Has your Instagram been hacked, too?

It was a rainy Dasain when Bimala Gharti received a message from a relative on Instagram. ‘I am having problems with my old account. Please help me recover it by clicking on this link,’ read the message.

Gharti did not think twice before clicking on it. After all, she knew the person: the account had the relative’s profile picture, nearly the same username, and familiar previous gallery photos.

But the next thing she knew, she was logged out of her own account. The hacker is now posting and sending out photos illegally promoting bitcoin from her account.

One of the posts reads: ‘Internet investment has not been my thing from the start but when my friend referred me to @floretta_tradings_  a woman whose is involved in bitcoin mining, I decided to give it a try and I started with just 76,000 and guess what! I earned 763,000 within hours and made a successful withdrawal to my bank account its 100% real and legitimate I would advise y’all to check it out!! Send her dm Don’t miss this opportunity (sic)

This festival season, Nepalis have found themselves targeted by hacker(s) trying to promote bitcoin investment through fraudulent identity theft through Instagram accounts of many public personalities.

In one of the posts of Bimala Gharti’s hacked account, there is a photo of Gharti herself with a screenshot of a message notifying that money had been transferred to a bank account, the number of which is also publicly posted.

“I tried to change my password many times but I couldn’t,” says Gharti.

There was a similar attempt to hijack the Instagram account of Galaxy 4K anchor and scientist Sameer Mani Dixit. Over Dasain, an Instagram message pretending to be from him started circulating among his friends on the platform also saying that he was having problems with his account and to click on a link.

Quite a few of his friends opened and clicked on the message, thinking it was genuine. Some others called to ask him if he had changed his Instagram account.

“The fake account tried to look genuine, it had a couple of my photos and my biodata,” says Dixit. “My actual account is fine but they made another account with a similar username and targeted my Instagram friends.”

Dixit has since reported it to Instagram and warned his friends through his social media accounts. One of his two fake accounts has been shut down. The second one is still operating and has managed to get 200 of his Instagram friends to follow them.

Hackers have also made fake accounts of Dixit’s colleagues Sarita Gyawali, Sanjay Gupta and Kishore Maharjan. Other high-profile targets include journalists Bhushan Dahal and Kunda Dixit, former Chief Election Commissioner Neelkanth Upreti and former president of Non-Resident Nepali Association Jiba Lamichhane.

Says Sameer Mani Dixit: “At least three of my friends have had their accounts hacked because of this. Poor cyber security is one of the reasons behind this.”

Nepal Police’s Cyber Bureau got many complaints over the holidays of their Instagram accounts being hacked. “The pattern is similar, hackers try to phish others by sending links on Instagram,” says Rajkumar Khadgi of the Bureau.

A message sent by former Chief Election Commissioner Neelkanth Upreti

Creating fake accounts online or ‘data doppelgangers’ online is on the rise but by no means is a new trend, says Samradh Ghimire, an expert on social media.

He says: “Hackers are trying to advertise goods, commit fraud or tarnish someone’s image but the primary purpose is often financial. Back in the day they used to hack the internet, now they have turned to social media.”

Ghimire suspects the hacker to be either a Nepali or someone from South Asia because Nepal is not an attractive destination to promote cryptocurrency for foreigners. So far, the Cyber Bureau does not have any leads. 

Meanwhile, former Chief Election Commissioner Upreti and overseas Nepali Jiba Lamichanne have also alerted their friends and followers about the hack as well as reported it to the platform.

Upreti sent out a message, ‘My Instagram ID is hacked and is being misused for malicious purposes. The hacker has changed my Instagram password and trying to deceive all my friends. Please block neiluprety if you are a friend using Instagram.’

Similarly, Lamichhane posted on his Facebook and Instagram: “Fake ID makers on Instagram have caused trouble. Someone has made mine with my photo and username. If you see @jibalamichhane_, please ignore, unfollow or block it.”

Journalist and author Kunda Dixit on the other hand posted a handwritten note via his Instagram story requesting his ‘real friends’ to ignore messages sent from his fake account.

Bimala Gharti is still logged out of her real Instagram account and is worried about how much longer it would take. She warns: “Just because a message is sent from a familiar looking account, don’t trust it. And definitely don’t open them.”

Translated from the Nepali original published on himalkhabar.com

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