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: influencers, scams, takeovers, trademark
Companies: instagram


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  1. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Olog File, 20 Feb 2019 @ 8:00pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Olog File, 20 Feb 2019 @ 8:05pm

    Re: NOT "ownership culture" but GREED.

    3rd time today got the "Held for Moderation" page, which is a LIE for start, and ineffective too when use "Resend". But Techdirt has tweaked something.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Feb 2019 @ 8:23pm

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

    Oh no, the person who traffics in lies is complaining.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. icon
    Killercool (profile), 20 Feb 2019 @ 8:48pm

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

    He keeps seeing this "Anonymous Coward" guy posting around here, too. Pretty sure that it's actually Mike, and he's used his Admin Powers™ to hide the profile. All in an attempt to hide the fact that the last time "Anonymous Coward" posted was 1967.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 20 Feb 2019 @ 9:41pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Feb 2019 @ 11:26pm

    Nothing that hasn't been happening to domain names for years: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reverse_domain_hijacking

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    PaulT (profile), 21 Feb 2019 @ 12:31am

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

    "But Techdirt has tweaked something."

    Spam filters tend to get updated over time, because people like you keep trying to get past them when they're doing the job properly.

    Have you tried just not being an insufferable asshole in order for your posts to not get flagged?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    PaulT (profile), 21 Feb 2019 @ 12:33am

    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?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Feb 2019 @ 1:08am

    Re: Re: Liars gonna lie

    Why you still here bro?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 21 Feb 2019 @ 2:07am

    How is Instagram responsible for the actions of third parties that are, like you, generating lies for their own personal benefit?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Cowherd, 21 Feb 2019 @ 3:51am

    The real culprit is the ridiculous concept that anyone could claim to "own a word" at all.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    Gary (profile), 21 Feb 2019 @ 5:54am

    Re: Re: NOT TROLL

    Instagram doesn't exist, riiiiight. And posting the same rant on auto-loop to make it more truthy isn't the sign of tin-foil poisoning.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Feb 2019 @ 7:08am

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

    Instagram can certainly do some more due diligence

    The obvious step would be to require the trademark to be registered and to verify its registration date precedes account creation. Instagram is responsible for having taken things down in error, though likely not liable.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Feb 2019 @ 7:11am

    Seems like something that watching priority dates/filing dates would fix. If the account is older than the trademark filing it doesn't get transferred.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 21 Feb 2019 @ 7:50am

    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?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Feb 2019 @ 10:07am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Qwertygiy, 21 Feb 2019 @ 2:25pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. icon
    Riya (profile), 21 Feb 2019 @ 10:56pm

    A trademark is a word, slogan, symbol or design (for example, a brand name or logo) that a person or company uses to distinguish their products or services from those offered by others. A trademark is protectable when it’s used in a distinctive way to identify a product or service. Whether you know it or not, you see trademarks all day long, whether in stores shopping, watching commercials on TV and so on.

    <a href="http://fusiontechnology.in/clinical-research-course-in-pune.php">trademark</a&g t;

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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