Fake follower accounts, often made by bots, may raise your Instagram follower count but they also come with some hidden risks.
Since it was created in 2010, Instagram has had a problem with fake followers and the issue has steadily increased.
Despite an Instagram purge, which saw millions of these accounts deleted, the social media site is still riddled with fake profiles that can put your online safety at risk.
Fortunately, most fake profiles are easy to spot - as there is no profile picture, no photos, and only a few followers if any.
However, others are a bit more difficult to identify, especially as bots become more advanced in an attempt to fool the social media network.
According to the New York Times, which recently uncovered an industry of fake follower purchasers and companies, these accounts are becoming harder to spot because they “in an attempt to seem legitimate, use personal information from real people without their knowledge.”
With profiles filled with photos, often stolen, and fake bios, these advanced accounts make it harder for outside companies, Instagram, and users to spot the fakes.
And the problem is worsened by the fact that many social media users actually seek out the fake followers in an effort to boost their online presence - meaning the market for them has only grown.
It is easy to purchase them as well, and by using easy-to-generate bots, companies can offer interested parties thousands of followers, comments, or likes inexpensively.
For social media influencers, the allure of high follower counts is often hard to pass-up - but for regular Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook users, being followed by bots can be risky.
Although most bots are harmless, according to Pete Hunt, the CEO of Smyte, an online-fraud fighting company, some are not.
“Bots are also used to attack people,” Hunt told Refinery29. “The bot may be befriending you so it can send you private messages with spam or phishing attempts.”
These bad bots, the ones that want to steal your password or infect you with a virus, account for 28.9 per cent of bots on Instagram, according to data security company Imperva.
If your Instagram is public, meaning anyone can view your pictures, the risk of bots following you, messaging you, and stealing your photos is increased.
However, there are steps you can take to keep your online safety from being compromised by bots - although it will affect your follower count.
When a suspected bot follows you, you can report the bot to Instagram by going to their profile and clicking “report.”
Unfortunately, the method can be time-consuming but it will keep you safe from bad bots until Instagram purges the app again.