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What to do if your Instagram gets hacked

Learn the steps it takes to regain access to your account and what you can do now to help increase the odds of a successful recovery.

While on vacation last week (and right after discussing with my sister-in-law how her Instagram account got hacked earlier this year), I went to post a lovely shot from the shores of the Chesapeake only to discover that I was logged out of Instagram. An alert stated that someone in Russia had tried to access my account and in order to verify my credentials, I would need to reset my password via email or Facebook.

First, I tried the Facebook route because I had already linked the two accounts. Instead of getting me back into my account, my repeated attempts only resulted in the repeated message that Facebook had already authorized Instagram.

Next, I tried to reset my password via email. I immediately received an email from Instagram support with a six-digit security code. After carefully scrutinizing the email to make sure it wasn't also an attempt from a hacker to access my account, I entered the code and was ready to get back to my Instagramming ways. No dice. The code didn't match with my account email.

I made a second attempt at getting a security code emailed to me, and now it appeared as though my email had been removed from my account. I was locked out.

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Matt Elliott/CNET

In a panic, I scanned Instagram's help center and found a Contact us link. I quickly fired off an email describing my plight.

In no time, I received a reply with a strange set of instructions and a nine-digit code. Again, I googled around to make sure that this email was, in fact, from Instagram and not a nefarious individual after my massive Instagram audience (95 followers!). After verifying it was the good people at Instagram I was communicating with, I followed the instructions, which were to reply to the email and attach a photo of myself. According to Instagram's instructions, the attachment had to:

  • Include the above code hand-written on a clean sheet of paper, followed by your full name and username
  • Clearly show both the code and your face
  • Be attached to your reply as a JPEG file

Thankfully, my Instagram feed includes the occasional selfie. I say "thankfully" because Instagram needs to match the attached photo to a photo of your from your feed so they can confirm your identity.

I submitted my mugshot and four hours later received a reply that stated I had successfully verified my account. The last step was to log out of Instagram on all of my devices (which, for me, was just my iPhone where I was already logged out) and click the link included in the email to choose a new password and log back in.

If you are reading this blog post because you are locked out of your Instagram account, I hope it helps to settle your nerves and ultimately regain access. I would also suggest posting a selfie or two now, if you haven't done so already, if for no other reason than to give Instagram the ability to match your account to your mugshot, should it ever come to that.