This Thunder Bay, Ont., musician's Instagram was hacked. Now, she's worried it's being used to trick others
Online hacking risks losing connection to audience and thwarts album promotion plans
The last thing Danielle Pollari posted to Instagram was a video of her take on Elvis Presley's Can't Help Falling in Love.
This type of video is the norm for the Thunder Bay-based entertainer, who uses the social media platform to help grow her career as a musician and actor.
"My Instagram is basically like my way of showcasing myself," she said. "I don't even use my website. I have a website, but I do everything on Instagram because I can connect in the moment with real people. So it's perfect, and it's great as an independent artist because I don't have other people marketing my stuff."
Then, a hacker got through and locked her out of her account. She panicked, worried about losing touch with the following she created — or worse — putting them in harm's way.
You've been hacked
It started on Jan. 29 from a person who sent her a direct message asking for help "getting verified" on the platform. Pollari said the person asked her to follow a link, but she suddenly felt uneasy about the situation.
But, deciding to help, Pollari copied the link from the message. Suddenly she was locked out of her account and was unable to log back in.
Pollari said she began receiving notifications moments later that all her personal information was being stripped away from her account and replaced, making it impossible for her to log back in.
She turned to friends to help secure what was left of her social media presence after the hacker initially gained access. She then began contacting Instagram about the situation and reported her own page, but was left with few solutions.
"I was really frustrated because there wasn't any person to talk to," she said. "There wasn't a phone number you could call, there wasn't an email you could reach out to. There was just like some things on their site of how you can help yourself if you've been hacked."
While she's unable to gain access to her Instagram account, Pollari believes her page is now being used to target her own followers. She said she's still receiving confused messages from friends and followers asking if she's been sending them messages through the platform.
"So now they're using the same kind of approach that I got hacked with where they're telling people I need to get verified. And I feel so bad because all the people who follow me on Instagram are really supportive and they're like, 'yeah, of course I will help,'" she said.
Pollari said at this point she wants her account to be deleted, even if it means sacrificing the following she built up and starting from scratch.
"I have an album that I'm gearing up to really start releasing in the spring, and my whole game plan was to do the marketing myself, by pumping out videos and great content on my Instagram to gain a big following," she said.
But, since her account was hacked last week, she's already lost hundreds of followers.
Pollari isn't alone in her predicament. Thousands of small business owners and artists rely on Facebook and Instagram as marketing tools, taking on the risks that come with the platforms.
Claire Tsai, a marketing professor at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Business, said it's risky to depend exclusively on one social media platform.
Tsai commented on a similar issue involving a musician in Montreal, whose Facebook page had been hacked to show propaganda from ISIS. She'd previously told CBC News she understands that small business owners are eager for the kind of low-cost marketing they can accomplish through a free platform such as Facebook, but says it's not a "reliable" resource.
"It's like putting all your eggs in one basket," she said. "It's better to be on a large number of social media platforms, including Twitter and TikTok. You want to diversify."
Pollari said she has an upcoming show in March that she's been unable to promote due to her account being overtaken.
For now, she said she's telling people to go to her Facebook page, which has remained free of any hacking.
In a statement, a Meta spokesperson told CBC News they're investigating Pollari's account hack. The parent company of Instagram said it's best practice for people to turn on two-factor authentication to prevent similar hacks from happening.
"We have sophisticated measures in place to stop bad actors in their tracks before they gain access to accounts, as well as measures to help people recover their accounts. We know we can do more here, and we're working hard in both of these areas to stop bad actors before they cause harm, and to keep our community safe," reads the statement from Meta.
The social media giant warns people of suspicious emails or messages on their platforms, and that users shouldn't click any links or attachments.