How to spot fake Instagram followers, profiles, reviews (and how to report them)

In this 7-minute read:

  • Do the Instagram accounts you follow have fake followers? Are you following fake Instagram accounts?
  • Why would someone want to buy fake Instagram followers or create a fake profile?
  • Are the influencers you follow buying fake followers?
  • How to spot fake Instagram followers and profiles (4 ways)
  • How to report fraudulent or unauthorized Instagram activity

In 2019, a report from Cheq (a cybersecurity company) determined that fake social media accounts and influencers cost advertisers around $1.3 billion of an $8.5 billion market for global influencer marketing. That’s a lot to be spending on fraudulent accounts. And the problem isn’t getting easier to solve. 

The number of fake Instagram profiles and followers is always growing. It makes people suspicious of those influencers who are actually working hard to reach their own followers and it can be difficult to tell which accounts are fake, leading to unsuspected scams on users and businesses. 

Throughout this article, we’ll discuss the whys and hows of fake Instagram accounts so that you can better determine which of the accounts you follow are legit.   

Get more happy customers and keep them loyal with reputation management software. Learn more, plus get free reputation monitoring and customer insights when you sign up for Womply Free!

Do the Instagram accounts you follow have fake followers? Are you following fake Instagram accounts or profiles?

It is very likely that you’re following one or more fake Instagram accounts or an account with fake followers at the very least. In every trending industry or topic of interest there are tons of new fake accounts created every day. Sometimes Instagram is able to weed out the fake accounts and remove them, and sometimes the users with fake accounts are a little sneakier and able to bypass the basic fake account checks. 

Why would someone want to buy fake Instagram followers or create a fake account?

Before we dive into the reasons someone would create a fake profile or get fake followers, let’s discuss the difference between “bot” and “bought” followers. 

Bot, or robot, followers are typically generated by a type of software that helps influencers and businesses automate their interactions on Instagram. You might find that bot accounts start following or request to follow you, skewing your own real follower numbers on Instagram. On the other side of that, influencers may use bot accounts to follow their own profiles and boost their numbers. These bot accounts are generally used to help increase a users’ engagement rates like comments and likes. Sometimes they are using them on their own accounts to make their content seem more legit (with fake reviews and recommendations about their products), and other times these bots are used to make their own account appear more responsive and engaging with their audience by liking and commenting on their followers’ posts. 

Bought accounts are just that—accounts that the perceived “influencer” paid for to raise their follower numbers. Followers that are purchased are generally fake accounts that have been created for the purpose of being purchased by users seeking to increase their followers. These are often bot or inactive accounts. 

Outside of fake followers, a user may create a fake account or profile in general, which in turn they get fake followers on. 

Now that we’ve covered the difference between those types of fake Instagram accounts, let’s talk about the reasons why someone would use fake accounts and followers: 

  • To scam people into buying their products or services

Sometimes these accounts might have legitimate products that they are trying to market and they fall into the trap of purchasing followers as a marketing strategy. But more often than not, it’s users who don’t have a good quality product (or no product at all) that try to dupe someone into paying them for their product. 

  • To scam unsuspecting businesses into partnerships

Influencers can get paid good money from business partnerships. They can share a review on a business’s product and generally have good referral discounts that their followers can get through their partnerships with specific businesses. But if an “influencer” has thousands of fake followers, then the business isn’t really gaining any benefit from the money they are spending with that person. 

  • To get more real followers

Sometimes, buying fake followers is a ploy to get more real followers. It can make a newer account appear more legit, thus getting others to follow them. But if you find yourself in this situation, know that you’re going to have much better outcomes if the majority (or all) of your followers are real. 

Do the influencers you follow buy fake Instagram followers? 

You could definitely be following someone who has purchased fake followers. It’s likely some of these accounts have popped up into your suggested accounts to follow and upon first glance, they totally meet the type of account you want sending content to your feed. 

It’s pretty easy to purchase fake followers and become an “influencer” from the point of sheer number of followers. Just check out this article from Hubspot about buying Instagram followers

Another marketing agency, Mediakix, conducted their own study to determine how easy it was for users to purchase fake followers and become Instagram famous quickly. They were able to purchase up to 15,000 followers at a time without their account getting flagged. And it’s relatively inexpensive to purchase followers too, around $3-$10 per thousand followers. 

Another study, from London’s Institute of Contemporary Music Performance (ICMP), found that even some of the biggest stars in entertainment have large percentages of fake followers. Of Ellen Degeneres’ 74 million followers, about 58 percent were suspicious. Other stars included Kourtney Kardashian and her 80 million followers (of which 49% were suspicious), Taylor Swift with 119.5 million followers (again 49% were suspicious), and Ariana Grande with her 159 million followers (of which about 46% were suspicious). 

So if you still don’t think that the accounts you follow are buying their followers, take a deeper look. The only way to know for sure if an Instagram account is real, or at least to have a better idea or whether the accounts you follow have fake followers, is to check them yourself. 

How to spot fake Instagram followers and profiles (4 ways)

Spotting fake profiles on Instagram doesn’t have to be difficult. More often than not, it just takes a couple of minutes to look deeper at someone’s profile to determine if the account is real or not. If you’re unsure about an Instagram account that you are following or want to partner with, run these checks on them. 

  • Check out their profile and/or followers’ profiles

A real or fake account can be determined just by doing the glance check. Do they have a real photo of a person for their profile picture? Oftentimes a fake account will use an attractive person for their profile picture to draw in their followers (we’re not saying that all attractive profile photos are indicative of a fake account—it’s just one factor of a fake account). Likewise, they might be using a model or celebrity for their profile picture. 

Also, look at their posts, photos, stories, and content. Does it seem like a real account? Or is it a lot of the same thing shared over and over again?

  • Check the comments and engagement on their posts

The promise in their bio or content may also seem too good to be true. Check the comments on their product posts to see if anyone has ever said anything negative about their product. If everything is all unicorns and rainbows and there’s no indication of even one upset customer or any questions about the legitimacy of their products, that’s a definite red flag. 

  • Check their followers’ engagement numbers

Beyond just checking what the actual content of the comments say, check to see how many people are actually engaging with this user’s posts. If they have hundreds of thousands of followers and only a few people are actually commenting on their posts now and then, a lot of those followers are probably fake. A common stat for engagements on Instagram posts is about 1 out of 10 followers will comment or like a post. 

It’s also important to note however that likes on Instagram posts can be bought, too. So if you’re already suspicious of an account and they have a ton of likes with little to no other engagements, then they might have fake followers. 

  • Check their account with social media tools

There are several social media tools that you can use to run Instagram accounts through to do a quick check to see if they might be fake. Some tools, like Social Blade, will run a report of when an account acquired their followers. If on a normal day that user gets 5-10 followers and then all of a sudden on one day they have 10,000 followers, then they probably paid for them. 

You can also use tools like FakeCheck and Social Audit Pro to run audits on followers to determine the number of fake followers an account has versus real ones. 

So, the next time you follow or seek influence from an Instagram account with a large following, take the time to be a little suspicious and give them a good once over before determining that they are the real thing. 

You can use the “report” feature on Instagram to flag scams and fraudulent activity

Instagram doesn’t allow content containing the following, and all may be reported by clicking the three dots to the top right of a post and then using the “Report” feature:

  • Spam
  • Nudity or sexual activity
  • Hate speech or symbols
  • Violence or dangerous organizations
  • Sale of illegal or regulated goods
  • Bullying or harassment
  • Intellectual property violation
  • Suicide or self-injury
  • Eating disorders
  • Scam or fraud
  • False information

Instagram is said to review all reports within 24 hours, and an account may be pulled if it receives 3-4 reports. Of course, these are just estimates based on Instagram’s current rules, and are subject to change.

If you run a business, you need reputation management software

Online reviews and engagement are important for all businesses, whether they’re on Instagram or not. Most online platforms like Google My Business, Amazon, Yelp, and other review platforms have a way to report or flag reviews. If you’re pretty sure a review is fake, or it breaks the rules of the review platform, you can report it or flag it for review and the platform admin may decide to remove it. This can take several weeks, so don’t expect the review to disappear immediately.

Just be careful about doing this too often, because your account can be suspended if you are unjustly flagging reviews. (Don’t flag legitimate reviews just because you don’t like what they say, for example.)

Go deeper: read our complete guide to removing fake reviews

If you run a business, you can benefit from reputation management software. Encourage your customers to leave valuable feedback with a simple platform that helps you monitor and respond to reviews in a timely fashion. Learn more, plus get free reputation monitoring and customer insights when you sign up for Womply Free!

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