrage of harassment. “They sent me pictures of their house on Google Maps,” he said of his oppressed. “They told me that they wanted to rape and kill my parents. He said that I would regret doing this. They sent me their address and ‘exposing’ me an account on Instagram, where they would just post and lie about me. “

Instagram said the nine cybercriminals were behind the unauthorized seizure of hundreds of Instagram accounts, but the platform’s ban includes not only these nine users, but middlemen who have used and Telegram, an encrypted messaging app Helped in the purchase and sale of accounts. Many of the middlemen are young, including teenagers, who see the short handle as a status symbol.

Dr., a clinical assistant professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at NYU Langone Health. “This is an important car when cars were important,” said Argelinda Baroni. “Children in general want to be legal. Children want to be cool. But children do very dangerous things to achieve status. “

Instagram reported action in 2020 and worked with TikTok and Twitter to identify accounts across platforms, after reporting an alarming increase in account theft and escalation in the methods used to obtain usernames. Started.

A representative of Tikotok said in a statement, “As part of our ongoing work to find and prevent inhumane behavior, we have recently retrieved several Tiktok usernames that may be used for inappropriate account Were. ” “We will continue to focus on staying ahead of the constantly evolving strategy of bad actors, including collaborating with third parties and others in the industry.”

Twitter confirmed that the company had also banned users from manipulating the platform’s policies and banning spam. A Twitter representative said, “The investigation was done in conjunction with Facebook.”

Rachel Toback, a hacker and chief executive of SocialProf Security, who conducts security training and workshops, said the epidemic has pushed more young people into online communities where they can make money and find comrades.

“It is basically a lack of support and an increase in economic hardship, especially under Kovid-19,” she said. “I want to say that it is a social challenge that these minors are falling into cyber crime like this. We will always have criminals, but we are going to see people, especially minors, turn to cyber crime when there is a lack of support systems or a specific economic downturn affects them. “

Instagram said it is sending cease-fire and wanted letters to individuals behind the theft of high-value handles and catching people involved in criminal activities in association with local law enforcement agencies.

Although Instagram has previously banned Mee’s accounts Violation of Terms of Service, Thursday’s crack is the most public and decisive action Instagram has taken against people manipulating the platform for financial gain. But Will Dias, vice president of e-commerce and media company, Dank Memes, which runs multiple pages with reputable usernames, said he suspects that attempts to steal the account will never fall completely.

Will @Stonks ever stop being targeted? Probably not, especially not after last week, ”he said, referring to GameStop Mania. “There will always be a demand for some usernames, URLs. Internet real estate is finite. “

Mr Weimer said that while Instagram’s account ban was a good first step, it does not address a deeper issue at play: young users only want to make money on the platform.

“I think the epidemic has caused a lot of children to try to make money in any way, no matter how scary,” he said. “They have more time on their phones, they are at home more often, many children have lost their part-time jobs.”

“If Instagram really wants to fix this problem,” Mr. Weimer continued, “they need to go from the top down and start paying people who create content so that people have no way to make money in other ways Don’t be the reason. “

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