The Latest In Trademark Abuse Is Registering Marks To Obtain Ownership Of Instagram Accounts

from the fake-it-until-you-make-it dept

When one thinks about an Instagram account being taken over by a malicious actor, one usually imagines some kind of hack or social engineering resulting in the theft of an account password. The refrain “It wasn’t me, I was hacked!” that you hear from some whose social media profiles are the subject of social scrutiny relies on this impression.

But there are many different ways to hack a cat. The latest in Instagram account takeovers appears to be done through the avenue of trademark law, interestingly enough. Motherboard has a fascinating write-up detailing an entire ecosystem of malicious actors who are abusing trademarks to convince Instagram to hand over access to accounts.

Scammers do this by creating fake companies and trademarks to convince Instagram they should be the legitimate owner of a username in question, with fraudsters using “trademarking,” as the technique is known, to get ahold of sought-after, valuable handles, according to posts and evidence of the process in action obtained by Motherboard. The scammers can then keep these handles as digital mementos, brag about their acquisition, or resell them at a profit in a thriving underground community.

Instagram allows users to report handles that a person or company believes infringes on their trademark. For example (this is a hypothetical), if the creator of the @disney handle on Instagram was not actually associated with Disney, the company may want to appeal to obtain ownership of the username. If Instagram agrees, it may then hand over control of the account to the original trademark holder. Instagram told Motherboard it has a team that works on trademark and intellectual property issues, and as part of that process, the team reviews whether a complaint may be fraudulent.

Judging by the sheer volume of bad actors that are “trademarking” in order to fool Instagram, it seems the company’s team is at best not fully up to the task of weeding out the fraudsters. And, to be clear, this isn’t so much a problem with trademark law as it is a problem with Instagram putting so much weight on supposed trademark ownership that it acts as the linchpin for account takeovers. That said, while time consuming, the ease with which bad actors can spin up trademarks makes this problem more wide-spread.

Several users on the underground forum OGUsers, which focuses on the theft and sale of high value Instagram accounts, appear to engage in the practice.

“I’m looking to get a trademark or fake trademark that will make it look like I own a word so I can get an insta username,” one user posted on the forum last year.

“Need someone from the uk to file a trademark from me,” another OGUsers member wrote last year. “Willing to pay fees + 20% in bitcoin.”

A previous Motherboard investigation found members of OGUsers often sell handles for thousands or sometimes tens of thousands of dollars worth of cryptocurrency, although most of those account hijackings likely rely on SIM-jacking, where a hacker takes control of a victim’s phone number.

Again, the ultimate culprit here is Instagram using a trademark, or supposed trademark, as the chief justification for handing over an Instagram account. There obviously needs to be more of a check in place to ensure that this exact tactic is not allowed to be abused. It’s also something of a symptom of ownership culture that an individual is allowed to point to a trademark, then to an Instagram account, and claim ownership.

It seems the only barrier to abusing trademark law for malicious actions is one of creativity.

Filed Under: , , ,
Companies: instagram

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “The Latest In Trademark Abuse Is Registering Marks To Obtain Ownership Of Instagram Accounts”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Olog File says:

NOT "ownership culture" but GREED.

Ownership is intrinsic when make something of your own.

This is just greed for money without the effort of creating and trading, which incidentally, is the key identifier of corporatists and masnicks.

Solution is to make Instagram responsible.

Instagram is a mere fiction that has no "right" to exist at all, let alone when becomes facilitator of theft / grifting and hazard to the public.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: NOT "ownership culture" but GREED.

"Solution is to make Instagram responsible."

Responsible for what? They’re not the ones granting legal documents to scammers. Instagram can certainly do some more due diligence, but shouldn’t the focus be on the fact that the trademark system is so broken that someone from another country can register a trademark for something that’s already being used widely enough to become a target for defrauding their userbase?

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Re: Re: NOT "ownership culture" but GREED.

Responsible for what? They’re not the ones granting legal documents to scammers.

They’re the ones usurping the role of the judiciary. They should not be doing this at all. Even if, to use the example from the article, someone registered a fake @Disney account, it’s not Instagram’s job to decide that there’s trademark infringement going on! That’s for a court of law to rule on.

The only reason this happens at all is because we let extrajudicial law enforcement become a thing. And that’s absolutely bonkers! Does anyone believe that if those OGUsers scammers had to go before a court and get a ruling of trademark infringement first, that this would be a big deal?

(And before anyone points out the obvious, that fraudsters have been coming up with real defamation rulings under false pretenses to get stuff taken down, yes, that really happened a few times. But it happened a few times, several orders of magnitude less than the problem of extrajudicial takedown fraud, and the courts caught on pretty quickly and started busting the people who tried it.)

Impersonating a police officer is a serious crime. Why isn’t impersonating a judge and jury?

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Imagine that, seeing IP weaponized more and more.
It is almost as if the huge push to ‘protect’ IP, ignoring any warnings of bad outcomes, has become exactly what was warned about.

There are so many penalties for not jumping high enough or fast enough yet somehow despite the mounting evidence of bad actors abusing it, still no penalties for them. We really need to stop pretending we can’t touch the sacred cows, that sometimes the cow breaks into your house & shits everywhere. We shouldn’t be forced to accept the cow doing this & if it keeps doing it we should make burgers.

Anonymous Coward says:

it may then hand over control of the account to the original trademark holder

Why? Why would you do this? What possible reason could there be for doing this?

You should simply suspend the account and tell the account-holder to change their account name. Because all the stuff in the account – that belongs to the person who created it whether they ‘misused’ a trademark or not.

Qwertygiy says:

Re: Re:

I’m pretty confident that they’re only referring to the name here, because actually handing over the account with all the information on it would be absolutely ridiculous, and something I’ve not heard of in other cases of username appropriation.

I’m also very confident that there’s no reason for Instagram to be doing this in the first place. To be the best of my knowledge, trademarks don’t even apply to usernames to begin with. Legitimate cases should be brought to the attention of the owner of the account and offers made for the name or account, not by telling Instagram to hand it over. Instagram should only be getting involved in cases of impersonation.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...