Instagram, tricked into thinking its boss was dead, locked him out of his own account

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In April 2020, with the Covid-19 pandemic hitting hard around the globe, Instagram announced a new feature through which users could memorialise their deceased loved ones.

The social network’s memorialisation feature provided “a place to remember someone’s life after they’ve passed away.”

As Instagram explained, when an account is memorialised, no more changes can be made to the account.  No-one can log into it, no-one can add new photos or videos, no-one can comment on the account’s past posts.

The account is effectively frozen in time as a memorial to the deceased.

What could possibly go wrong with that?

Well, unfortunately, the feature can be abused by trolls and scammers to lock the accounts of others.

All Instagram requests to memorialise an account is “a link to an obituary or news article,” and – you guessed it – that’s not something that’s hard for a scammer to fake.

As Vice reports, one person who found himself locked out of his account by just such an attack was the Head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri.

In September, Instagram staff were seemingly tricked into believing that their boss had passed away – through the use of a fake online obituary – and locked his account.

Vice reporter Joseph Cox was contacted by a scammer calling themself Syenrai, who claimed responsibility for the fake obituary.

38-year-old Mosseri was lucky, and had access to his Instagram account quickly restored.  But there are seemingly plenty of other very-much-alive Instagram users who have found it hard to get their memorialised accounts unlocked.

And the ease with which accounts can apparently be frozen has made it an effective way for scammers, trolls, and harassers, to victimise Instagram users and throw them off the site.

In the past it has been reported that underground services offer Instagram bans to those with a grudge for just a few dollars.

According to Syenrai, if the targeted account is not verified and has less than one million followers, Instagram’s support team may not even check if the name on the submitted obituary matches:

“As long as the obituary is recent (within same week) the target will be memorialized. It works 98% of the time.”

Meanwhile, other scammers are actually offering to help banned Instagram users restore their accounts – for up to $4,000 depending on the number of followers.

Never let it be said that scammers and online crooks don’t have an entrepreneurial spirit.