Are you Instagram verified? It’s the coveted and elusive blue checkmark that people are eager to secure. The verified badge helps people easily find public figures, celebrities and brands they want to follow.
But scammers know how badly some people want that verification and are duping users out of hundreds of dollars.
Chanel Lewis, an aspiring model out of California, was hoping to make a buck out of her Instagram page.
“When you’re verified, it’s an opportunity to make more money," Lewis said. "People respect you more, you get more clout with Instagram, so it brings up more opportunities."
An account called gram_growth_ messaged Lewis, telling her they can verify her account for $50.
Chanel said she had some doubts, and then the account went even further -- they sent her doctored screenshots of a conversation they had with NBC 6 Anchor Jawan Strader and claimed they helped get him verified.
"At first, I’m like, 'What? What is this?'" Strader said.
Turns out, there was more where that came from. Singers, models, aspiring actresses and people with a lot of followers all started flooding Strader's inbox. They were all trying to confirm if the account was indeed legitimate.
“I responded to (Lewis), and she sent me a screenshot of my supposed conversation," Strader recalled. "And I said, 'That is not me, it’s fake, it’s a scam, don’t fall for it.' ... 'I already did,' she said."
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Chanel ended up being out $250 and no blue checkmark.
"At the time, I feel stupid, I feel dumb, I was like, ‘I needed that money,'" Lewis said. "I was so desperate to get verified on Instagram that I was willing to keep on giving him the $50, keep giving him the $50, keep giving him the $50."
The Better Business Bureau says they see these types of scams, but most of the time, they’re reported straight to the platform.
"This is something that if anyone offers to help you with that for a fee, that is inaccurate, that is a lie," said Cinthya Lavin with the Better Business Bureau. "This is something that you have to apply to do and you have to have a certain number of followers, you have to be viral on certain things, and even then, it’s really up to the platform to receive this blue checkmark."
Instagram has an entire application process. You can request verification through your page, but there are certain requirements, and even then, it’s a big mystery just how they decide.
If someone reaches out to you saying they can verify your account, Lewis advises to not fall for it.
"Just don’t do it," she said. "If you get anyone inboxing you, commenting on your pictures, just don’t do it. I knew better than to do that, but I was just so desperate at the time."
Facebook, which owns Instagram, told us in a statement, "Fake engagement and spammy behavior are against our rules and we’ve made massive investments to find and remove those responsible so Instagram can continue to be a place for genuine interactions. One account claimed they worked for Instagram Community Service and could get verification five hours after payment. This is a scam."