One click caused small business owners to lose Instagram accounts to scammer

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Two Jacksonville small businesses were the victim of a scam that left them locked out of their social media accounts, meaning they lost a vital part of their marketing.

Now, they want others to be aware so it doesn’t happen to their accounts.

Gabby Montana says a lot of her business is done through social media. She makes custom signs for special events such as weddings to personalized home décor.

Montana said owning her small business works with her schedule because she’s a mother and a Navy wife, who’s often moving around.

“Once we moved back to Jacksonville, it kind of blew up more than I thought it was going to,” Montana said.

Montana recently posted an Instagram Reel that went viral with more than a million views, so when she received a message from what appeared to be Instagram’s parent company, Meta, she quickly jumped into action.

Message sent by Meta. (Copyright 2023 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

“It said there was a copyright infringement. I thought, ‘Oh gosh, maybe I did do something wrong,’” Montana said. “I’m such a rule follower. So, I clicked the link right away.”

And that one click was all it took for the hackers posing as Meta officials to take over her business account, change the name, pictures and password and keep her followers.

Montana tried to reach out to Instagram for assistance to no avail. So, she resorted to begging the hacker to return her page. They, then, asked for a ransom of $200 for her to get her account back. Montana declined the offer.

Montana isn’t the only business owner to have fallen victim to this scam. The same day, the owner of BS Sweet Designs, which is a local baking company, also said she lost her account the same way.

Former News4JAX consumer reporter Lauren Verno, who now works for cybersecurity firm OnDefend, said this is a common scam that people need to look out for.

“Who’s to say in a few weeks that they won’t ask for it again, or that they will ever give you back access? So, once it’s gone, you’re likely not going to be able to buy your way out of it,” Verno said.

Verno said she’s seen this happen to million-dollar organizations as well.

“They’ve lost millions because of things just like this, that one email. It goes back to take a look at it. Take that second and maybe just ask, do a little research because nothing’s going to happen in five minutes. If you click that message right away, it’ll probably be worse if you did it,” Verno said.

Montana said the hacking is costing her a little bit of money but the support she’s received from local businesses has been astounding as they shared her story on their pages.

Montana is spreading her message and trying to get Instagram’s attention through a new page that she created that has over 600 followers.

News4JAX reached out to Meta to see if there’s more that could be done, and the company said it is looking into the issues.

About the Author:

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.