Instagram has impressively evolved from a photo-sharing social networking app to a full-blown e-commerce platform. A decade after its 2010 inception, Instagram introduced Shops when the global e-commerce market was at an all-time high due to the Covid-19 pandemic. With this introduction, the “Shop” tab appeared on the bottom righthand corner of the app. This social and economic climate drove brands to foresee the value of operating an official Instagram storefront. Subsequently, consumers turned to online shopping more than ever before, creating the perfect storm for Instagram, underpinned by parent company Meta, to skyrocket as a leader in both e-commerce and social networking. All of this buzz poses the question: is it safe to shop on Instagram?
How Safe is Instagram?
With more than a billion monthly active users, Instagram is generally safe for many users. Users have access to many tools to ensure the security of their accounts, such as two-factor authentication (2FA), account activity logs, and various privacy settings.
Protections Offered - Safety on Instagram:
- Security Checkup: Instagram’s Security Checkup feature can be accessed via your “Security” settings. This page acts as a hub for reviewing all protections you’ve set up for your account, including 2FA.
- Login activity: Access to your login activity is visible on the “Security” page. This page will show you where any devices logged into your account are located. If you recognize any unauthorized logins, you can expire them from this page.
- Apps and websites: The “Security” page includes a tab for all apps and websites you’ve ever authorized to access your Instagram account. This page makes it easy to manage, track, or remove any applications you’ve connected.
- Sensitive content controls: This feature can be accessed through the “Account” page within your settings. It allows you to select how much “sensitive content” you would like to be exposed to while browsing the platform.
- Checkout security: The “Orders and payments” page allows you to toggle on the requirement for either a PIN or Face ID to confirm payments.
However, whether Instagram is safe is more complicated if safety includes how your data is used or shared. Instagram has a detailed Data Policy, outlining what data is collected and how it’s used. The platform claims that personal data is collected to deliver and improve the user experience. However, according to their Data Policy, this information may be shared with third parties, including advertisers.
Although Instagram admits to sharing user data with third parties, they claim to impose “strict restrictions” on how that data may be used and disclosed. Based on the information provided by their Data Policy, it’s unclear what all these restrictions are.
Consumers should also consider bad actors who are manipulating the platform and its users maliciously. Although Instagram seems to have industry-standard privacy and security safeguards in place, users themselves can become the vulnerability.
For example, phishing scams are unfortunately prevalent on social media apps like Instagram. Fraudsters will make fake accounts to impersonate a trusted source, such as your friend or a brand you follow and attempt to leverage this trust to obtain sensitive information from you.
The bottom line is that providing your information, including personal and financial data, with social media apps always comes with inherent risks.
In this guide, we’ll answer the following questions so that you can make an informed decision about using and shopping on Instagram:
- How do you buy things on Instagram?
- What does an Instagram “Shop” mean?
- Are Instagram stores safe?
- Is it safe to buy from Instagram ads?
- What buyer protections does Instagram offer?
- Is it safe to shop on Instagram with your real card info?
What is an Instagram “Shop” and How to Identify One
Instagram integrated a feature called Shops into its social networking platform in 2020. Shops followed the introduction of Checkout in 2019, a feature that allowed users to buy from a list of twenty-six brands popular brands like Nike and Zara directly through the app. With Shops being introduced during the pandemic, more businesses could utilize this Checkout feature to connect with customers.
With Shops, you can browse and purchase from brands directly using the Checkout feature. You will be prompted to enter your card details and complete the checkout experience entirely through the app.
A profile with a Shop on Instagram can be easily identified by the “View shop” button below their bio. Clicking this button will direct you to the brand’s Instagram Shop. You’ll see a catalog of photos, product names, and prices.
Some business profiles run unofficial storefronts by marketing and selling products directly through their Feed. These stores will not have a “View shop” button on their profile and will ask for payment outside Instagram’s platform. It’s recommended to take additional precautions when shopping with these types of sellers. We will discuss why that is in a later section.
How Do You Buy Things On Instagram?
To buy directly from an Instagram Shop, navigate to a business’s Instagram profile. Near the bio, there will be a “View shop” button that directs you to a storefront where you can browse products and add them to your cart.
Alternatively, you can visit a Shop through Instagram Stories and your Feed. You also may have noticed images containing a “View Shop” button while scrolling; this will also take you directly to the brand’s Instagram Shop.
Once you’re satisfied with the items in your cart, you can checkout through Instagram. You will be prompted to enter your shipping information, contact information, and payment method, similarly to how you would with any online retailer.
Buying off Instagram: At a Glance
Buying products through Instagram is easier than ever with the introduction of Shops. You can browse and purchase from brands by entering your card details and completing the checkout experience without ever leaving the mobile app.
From a business perspective, Instagram Shops helps drive product discovery and allows for a seamless shopping and checkout experience. From the consumer’s perspective, Instagram allows people to shop their favorite brands easily.
Instagram has developed a win-win for businesses and consumers, essentially building a social media + e-commerce powerhouse. But how does this model work in terms of security? Is it safe to shop on Instagram, or should you take your business elsewhere?
How Safe is Instagram for Shopping?
Overall, Instagram is a safe place to shop. Thanks to Instagram’s Checkout feature, users can complete their purchase with the merchant directly through the Instagram app. This means that Instagram collects your payment information rather than the individual merchant collecting it.
However, for many, sharing financial data, such as credit and debit card numbers, with a platform that already has access to so much personal information feels like a significant risk. Not to mention, with each purchase you make, you are giving up additional personal data such as your billing/shipping addresses and further contact information.
Instagram offers buyer protection through its Purchase Protection Policy to keep consumers safe. According to this policy, you’re eligible for a refund if:
- You don’t receive your item,
- Your item is damaged or not as described, or
- You didn’t authorize a transaction.
To qualify for purchase protection, among other requirements, you must have used Checkout on Facebook or Instagram (a.k.a., no third-party sites or apps) and have first attempted to resolve the dispute with the seller.
Instagram also outlines what purchases are not protected. According to Instagram’s Purchase Protection Policy, vehicles, real estate, financial products or investments, precious metals and gemstones, equity or debt in a business, custom or made-to-order items, services, donations, industrial machinery, perishable items, items with a purchase price over $2,000, and tickets are exempt from protection.
And, of course, the final decision for any claim is made at Instagram’s sole discretion.
Are Instagram Stores Safe?
Instagram stores are typically safe. However, it’s essential to do your research and vet each store you visit. Regardless of the protections Instagram offers, you can become vulnerable to purchasing from fraudulent sellers or unknowingly buying counterfeit products.
By “store” we mean any Instagram profile selling products, whether it’s an official “Shop” or not.
Tips for Authenticating an Instagram Store
- Tagged photos: Check if the profile has been tagged in any photos. If so, look at who’s tagging the profile—do these appear to be authentic customers or fake profiles? You may want to be wary if an Instagram shop has no tagged photos.
- Follower count: Often, a trustworthy brand will have a large follower count. Most established brands have had Instagram profiles before Shops were introduced in 2020, giving them plenty of time to build their profile and gain followers. However, a high follower count doesn’t always indicate authenticity.
- Post history: Be sure to scroll through a brand’s profile to see how long they’ve been active. Profiles with photos dating back years are more likely to be legitimate. While you’re at it, check out what kinds of comments users have left on both old and new posts. If there are little to no comments, this could be a red flag of a fraudulent store.
- Website: Does the business you found on Instagram have a website? If so, check it out for additional clues to the brand's authenticity.
- Reviews: See what others are saying about the business. A quick way to seek out legitimate reviews is to run a search engine query with the name of the brand + “reviews.”
Counterfeit Instagram Items
While some consumers seek out fakes, many are unknowingly making these purchases. Through social media shopping platforms, bad actors can market fake products directly to consumers with little risk to themselves.
According to a June-October 2021 study by Ghost Data, more than 20,000 active counterfeiter accounts were identified on Instagram.
Identifying a Counterfeit Seller on Instagram:
- Anonymous profiles: The profile contains an invitation to contact the shop via WhatsApp in their bio rather than having an official Shop set up with Instagram. Counterfeiters won’t want to communicate and conduct business directly through Instagram since illegal activity can be monitored.
- Aggressive outreach: The profile has messaged you directly advertising a product. Counterfeiters will often use their profile not only to showcase products but also to actively seek out customers.
- Images with text: Photos contain information about the product as text directly on top of the image. Counterfeiters will avoid sharing information through captions on Feed posts and Stories, as Instagram can easily monitor illegal content that way.
If you believe you’ve encountered an Instagram Shop or profile illegally selling and distributing counterfeit products, you can report it to Instagram.
Is it Safe to Buy From Instagram Ads?
Instagram has measures in place to detect and stop scam ads. However, everyday bad actors find ways to prey on both consumers and businesses through paid ads. In just a few quick steps, a bad actor can have a fraudulent Instagram ad running. So, is it safe to buy from Instagram ads?
Although many ads are run by legitimate businesses, as a consumer, you should do your due diligence to prevent online shopping fraud by screening any ads you click. A telltale sign of a scam ad is when the deal presented is “too good to be true.”
Scam ads are often used to drive consumers to a fraudulent website, as selling fraudulent or counterfeit items is much easier to detect and report within Instagram’s platform.
Consumers are no longer protected by the platform’s Purchase Protection Policy when leaving the Instagram app to make a purchase. So, it’s safer to complete any purchases through Instagram directly than through a brand’s website or elsewhere.
How to Report a Seller on Instagram
Think you’ve encountered or even purchased from a suspicious seller? Instagram encourages users to report any sellers or products that violate their Commerce Policies.
To report a seller on Instagram:
- Go to the profile of the seller you want to report.
- Tap ”iPhone” or ”Android” in the top right.
- Tap ”Report” and follow the on-screen instructions.
To report a product on Instagram:
- Go to the product page of the product you want to report.
- Tap “iPhone” or ”Android” in the top right.
- Tap ”Report product” and select a reason.
Note that reports made by users on Instagram are anonymous unless reporting an intellectual property infringement.
Is it Safe to Shop on Instagram With Your Real Card Info?
By assuming the role of the transaction processor, Instagram does not need to share your card details with the merchant. This layer of protection between you and the merchant minimizes the risk of your card details being obtained or misused.
However, there is always a risk with providing your financial details to online retailers. Even the most secure websites may be vulnerable to data leaks and phishing scams.
Privacy Virtual Cards
All of this information may leave you wondering: are Instagram stores safe? If you are interested in shopping on Instagram but hesitant about providing your card details, consider creating a Privacy account. Privacy allows you to create, manage, and use virtual cards that have added security features, so you can shop online with peace of mind knowing that your real banking information is secure.
You’ll be prompted to connect your debit card or checking account upon creating a Privacy Account. Purchases made on your Privacy Virtual Cards will be debited from your linked account as you make them.
Privacy offers two types of Virtual Cards, Merchant Cards and Single-Use Cards.
- Can be used as many times as you’d like with the same merchant
- Lock to the first merchant they are authorized with and cannot be used with any other merchants, ensuring that a breach at one merchant doesn't put you at risk across the internet
- Automatically close 2 minutes after your first transaction is made
- Cannot be used again after one transaction
When you’re shopping on Instagram but don’t feel comfortable sharing your personal card details, generate a Privacy Virtual Card. You can set the limit to the expected transaction amount, so Instagram cannot present you with any surprise debits.
If you create a Merchant Card, you can pause it after the first use and then unpause it at a later time if you think you’ll shop there again. Or, create a Singe-Use Card if you want it to close right away and never look back.
With Privacy, the days of getting up and scrambling for your wallet are over. Privacy Virtual Cards can be conveniently created and managed through the Privacy App, available for download through the App Store or the Google Play store.
Looking to protect your finances while shopping on Instagram? Start paying with Privacy today.