SINGAPORE - When Ms Michelle Ling realised her Instagram account had been hacked, her first worry was that it would be used by scammers to target her friends and followers.
She had recently come across a few cases of hacked Instagram accounts being used for scams and she feared right.
The 25-year old project manager realised she could no longer access her Instagram account last Sunday night (March 27) after receiving an e-mail informing her that the e-mail linked to her account had been changed.
When the hackers gained control of her account, they impersonated her and urged her 5,000 followers and friends on Instagram to take part in an investment scheme, promising large sums of money.
"Screengrabs of what looked like transactions of $20,000 to my bank account were being posted on my page and stories. They were fake of course, but I was so scared that my followers and friends would fall for the scam, thinking that it was me posting them," said Ms Ling.
She said her worry grew when her friends informed her that the hackers had sent links to them via private messages on Instagram, urging them to click on the links to join an "investment scheme".
This pushed Ms Ling to make a police report on Thursday.
In response to queries by The Straits Times, the police confirmed a report was lodged and said investigations are ongoing.
Ms Ling used a second Instagram account that she created a few months ago to tell her friends and followers not to fall for the scam.
Many of her followers are also customers of her online skincare business, which she has been running for more than two years.
"Some 80 per cent of my customers are from Instagram and have made purchases via Instagram. So I tried to contact them using my backup account to inform them about the status of their orders and that my account has been hacked," said Ms Ling.
She added: "I have seen other people's Instagram accounts hacked recently. I just did not expect something like this to happen to me too."
For Ms Valencia Law, it felt like deja vu when she found out her Instagram account was hacked on March 26 - the second time in two months.
When her account was hacked the first time, the 26-year-old administrative assistant managed to retrieve it as she was still logged in.
But this time, her password had been changed and she could not log in.
Posing as her, the hackers wrote on her Instagram account that she had invested $1,200 and earned $22,000. Similarly, screengrabs of bogus bank transactions were attached to the posts.
The hackers also urged her 1,000 followers to join a giveaway, claiming that they would win $1,000 if they could correctly identify the numbers shown in some photos posted.
Ms Law said: "I was afraid that some of my followers on Instagram would fall for the scams, especially those who do not know me well enough to know I would not post such things.
"But some of my friends told me about the scam posts on my account. This means they are aware these are scams and won't fall for them."
Ms Law and Ms Ling were among three women ST spoke to whose Instagram accounts were hacked and used by scammers in the past two weeks.
The third was an 18-year-old student, who wanted to be known only as Elizabeth. Her account was hacked on March 20. She said scammers used it to private message her friends urging them to join an alleged giveaway.
She added: "I'm sad that the memories posted on my account are gone and angry that the hackers are trying to scam my followers."
Ms Ling said she is aware of five others whose Instagram accounts were hacked in recent weeks. Several Instagram users also told ST that they have been seeing more of such scam posts.
All three women ST spoke to filed reports with Instagram. As at Saturday, they have yet to recover their accounts.
Responding to queries from ST, a spokesman for Meta, which runs Instagram, said it has a zero-tolerance policy on scams on its services and will take immediate action to remove illegal activity as quickly as possible.
"We use a combination of technology, human review and user reports to find and remove violating content, and we encourage people to report suspicious content when they see it," said the spokesman.
She urged Instagram users to pick strong and unique passwords, never share them with anyone and to turn on two-factor authentication (2FA) in their settings to protect their accounts.
"We know we can do more here. We're working hard to keep our community safe by educating users on tools and features they can use to protect themselves, and by investing in technology that stops bad actors," she added.
Your account has been hacked? Here is what you can do
Meta, which runs Instagram, has this advice for users if they suspect their Instagram accounts have been hacked:
1. Check your e-mail account for a message from Instagram
If you received an e-mail from Instagram security letting you know your e-mail address has changed, you can undo the change by following the instructions in the e-mail.
2. Request a log-in link from Instagram
If additional information was changed, you can request Instagram to send you a log-in link to your e-mail address or phone number. This will help you access your account.
3. Request a security code or support from Instagram
If you are unable to recover your account with the log-in link that Instagram sent, you can ask Instagram to send you a security code. If you do not receive the security code or are unable to retrieve it, follow the on-screen instructions to submit a support request.
4. Verify your identity
When you submit a support request, you will receive an auto-response e-mail to verify your identity.
Meta will verify your identity when you provide your e-mail address, phone number that you signed up with and the type of device that you used at the time of sign-up, or a video selfie.
All video selfie submissions are not visible on Instagram and will be deleted within 30 days.