Losing access to social media accounts can mean big headaches for users

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InvestigateTV – In this interconnected world, social media has become the new town square, the new archive, the new marketplace.

At the end of 2021, there were 2.91 billion monthly active Facebook users worldwide and around 1.3 billion people have the photo-sharing app, Instagram, according to figures released by Facebook and Instagram. .

People use Facebook and Instagram to stay in touch, to share memories, and now increasingly, to build a following. Hackers have taken advantage of this growth to gain access to people’s accounts, often targeting weak passwords.

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According to a 2021 Norton Cybersecurity Report, 13% of social media account users detected unauthorized access. Due to the increase in cybercrime, 77% of Americans are taking more precautions online. The report also shows that 53% of people feel anger when it comes to being hacked.

Theresa Harmon knows this feeling all too well. A longtime Facebook user in his personal life, in 2018 Harmon started an account promoting his small business “All the Trimmings.”

The page was a place where she could display her work, connect with clients, and allow them to review her business. Everything changed on Labor Day 2020.

She cannot identify the weak link that caused her to lose access to her account, but she said the hack was related to an unknown email address.

“I put in my email, and it was changed to something from Hotmail, and I’ve never had a Hotmail account in my life,” Harmon said.

She turned to Facebook for help. His only point of contact was a page for people with hacked or locked accounts.

“I haven’t received any response from them,” Harmon said. “I worry that people will contact me through my Facebook business page and then get no response and think, ‘Well, why would I hire him? She’s either lazy, or she doesn’t even give me the decency to answer.

Harmon said she tried other ways, like asking friends and family to report her account, but still had no luck getting a real person online. She said she complained to local police and filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

Theresa Harmon no longer has access to that Facebook page she used to promote her business. She was blocked after a hacker changed her account email address.(Photo submitted)

InvestigateTV visited Facebook and Instagram and also could not find a customer service phone number.

In a press release in late 2021, Facebook admitted to having no live support to help users with their locked accounts. The company said it was working on implementing live chat in 2022 that could help users regain access to their accounts.

Instagram, which is under Meta, the same parent company as Facebook, also sees its share of hacked accounts. Videographer Quinton Gray lost access to his Instagram account early in the creation of his businesses – Culture Production Company and Quinton Gray Films.

The hacker dealt a blow to his budding business, preventing him from sharing his passion for cinema with his followers and friends.

“I had to completely love starting over. I lost about 1300 subscribers which isn’t a lot but when I started it was a ton of attention I could have used,” said Grey.

The hack was just the start. Once the hacker took over his account, they impersonated Gray and messaged his friends with a scam. One person has been victimized.

“They’re like, ‘Yo, like, where’s my money’ and I was like, ‘what are you talking about?’ And he was like, ‘Man, like, I gave you my money,’” Gray said.

To regain access to her account, Gray reached out to Instagram for help. He said the platform had only shared his “help” articles. When that didn’t work, he got creative.

“I would go to YouTube videos, trying to figure out what can I do to get it back or how can I start posting again, which is the most important thing for me,” Gray said. “I just had to start from scratch.”

Instagram isn’t just about Gray’s business, he said it’s also about sharing special moments. While talking about his own lost account, Gray considered social media’s greatest appeal, beyond dollars and cents. He said his dad used it to keep in touch with his family and the impact would be huge if his dad was ever on lockdown.

Quinton Gray shares a moment with his father.  For many, losing access to their social accounts...
Quinton Gray shares a moment with his father. For many, losing access to their social accounts could mean losing years of photos.(Quinton Gray)

“It’s a lot of vital memories that I know he cherishes… our whole family cherishes,” Gray said. “So as soon as someone gets hacked and they can’t access their account, they lose all those personal memories.”

InvestigateTV reached out to Facebook and Instagram for comment on all accounts featured in this story, but received no response.

Harmon and Gray aren’t the only ones complaining about social media account hijacking. In 2017, the FTC began tracking identity theft on social media.

Over the next five years, the number of complaints doubled. The FTC calls the crime “profile hijackings.”

Identity Theft Reports | Public Board

Caption: The Federal Trade Commission collects complaints about various identity thefts. The number of social media has increased over the past five years. (ftc.gov/exploredata)

Other people locked out of their accounts who did not want to be named told InvestigateTV they went to great lengths to gain access to their accounts, including buying ads in hopes of reaching an employee of the business.

Identity theft ranks fifth in the past five years, with more than 35,000 people filing complaints alleging the use of social media for fraudulent.

Alex Nette, CEO of Hive Systems, is a cybersecurity expert with over a decade of experience working with federal and state agencies. He said there was not much to do once the hack took place. To secure your social media accounts, front-end protection is necessary.

Net offers:

  • Add two-step multi-factor authentication to your account.
  • Do not reuse the same password; instead, let companies recommend a special password that is harder to access.
  • If you change a password, don’t make simple changes, such as adding a single digit to the end of the new password.
  • Link your accounts – but remember that if one is hacked, chances are the other will be too.
  • Keep an eye out for suspicious activity (usually messages from someone trying to log into your account).

Nette said hackers will use information gleaned from your account page to try to guess passwords. If they can’t guess, Nette said live dark web password lists are available for hackers.

“Passwords are really the only way we have in the computing space and the cybersecurity space right now to keep things secure,” Nette said.

He said companies such as Facebook have shifted those responsibilities to individuals.

“Companies kind of almost let that go,” Nette said.

However, it’s not always a hack that stops users from accessing their social media accounts. Singer-songwriter and musician Annie Kennedy hasn’t had access to her Instagram account for two years and still has no idea what happened. She used Instagram to connect with local and international fans and fundraise.

“I would just do some kind of marketing there, like, ‘Hey, … these are the rewards that I have or the prizes at the end if you contribute,'” Kennedy said. “I could just get people up to speed and keep engagement high while I was fundraising.”

She said she was blocked after trying to log into her account on a new device. Kennedy said she asked Instagram for help.

“But that’s when there’s just a lot of back-and-forth and automated messaging. I couldn’t really talk to anyone, a real person,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy said she had been emailing Instagram for weeks, submitting a photo of herself and her driver’s license side by side. Even after this step, she said the company ultimately couldn’t help.

Caption: A seamstress (Theresa Harmon), a videographer (Quinton Gray) and a musician (Annie...
Caption: A seamstress (Theresa Harmon), a videographer (Quinton Gray) and a musician (Annie Kennedy) have all lost access to their accounts.(Daniela Molina, Investigate TV)

For Kennedy, Gray and Harmon, the lockout was not only an emotional burden, but also a financial one. Kennedy said she hopes Instagram and Facebook will provide more reliable customer service to its users, especially business owners.

“I think it would be great if Instagram and Facebook invested more in their user experience. It would be great…a lot of people use social media for their art or their livelihood, which drives the real revenue from those ads for businesses,” Kennedy said. “It would be great if they invested a little more energy, time, and resources into user experience.”

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