Love it or hate it, as a surf photographer, Instagram has long been a gateway to getting gigs. It acts as a free-online portfolio for your work – plus, it can also be utilised as a portal to waves across the planet. During Nazare's XXXL swell a couple weeks back, French photographer Romuald Pliquet jetted into Portugal to document the session for MSW. But after a hard day on the tools, Romu's Instagram account got taken over, locked and held to ransom via a string of whatsapp messages from a scam ring.
An account with almost 16k people connected to it – representing years and tens of thousands of hours of AAA surf photography, lost to pirates in a moment. “They do this to 100 accounts a day,” Romu said he was told via a message from the perpetrators, who demanded $1,600 for the account's return.
While the more cynical might shrug this off as 'eh it's just Instagram', (albeit, that statement was probably true a few years back), ask anyone surf photog in the biz and they'll tell you it's vital nowadays, as much as they wish it wasn't. In fact, MSW first hired Romu for a shoot with Josh Kerr in Hossegor, after connecting with the Frenchman via the social media platform.
Anyway, Romu landed at home and hit us up explaining what had happened, he's started a new account (HERE) but let this act as a stark warning...
Hey Romu, walk us through what happened here, you were shooting Nazare, right? When did you realise your account was compromised?
Yeah, I was shooting live for MSW during that magic swell. Images were being edited and sent out as soon as possible, which actually gave me an abnormal load of activity on my account, a lot of sharing and followers all-at-once. In short; my account was exploding! It was exhilarating!
The day after the swell, between the two planes it took to get home, I received a message from what I thought was Instagram on my application asking me to certify my identity due to abnormal activity, the famous blue patch.
After checking on the net and doing a load of research, I could see that it was normal for Instagram to ask for an identity certification. So I filled out the form and that's when the hacker sent me a message on whatsapp with a screenshot of my account with a beautiful message "hello sir ...."
As the conversation unfolded, the hacker very quickly asked me for a ransom to recover my account and when I tried to log in, I found that my account no longer existed. Almost 16k followers, gone.
Oh man, we've heard of loads of other people getting duped by the blue tick certification. So what happened then?
The hacker was located in Turkey (Turkish number used on whatsapp) asked me for $1,600 dollars to recover my account. So I blocked it. The next day, a little disillusioned, I got back in touch with him and there he notified me that it was his business and that guys like me...he hacked 100 of us a day.
To encourage me to pay him, he told me if I didn't pay, he'd use my account to distribute paedophilic images... so I blocked him and contacted the digital brigade in France to report what was going on, but that was unsuccessful.
In this day, Instagram is your quick-look personal portfolio, how impactful do you think this will be for you?
How to recover eight years of followers overnight? But above all an impact of credibility with new customers who do not really know you. Now, as a photographer, when you sign photo coverage contracts, clients or future partners almost always ask you how many followers you have.
Like being contacted by brands since you have a lot of followers. These are now the rules of the game. Instagram has revolutionised the code for our job as photographers. You are now almost judged by the number of followers you have rather than your quality of work. Now imagine my situation... it's like starting all over again.
Heck, I think we first found each other via Instagram – we contacted you about a shoot with Josh Kerr, right?
Exactly! At the time it was a bit surprising but today it has become normal. Instagram is an essential work tool for a photographers these days. Which is quite paradoxical since the status of photographers has never been so precarious while the photo product itself has never been so important in society.
So what can you do now?
Unfortunately, I don't have much to do except to open another account and continue posting photos, even if I have to admit, I'm having trouble rediscovering the taste for sharing my photos.
There are so much more important things in life but it's true for us photographers; Instagram it's a showcase.
I remember a few other notable surf photogs had something similar happen – can you even contact Instagram these days?
The Meta group (instagram/facebook/whatsapp) is no longer reachable. Before you could send an email to the help centre platform. Now there's no more direct contact and this is where I deplore the Meta system which spends it's time knocking emails out, telling us that we are protected. And in the end when you are hacked, well there is no one to help you at home, just follow predefined procedures like a robot.
Damn. What's next?
Creating the new account was not easy, since your account is linked to your email address or your facebook. And the old one is already connected. Just got to try and get the new one up and running.