A Victoria business owner is determined to make social media platforms more accountable to users, after a hacker allegedly gained control of her Instagram account and demanded nude photos for its return.
“It was awful,” Rebecca Burrows told Global News.
“I was just so upset, but almost in shock, I didn’t know what to do.”
Burrows owns Hughes Clothing in Oak Bay.
On Jan. 28, she received a message that appeared to be from Instagram, asking her to fill out a form with personal information for a copyright infringement issue.
She complied, realizing too late it was a scam. She had been hacked.
“He took over my Instagram by changing the password and doing a two-step authentication on his end of it,” she said.
“So, there was no way I was going to get it back.”
Her email and her credit card were also compromised.
Burrows sent the alleged hacker a message from her personal account demanding he return it to her.
“He said, I’ll give it to you on one condition – if you send nude photos of yourself,” said Burrows.
The messages continued:
“Do you accept?”
“Do you hear me? No. Take the account. I’ll start a new one,” she replied.
“I am not sending anyone photos of myself.”
Burrows reached out to Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, only to get this in response:
“We found that this account likely doesn’t go against our community guidelines. If you think we made a mistake, please report it again.”
Even the Oak Bay Police Department was unable to proceed.
“These files are extremely complex as they’re often based out of foreign countries and the criminals ensure there are many layers between them and their victims,” Oak Bay Police Chief Constable Ray Bernoties said in a statement.
“We encourage people to try to educate themselves in this area but understand how difficult that an be as the scammers evolve and use their expertise to blend in with the already complicated web-based economy.”
Experts say this kind of activity is becoming more and more common, particularly among small businesses.
Jesse Miller with Mediated Reality said both the social media conglomerates and police need to be better prepared to field these requests.
“These tools do need to emerge where we can actually give people the support they’re looking for – when their information, when their business presence has been affected.”
Burrows is planning to take matters into her own hands, starting a non-profit aimed at lobbying social media platforms to create a 1-800 number to help anyone who may find themselves in a similar situation.
“You know, when life gives you lemons – it’s time to makes some lemonade,” she said.
“This has been a wake-up call for me, there is no support, zero support.”
A new Instagram account is now up and running for the store, @hughesclothingvictoria. Burrows already has more than 1,300 of her original 4,500 followers back.
(Story Photo credit: Table Creative @tablecreative.ca)