'Instagram hackers demanding £300 held my business to ransom'

Nikki Golding (left) and the hacker's WhatsApp message demanding money. 
Both supplied by Nikki Golding
Nikki Golding received WhatsApp messages demanding a ransom in exchange for access to her hacked Instagram account. Credit: Nikki Golding

A small business owner says hackers who hijacked her online shop's Instagram page and held it to ransom almost cost her eight years of hard work.

Hackers sent Rose and Guy owner Nikki Golding WhatsApp messages out of the blue demanding £300 to regain access to her account.

Mrs Golding, from Ipswich, Suffolk, had spent eight years building a following of loyal customers for her small business making and selling children's clothing via Instagram.

She had grown her online bohemian-inspired children's clothing brand since 2015. Then her account disappeared in an instant.

She estimated around 95% of her sales are driven by her Instagram business account, processed via Shopify, and the Rose and Guy page's sudden disappearance left her in a panic.

Rose and Guy clothing business owner Nikki Golding issued this appeal for help rebuilding her following after being hacked. Credit: Instagram/ @roseandguy_

Mrs Golding told ITV News she was alerted by a friend, who messaged her on 28 May concerned that she couldn't find her business account's Instagram handle.

She attempted to log in and found her account's handle was nowhere to be found.

Shortly afterwards, she received messages from a number that said: "Hello. I have your account.

The hacker suprised Nikki Golding with WhatsApp messages out of the blue, demanding £300. Credit: Nikki Golding

"If you send 300 British pounds, I will give your account back.

"If you don't, I'll sell your account to someone else and you won't be able to access it.

"What is your decision?"

Fortunately, Mrs Golding had two-factor authentication (2FA) protections switched on for her business Instagram.

She soon received emails from Instagram revealing the hackers' attempts to change her account password and Instagram name and handle.

Rose and Guy's children's clothing for ages 0-6 were primarily sold via the Instagram account hijacked by hackers. Credit: Instagram/ @roseandguy_

Rather than paying their ransom demand, she probed further, reasoning: "I get that's what a lot of people would say - 'why don't you just pay the hackers £300' - but I just didn't want them to win to get access, then let them do it to other people."

She knew they had her phone number, and could also see the account name change they had made: 'IG verify confirm ticket'.However their attempt to take control of her account appeared to have been stymied by the account's 2FA security.

She reported the hacking attempt to Instagram, but has struggled to restore access in the weeks since.

Mrs Golding believes her account may have been locked by Instagram after she reported suspicious activity.

She said she had struggled to get Instagram to provide her any concrete advice for what steps to take to restore her account, or how long it would take.

Nikki Golding and her family live in Ipswich, Suffolk. Credit: Nikki Golding

She told ITV News she was desperate to regain access to her account.

"It took eight years to build up my following, it's so hard on Instagram, anyway, for small businesses to build a following - and I spent so much time trying to create content and keep up loyal customers."

"I do get that it is a free app and I do understand that but I think, after everything - paying for ads, paying Meta, I do feel let down."

Mrs Golding had begun her small business by sewing infant and children's clothing when her first child was just nine months old.

She balanced being a mother of two with growing her business into a fulltime job, with more than 48,000 followers on her Instagram account, @roseandguy_ before it was hacked.

She has a website and email attached to the business, but Instagram is her shop window and drives the bulk of her sales.

Unsure she would definitely get the original account back, and with business to do, she made the decision to begin a new one - forced to rebuild her following from scratch.

Last weekend, Mrs Golding put out an appeal for her customers to follow her new account, in an emotional video post sharing her story.

She blown away when she eclipsed her original follower count, built over eight years, in a single day.

Nearly 70,000 people followed her replacement account after she issued the appeal, after fans shared it widely.

In the emotional video appeal, Mrs Golding said she hoped the "power of social media" would help restore her follower count. and urging others to share her story.

The reel's caption read: "I really need your help!"

In one day, she earned more followers than the last eight years combined.

"56k in just over a day," she wrote in awe, as she thanked her new followers on Sunday. "This sort of thing just doesn’t happen to me.

"I was never the popular kid at school, never won anything, spent eight years trying to create content to be seen by celebrities or to go viral and it just never happened.

"The last 24 hours have been so surreal and I’m so thankful for all of the love and support. From the bottom of my heart, thank you!!!"

While her appeal has put her back on track to rebuilding her shop's Instagram presence, Mrs Golding told ITV News she believes Meta, which owns Instagram, Facebook, and WhatsApp, should do more to protect small business owners from hacking.

She said she would be happy to pay a subscription fee for stronger verification processes and security, and felt that the infrastructure for small business owners using the platform was lagging.

A scammer's paradise

Nikki Golding's ordeal is far from uncommon.

Only recently, TSB issued a warning on the scale of social media scams taking place through services such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram.

The bank says a significant proportion of the cases it sees have been coming through these platforms.

It said that its own internal data indicates scams that come through these Meta-owned companies account for around 80% of fraud cases within the three biggest fraud categories at TSB.

ITV News has contacted Instagram for comment.

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