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How to spot copyright scams
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Security & privacy

Scammers are using photo copyright laws to scare you – Don’t fall for it

You never know how scammers are going to target you. They will throw tons of crazy tactics at you to try and rip you off. A recent example is when criminals targeted Instagram users with bogus copyright claims.

The private messages supposedly came from the photo-sharing app’s Copyright Help Center, detailing the issue. But when users logged in through the fake link to dispute the claims, scammers captured their details and hijacked their accounts.

Unfortunately, criminals are again targeting people with copyright claims — this time with a twist. Read on to see how this scam works and what you can do about it.

Here’s the backstory

The previous version of this scam informed Instagram users that some of their photos were subject to copyright claims. But in a new twist, criminals are now sending copyright infringement notices to anyone using free or stock images.

But unlike other scams, the criminals in this one don’t want money. Instead, they want the offending website or person to link back to the “original” site where the image originates. It gets a bit complex, but Swedish photography magazine Kamera & Bild recently received one of the phony copyright claims.

The publication received an email supposedly from lawyers representing an online surf gear shop and claimed an image it used belonged to the shop. Instead of demanding financial compensation, the lawyers insisted that Kamera & Bild place a link and proper attribution on its website.

By doing so, a substantial website with thousands of monthly users would see the link to the surf shop. The shop would eventually rank much higher in search results through Google’s algorithms, and the owners never spent a dollar on SEO tools.

Before giving in to the demand, the publication did some digging. While it legally downloaded the image from a stock photography website, the actual photographer never did. How the photo ended up on a stock image site is a mystery, but neither the surf shop nor the lawyers own the photo or its copyright.

What you can do about it

If you receive a claim such as this on Instagram, the best thing is to ignore it. If you took the photo and uploaded it, there is no legal reason anyone could dispute the copyright. The same advice goes for website owners. If you acquired an image through legitimate means, there can’t be a claim against it.

Here are some tips to stay safe:

  • If you receive a copyright claim through email or text, don’t click on links or attachments to view “the evidence.” For example, a tech website received such a claim and discovered that the link to the copyright infringement proof was an attempt to install malware.
  • Use reputable websites such as Unsplash and Dreamstime when looking for free images. Tap or click here to access free, high-quality images for any project.
  • Don’t blindly give in to the demands of a supposed lawyer. In many cases, the lawyer, client and the claim are fake.

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