A fraudster going by “OBN Brandon” has been defrauding Instagram influencers and entertainment figures out of hundreds of thousands of dollars by taking down their accounts and then asking for money to get them back up again, ProPublica reports. OBN has been successful in his exploits taking advantage of Instagram’s less-than-good customer support, and an easily manipulated account reporting system. The nonprofit believes it may have identified the fraudster as someone in Las Vegas.
Account takedowns for hire
In 2021, Motherboard reported on a booming industry in the digital underground dedicated to banning Instagram accounts at will. Interestingly, some scammers behind ban-as-a-service (BaaS) offerings would also provide account restoration for users who think they have been unfairly suspended.
BaaS offerings are often used by those with “money to throw around,” an ex, a business rival, someone nursing a grudge, or a mix of these. But what opened opportunities for scamming is a system’s tendency for abuse. Meta has developed Instagram’s reporting system to shield users from harmful content on the platform, such as those depicting suicide and self-harm, by taking them down as quickly as possible after receiving a report.
For a fee, scammers use the same system designed to protect as a tool to harass and censor Instagram users purposefully.
“We have been professionally banning since 2020 and have top-tier experience,” reads one advertisement from a scammer group. “We may not have the cheapest prices, but trust me you are getting what you are paying for.”
These groups use several methods to get accounts taken down. One is to fully duplicate a target account and then report the original account for impersonation. Some create scripts or bots to report accounts en masse. Scammers can also use these to file reports against a single Instagram account automatically.
Because reporting is anonymous, fraudsters can earn double by offering their victims a way to restore their accounts. A restoration service would cost $3,500 to $4,000, with a nonrefundable downpayment of $1,500. Victims will never know that the party responsible for their ban is also stepping up to get their accounts back up and running again.
Two years after this story, it appears BaaS has grown more wretched and lucrative.
There is no mention of OBN using scripts or bots, but ProPublica says that he “touts software he uses to file false reports that allege an account violated Meta’s community guidelines, triggering a takedown.” Impersonation is part of his repertoire, too. Sometimes, OBN orchestrates a setup by hacking an account himself to post content deemed inappropriate in Instagram’s terms of service (ToS) and then reports the account.
Like the Instascammers featured in Motherboard’s story, OBN also offers to reactivate accounts in tandem with his takedown service. He charges a fee as high as $5,000 (depending on follower count) to get an account back. But days later, victims would find their accounts suspended again. A vicious cycle of banning and reactivation ensues until the victim is bled dry of money or refuses to pay anymore.
OBN calls himsef the “log-out king,” boasting of having “deleted multiple celebrities + influencers on Meta & Instagram.” ProPublica has linked the pseudonym to one Edwin Reyes-Martinez (20). Despite appearing like a responsible and hardworking man with a full-time job in a warehouse, clues connect him to OBN. The email address and bank account OBN’s victims send money to bear Reyes-Martinez’s initials.
His social media accounts also show notable items featured on OBN’s profile on Telegram (his primary marketing vehicle), such as his gold and diamond jewelry and what appears to be a white Lamborghini Aventador.
Syenrai, an ex-Instascammer who took credit for memorializing Instagram head Adam Mosseri’s account, has known OBN since 2018. He said Reyes-Martinez “is at least partially responsible” for activities done under the OBN moniker but also welcomes the possibility that others may be involved. ProPublica alleges OBN became so jealous of Syenrai’s fame that he filed a cease-and-desist (C&D) notice against him in 2021.
OBN often targets women who use Instagram to draw people to their OnlyFans pages. Their accounts are deemed vulnerable because what they offer leans toward nudity and pornography—two types of content Instagram and Meta prohibit. OBN would mention working with an insider to ban and recover accounts. While Meta previously disciplined or fired employees for taking bribes, ProPublica’s investigation hasn’t yielded any accomplices. Instead, it shared a story about one of OBN’s victims.
Model and real estate agent Kay Jenkins directly contacted OBN’s “high-level” Europe-based Instagram insider via Telegram, claiming OBN failed to deliver a service as promised. They struck an agreement, and she paid $4,000 twice to reactivate and verify her account. It never came back.
It turns out OBN was posing as the Meta employee, and Jenkins had been paying him all along. The cryptocurrency wallet to which she sends payments belongs to OBN. ProPublica has also traced the IP used by the purported insider to a cellphone not in Europe but in Las Vegas, where Reyes-Martinez is based.
“Once you’re put on Brandon’s radar, whether someone’s paying him or not, he has this personal investment in making sure that your life is miserable and that he’ll try and get as much money out of you as he possibly can.”
Cease and desist
Meta claims to have banned Reyes-Martinez from its platforms after ProPublica handed over details linking him to OBN. The company also sent him a cease and desist order, refraining from conducting any more BaaS offerings.
“I’m done with banning if you mention anything about bans I’ll block you,” OBN writes to his followers on Telegram. This doesn’t mean he’s entirely out of the game, though.
“Only doing instagram claims & verification, and C&Ds only for high paying nothing less let’s work,” he says.
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