instagram account hacked

Toronto small business has Instagram hacked and held for ransom

It's been over a month since a small woman-owned business in Toronto had their Instagram hacked, and as usual, despite sending reports and emails to Instagram, nothing has been done.

Siva Swaminathan's small business account @chezsiva focused on healthy cooking classes for people with diabetes. Her Instagram account had around 2,400 followers and 1,500 posts at the time it was hacked.

"I work so hard for my business and gained a following as it's not as 'sexy' as [other] cooking classes. But I focus on eating healthy for people with chronic disease," Swaminathan tells blogTO.

"It's all gone. I am heartbroken."

At 6 p.m. on March 12, Swaminathan got an email and a DM from someone pretending to be from Meta (the company that owns both Facebook and Instagram) saying she violated Instagram copyright agreements.

"I thought someone complained about me as I have experienced people copying my content and posting my images on their pages. So, I thought I could complain to Meta (Instagram), and I could see the case number if I clicked on the link who I was violating," says Swaminathan.

"The link redirected to a page where I signed into my Instagram account and password. Once I did that, my account was gone."

By 6:15 p.m., the hacker was texting her on WhatsApp saying they were holding her account for ransom. She tried to get in touch with authorities to report the issue as fraud, but they told her she had to get in touch with Instagram, saying they get this all the time.

That's when she started what she calls "going in circles" with calls and reports.

"I couldn't even get to a screen for a security recovery code," says Swaminathan.

The hackers then changed the name of her account before deleting it completely.

"Hundreds of my contacts were sent private DMs with the same copyright violation emails with my prior conversations for them to click," says Swaminathan.

"I begged them to give me my account. I told them that I was a small business that suffered from the pandemic and that I was not working, and I was helping people with chronic disease and they needed me. They kept replying 'dude cash first.'"

The best she could do was block the hackers days later as they clearly weren't going to return the account. Her outreach to Instagram went from daily to weekly, still with no action taken.

"Every day I was finding out about new accounts being hacked as I searched for accounts with #hackedaccount. They all have a story, but none were a happy story," says Swaminathan.

"I've come to realize there is no accountability and these hackers get away with it, while Instagram hasn't really got back to anyone."

Her Instagram account was her main connections to clients and the diabetes world, as she also runs diabetes support groups, and she's suffered due to losing it.

"This has been a major setback," says Swaminathan. "I've started all over again. The hardest thing is getting all  my followers back, especially all the people from the food community."

She's managed to gain back about 800 followers at her new account @cookingwithsiva, but that's still only around half of what she used to have. Ideally she wishes she could restore her original account, but would appreciate Instagram simply responding to her.

Lead photo by

Siva Swaminathan

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