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Instagram has grown from a niche photo-sharing platform into one of the most popular social media platforms, with over 2 billion monthly active users in 2021.
With the popularity of the platform, many businesses are now looking at Instagram as their primary online marketing channel: it’s the place where they work with influencers to promote their product, get user-generated reviews, and more.
Unfortunately, despite the fact that there are many businesses being active on Instagram there are also many bad actors looking to take advantage of the situation by scamming or defrauding unwitting users.
While Instagram has been very active in combating cybercriminals and scammers on the platform, it has remained an uphill battle. There are still many fraud accounts impersonating famous people and well-known brands, and bad actors can then use these fake accounts to:
So, if you are a legitimate brand and your brand identity is being imitated by a fake account, what can you do about it?
In this guide, we will explore your options, especially how to report fraud and take down these fake Instagram accounts via reporting.
Let us begin.
Is creating a fake Instagram account impersonating another person or organization legal?
The short answer is no, it’s illegal, and if you are a registered trademark owner, Instagram is obligated to follow the U.S. federal trademark laws and potentially other relevant trademark laws in your location.
This simply means trademark infringement is strictly prohibited on Instagram. Which means that if you find your brand being impersonated by others (so technically, they have stolen your trademark), you have the right to report this account and Instagram is obligated to take action.
Instagram also adheres to the common law trademark rights, so it can ban accounts that perform infringements on unregistered trademarks, potentially including individual identity.
So, even if you haven’t or can’t register your trademark yet (i.e., you can’t register an individual name unless you are already famous), you can still take action against these frauds and fake accounts impersonating your identity.
Due to the visual nature of Instagram, trademark infringements can happen in a wide variety of different ways: logos, brand names, product design, and so on.
Here are some examples of acts on Instagram that may be considered legal trademark infringement:
There are over a billion Instagram accounts online today, so finding one or two accounts using your logos, name, or brand images might be easier said than done.
With that in mind, here are some approaches you can try when attempting to find out whether someone is impersonating you:
1. Search on Instagram
The first (and the easiest) thing you should do is to search for your name or brand’s name on the Instagram platform. You may also try searching for phrase variations, typos (i.e., Gogle instead of Google), and so on. Instagram will then show the search result listing all the accounts using your brand name.
Try reviewing these accounts one by one. Remember that just because an account has a name that is similar to or the same as your brand’s name doesn’t necessarily mean it’s made with a malicious intent to impersonate you. You can evaluate other factors, such as the content they are posting (i.e., if they are copying content from your feed, then it is clearly a case of impersonation), where they claim they are located, how they interact with others, and so on.
Keep in mind that accounts that are created with malicious intent tend to block the legitimate brand that they are impersonating. They do this in an effort to prolong their scam and reduce their chance of being spotted and reported by the company they are pretending to be. As a result, you may have to log in through another account (i.e., your personal account) to perform this search. We also recommend you try different spellings and variations of names, as bad actors try to be creative by switching letters or symbols in their account name to pull off their scam.
2. Search via hashtags
You can leverage Instagram’s search algorithm and try using hashtags in your search to find fraudulent Instagram accounts. This is especially effective when the fake account is attempting to sell products directly via Instagram because sellers typically use product specific hashtags to push their content towards the most relevant users. For example, a brand such as Apple might search for a hashtag such as #airpods, when they are searching for impersonators, whereas a brand such as Hermes might search for hashtags like #birkin.
However, you’ll need to be creative and meticulous when using this approach since, in practice, branded/product-specific hashtags are also used by legitimate consumers, resellers, and vendors.
While this approach can be very effective when done right, it’s important to keep in mind that it can be very time-consuming to do.
3. Reverse image search
You can also perform a reverse image search (i.e., via Google Images) to check whether there are accounts that have posted your photos or any photos of your products/logo on Instagram. Unfortunately, as you can imagine, this process can also be time-consuming.
4. Invest in a real-time Instagram impersonation and fraud monitoring solution
If you want to quickly identify fake accounts impersonating your brand and take action ASAP, then the best approach is to invest in a social media protection tool like Red Points. Red Points can reliably scan through hundreds of Instagram profiles and web pages, quickly producing reliable and accurate results in just a matter of minutes.
By using Red Points, you effectively eliminate the need to perform manual searches, instead, the impersonation protection tool notifies you as soon as a detection is made allowing you to quickly take action and report these fake accounts and cases of fraud as soon as possible.
1. By using your desktop/web app
Instagram will review your submission and may contact you if they require more information. Instagram usually replies within 24 to 48 hours via email and will delete the fraud and fake account if your request is approved.
2. By using a mobile app
Note: it’s typically more effective to submit the form via the web/desktop app, and you can’t provide any proof via the mobile app. However, the process is easier and faster when using a mobile app.
You can use this option to submit a quick report, and you may follow up with another report from your desktop/web app later.
A mobile report can still be effective, and Instagram may disable the fake account for fraud activities if they are able to gather enough findings.
If your brand owns a legitimate Instagram business page, then reporting the fraud and fake profile and getting it taken down is much easier. You can use the Instagram trademark infringement form to report the fake account using your trademarks.
You’ll need to provide proof of ownership and prepare the required documents to prove that your registered trademarks have been infringed. Having screenshots and other proof showing the account infringing your trademarks may also help.
Typically you’ll be required to submit a copy of your registration certificate that is able to prove ownership of the business/brand name that’s being used by the bad actor on the fake account.
Once you’ve submitted this proof of ownership and other relevant proof, Instagram will review the report to determine whether or not a trademark infringement has occurred. This report will serve as your official DMCA takedown request, and once it’s approved, Instagram will ensure the account is taken down and all content is removed.
If you submit the Instagram trademark infringement form and don’t hear any response after 48 hours, don’t panic. First things first, try resubmitting the form. There’s always the possibility of technical errors leading to your forms not being received. If there’s any change to the situation, you may also want to update the information first, before you resubmit the form.
If the second form is ignored again, then you can try emailing Instagram’s support team. There may be underlying circumstances causing this delay, for example, if the support team requires more time to evaluate whether the infringement actually occurred. The support team may also ask for further information and proof before they can approve the report.
Can you find out who made the fake account and take the necessary action?
Unfortunately, this can be quite challenging to do since Instagram will not reveal the identity of the bad actor behind the fraud for privacy purposes. Also, Instagram will not give you access to the fraudulent account even after it’s taken down.
So, you’ll need to be proactive and take things on your own. Here are some tips you can use to find the culprit behind the fake account:
If the impersonation attempt has caused you any kind of financial loss or otherwise, it might be worth it to pursue the real culprit and take legal action. Red Points can help provide the data needed to file an official complaint in the event of legal disputes.
Red Points’ advanced Brand Protection Software is designed to help brands protect their online reputation, revenue and the integrity of their trademarks, copyrights, and other forms of intellectual property.
Red Points will automatically scan the web 24/7 to monitor and protect from trademark infringements in real-time. By identifying infringements and brand abuse attempts as early as possible, you can stop bad actors from misusing your trademarks before they can cause any significant damage to your finances and reputation.
While dealing with trademark infringement and frauds on Instagram and taking down fake accounts can be quite complex, Red Points can help in gathering evidence and automatically sending takedown notices so that you don’t have to manually.