'It shook me': Freelancers' nightmares over hacking and identity theft on Instagram

Scott and Rahim have had issues with hackers and 'catfish' on social media. Credit: Scott McGlynn/Rahim Mastafa

With the world moving increasingly online, many people's livelihoods come from their digital profiles. But what happens when they get forcibly locked out of their accounts? Or a 'catfish' tries to profit off their hard work and public persona?

One freelance photographer from Cardiff said he has not been offered any help or support after the Instagram account for his business was hacked.

Rahim Mastafa said the hacker changed the email address and phone number linked to his account so he is unable to access it.

Since taking over Rahim's account, the hacker has been contacting high profile actors who Rahim has photographed.

The photographer said he is concerned about the damage this could have to his reputation.

Additionally, the hacker has been messaging Rahim's friends and some have been engaging - unaware that they are not speaking to Rahim.

"My followers and friends have been in touch saying the hacker is having conversations with them and even trying video calls."

Rahim said: "The main thing is that Instagram don't have a good way of reporting in a way that you know they are looking into it. So people just have to set up new accounts.

"They have a duty of care and tell users to play by their rules but offer no help at all.

"I know someone else who has spent 10 years building their business page and following and it's all gone."

As Rahim said, he is far from the only person whose profile has been targeted.

Welsh skincare and LGBTQ+ campaigner Scott McGlynn, from Blackwood, said he is very fearful of getting hacked.

"I've had nightmares about getting hacked, that’s my life, my job and my work that I’ve worked so hard on."

'It's very scary how far they went'

Although Scott's profile - which has around 260K followers - has not been hacked, someone has attempted to steal his identity by creating a fake profile impersonating him.

He said: "They copied everything, my photos, bio, and work."

Scott said that overnight it started to affect his personal and public friendships and very nearly cost him brand work.

"I only realised when I got a call from a close friend who was really worried for me... I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about but I could feel dread creeping into the pit of my stomach."

The person pretending to be Scott had messaged his friends saying that he could not keep up with the pressure of his public Instagram site and asked them to only message him on his new account.

The fake profile of Scott was filled with his photos and was following all of the same people.

Scott said: "One of my friends of 15 years, who I speak to weekly, believed it was me. It’s very scary how far they went to pretend to be me.

"I felt sick and scared. I told my friend to block the account and then I was tasked with trying to work out who he/she had interacted with and what they had said.

"It transpired they had said that I was struggling mentally to cope with the pressure of being an influencer and was taking a bit of a break.”

Scott was working with numerous brands and there was suddenly confusion over their products and advertising.

"It shook me, I was scared about what was being given out, worried about information around my private life.

"That person could quite easily have found my address and phone number from the close friends they were interacting with. God knows what could have happened then.

"It's left me having nightmares and obsessively checking daily to see if there are any fake profiles being set up in my name.

"I want to warn everyone with a social media presence to be careful. I don't want it to happen to anyone else."

Scott said he now has a team that will search his name across social media weekly to make sure no one is doing this again.

He said there is more to do around protecting people online.

As an influencer and content creator, Scott speaks to the Instagram team once a month.

He added: "They are an amazing team but of course I have questions and I tell them that I am worried. They’re doing the best they can but some people are just sneaky."

Instagram offers the following advice to those who think their account has been hacked:

  • Check your email account for a message from Instagram

  • Request a login link

  • Request a security code or support

  • Verify your identity

  • Change your password

If someone is impersonating you on Instagram, the platform advises you to report it.

Instagram has been approached for further comment.