How to Stay Safe on Instagram

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As a safety and security expert, I’d like to think I’m immune to all the social media scams out there. I have to admit, though, I’ve been taken a time or two. Social media sites are hives for people trying to trick you with catfishing schemes, scamers, and data mining.  Instagram is no exception. I did some research and found out how to stay safe on Instagram.


How to stay safe on Instagram


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Is Instagram safe?

Instagram isn’t any safer or dangerous than any other social media platform. For the most part, all social media sites mine your personal information to target you with ads or to sell your information to partners. And if the platform has the ability to send direct messages, you better believe you’ll be targeted by a scammer.

Data mining

Your Instagram account is far from private. Instagram collects a staggering amount of information about you. Here’s all the data it collects:

  • Content you create, liked posts, comments, videos, and photos
  • Messages you send and receive (though Instagram claims it can't see the content of messages unless users report them for review)
  • Information about content you view or interact with
  • Apps and features you use, and what you do with them
  • Purchases or other transactions you make on the app
  • Hashtags you use
  • Information about friends
  • The device and software you’re using and what you’re doing on that device
  • GPS location
  • Your IP address and other network information
  • Websites you visit and cookie data
  • Games you play
  • Your demographics (age, race, income)
  • How you interact with ads
  • How you use their partners’ products and services
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Scammers use enticing DMs to draw you in, like this one offering jobs as influencers.

DM scams

Here are some of the popular scams that may find their way into your Instagram DMs:

  • Romance scams: Whether they’re catfishing you to fill some dark hole in their love life or trying to get personal information out of you to steal your identity, these people are up to no good.
  • Follower or like scams: Just about everyone has dreamt of becoming the next social media influencer. The folks in your DMs offering you followers or likes for a low, low price aren’t going to help with your notoriety. Sorry.
  • Investment scams: No matter if it’s crypto schemes or some kind of influencer deal that sounds too good to be true, these scamsters attack with the draw of a quick buck.
  • Phishing scams: Curiosity killed the cat. A tempting link can allow scammers to download malware to your phone that can steal private information.
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Use a VPN

Virtual private networks (VPNs) basically put your internet connection in stealth mode. If you are on your phone or using social media on a public network, using a VPN is your best protection from hackers. See our top VPN picks and start protecting your transactions now. 

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Are private Instagram accounts safe?

The privacy settings on Instagram lets you make your account private.

A private Instagram profile just prevents people from viewing your content unless you allow them to follow you. Instagram still mines your data and scammers can still send you DMs (even though the process is a little harder).

It doesn’t even keep your photos or videos from being shared. Your followers can still screenshot or screen record your content and share it. Remember, nothing is truly private on the internet.

Instagram safety settings and tips

Blocking and reporting is an easy way to make yourself safer on Instagram.

Despite all of this bad news, you still want to use Instagram, don’t you? No judgment. There are settings and tips you can use to make Instagram a little safer:

  • Turn on two-factor authentication. It can keep hackers from gaining access to your account. You’ll find this feature under Settings > Security > Two-factor Authentication.
  • Pick a strong password. This will also keep the hackers out. Use our password guide to make a strong password.
  • Set up a VPN to keep your information safe. Our VPN guide will get you started.
  • Protect your mental health. The Hidden Words feature in the privacy settings hides offensive comments and inappropriate content from trolls in comments and message requests. You can also use the feature to hide comments that contain certain trigger words and slurs that you pick. You can turn the features on by going to Settings > Privacy > Hidden Words.
  • Get rid of trolls. Remember, the blocking and reporting tools are awesome safety features and they are your friend. If you only want to block an Instagram user for a short period of time (like if they’re just getting on your nerves and you need a break), use the Limits option. You can find it in Settings > Privacy > Limits. If you want to temporarily hide a user’s stories and posts, click the Following dropdown for options like muting and restricting. If you’re being harassed by a bunch of people, turn off the comments on your posts and disable tagging by going to Settings > Privacy.
  • Limit data mining. You can choose if Instagram uses information from its partners to target you with ads. Go to Settings > Ads and toggle off the option.
  • Protect your location. Before making an Instagram post go live, make sure your address, phone number, license plate, or other identification isn’t in the post. You can use virtual stickers to easily hide personal information.
  • Use the pop-ups. IG has a pop-up that asks permission to track your activity across other apps. Tap No.

FAQ

Go to Settings > Privacy and toggle the switch next to Private account.

Tap the menu icon in the upper right side of the post and tap Report.

You have to approve followers. Then, only your followers can see what content you post, who you follow, and your Instagram Stories.


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Alina Bradford
Written by
Alina Bradford
Alina is a safety and security expert that has contributed her insights to CNET, CBS, Digital Trends, MTV, Top Ten Reviews, and many others. Her goal is to make safety and security gadgets less mystifying one article at a time. In the early 2000s, Alina worked as a volunteer firefighter, earning her first responder certification and paving the way to her current career. Her activities aren’t nearly as dangerous today. Her hobbies include fixing up her 100-year-old house, doing artsy stuff, and going to the lake with her family.

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