Hans Smits – How I Lost 220.000 Followers

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What happens when you open an account on Instagram and it happens to become big? People want to be featured by you, companies want to work with you, do you say yes, or do you say no and what are the dangers? We spoke with Hans Smit who started @theworldofskateboarding about how he lost his account and more importantly how he got it back in the end.

Interview by Roland Hoogwater.

So Hans, tell me how it all started, why did you start @theworldofskateboarding?

I started the account in Feb 2016. I was sick at home for a few days, I was super bored and that’s when I came up with the idea to create the Instagram. And it went pretty well. I just thought of a name and made the account on Instagram, and in the first week, it already hit a thousand followers. And that just continued, week by week it gained thousands of followers. I’m on my phone a lot so I’m very quick with reposting. Sometimes Joel from Metro Skateboarding reposts clips via me because I’m first, and then he tags me which also gave me a boost. Apparently, I repost the right clips and it just grew really fast. And it’s still growing, monthly I gain like 15K followers, it’s crazy.

Alright, that is a lot of responsibility.

Yes, it is, and then all of a sudden I got hacked. Someone wanted to make a promotion deal. Sometimes I earn a bit of money by doing some promotion. But it has to seem legit, there are daily people asking me to promote their stuff of which I think: “Nah, I’m not doing that”.

So this guy wanted me to promote “his app”, some kind of skateboard game. But he wanted to see some statistics on my account, it was an Android app so he wanted to know how many of my followers use android. He told me to go to a certain website, it was called “Iconosquare”. I’m always a bit skeptical about these kinds of things so first I just checked the website out and it’s a legit company, they had millions of users. So, I logged in, got all my statistics except the ones he was asking for. I wrote the guy and told him that I could not find the statistics he wanted and then he sent me a link, also from Iconosquare. I opened it and it seemed like I was just on the Iconosquare website, so I just logged in. At this moment I was about to bike home, I got on my bike and two minutes later I was home and found out the password was changed. I searched for the account on Instagram, but he changed the name to “Thatskateboardingpage” which later turned in to “Skateboardinghome”. The hacker sold the account very quickly. Now I have it back I can read some of his DM’s, he removed most of them though. I read this one DM of the guy who bought it and it was something like: “I bought this account for $600 because it was jacked, LOL!”, he was talking about it like one big joke. He bought it for $600, which is way too less for an account this big, so he got a good deal, except he lost the account now and his $600.

So when I saw I got hacked I instantly contacted Instagram, but they’re not very easy to talk to. They send one email a day. But I made a big mistake. I have two email addresses which I both already used for my personal Instagram and another one. I thought I made a new email address for this account, but apparently, I didn’t. There was only my phone number linked to the account, which the hacker changed immediately, of course. So in order to get your account back, you have to give your registration data, like email address and phone number. I gave them all my data, my phone number, my email addresses but then they told me that they can’t verify me based on this data. Then I panicked a bit, what should I do? You know? Then I reached out to Fred van Schie, he works for Instagram. But he told me the same, without the email address that’s linked to the account, it’s gonna be very tough to get it back. But he gave me some tips. Then I just wrote a super long email to Instagram with all kinds of evidence that the account belongs to me. Like screenshots from statistics, contacts I had, screenshots of DM’s, a screenshot from one time in Copenhagen where Rob Meronek, from The Boardr, took a picture of me and put it on his website and it said something like: “This is Hans, he runs Theworldofskateboarding on Instagram”, just all kinds of stuff that should convince Instagram that it’s my account. It took so long, they just kept on sending maximum one email a day. After a few days, I received a mail which said that they verified that the account was mine. They told me I can change my password again but that didn’t work because they didn’t update the phone number I gave them. So that took another three days. Then last Friday it finally worked, they sent me a security code to the right phone number, I changed the password. There was this guy, @pactskateboarding, he also has an Instagram page like mine. He recently got hacked too and when he saw that I got hacked, he immediately made a new page and claimed the name “Theworldofskateboarding” to reserve it for me. So I could change my name back to what it was, that was super nice. Now I finally have it back. Changed the data, put on two-step verification to protect it.

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Did they post stuff on the account?

Yeah, the guy who bought the account just continued posting skateboard clips. Everywhere where it said Theworldofskateboarding, he just replaced it with his new name, Skateboardinghome. I always add a bit of text in the description like:”Tag us to get featured” and “Follow us @Theworldofskateboarding”, and he just changed all of that for the last 30 posts or something. He just started posting skateboard clips, maybe just stuff he saw on other pages, or maybe he did skate himself, I don’t know. I can’t really imagine that this guy skates himself, I can’t imagine a skateboarder doing this to another skateboarder, you know? I find that hard to believe. But yeah, he just kept on posting skateboarding and he sent messages to like 50 company’s, asking if they need any promotion. But also to like electric longboard company’s and such, which are big company’s who could pay good money. But it’s not that easy, the company’s kind of want to know who they’re dealing with. I could read all of his DM’s and he was kind of rude to all these company’s, so I don’t think any of them did business with him. Now I sent a message to all these company’s, telling them I was hacked, the person you were talking to was not me.So I don’t think he earned anything, except for the hacked who sold it to him for $600, I guess this guy does this a lot. This whole thing didn’t really cost me anything, except time of course. But he only lost around 600 followers, but that’s what you can gain in a day.

Did you find out who was behind the hack?

I have no idea who did this to me. When it happened I just sent DM’s with my personal account to my hacked account, I told him I want it back of course, but he didn’t reply. I tried to change the password but he gets notified when I do this, so at one point I got a message from him which said something like:”If you continue trying to get your account back, I will hack your phone, I will hack your bank account, I will destroy your life”. Which was just bluff, I’m pretty sure he’s not able to do that. But yeah, no idea who it was.

Who it was I don’t know, I can’t find out, you know? Maybe Instagram can, maybe they can check the IP address or something, I don’t know. But it would be such a hassle to find out. And then what, you know. I reached my goal, I got my account back and now I put more effort into keeping it secure. I don’t really feel like putting lots of time into it anymore.

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Did they post any good clips?

(laughs) Yeah kind of, some of which I was like: ”Oh yeah, I probably would’ve posted that too!” (laughs). They posted this clip from @versace_plug, it actually had a lot of views, too.

Actually, what was kind of sick, I made a backup page, on which I told people that my account got hacked. And this friend of mine tagged a lot of pro’s in that post, amongst them was Steve Berra, he actually commented, asking if it was my page so I DM’ed him. He was super compassionate, he gave me his email address and told me to send him the whole story. He then offered to help me, they’ve had some Instagram troubles in the past, so he had some contacts. Which is super cool, I mean he doesn’t have to do this, he’s probably super busy and I’m just a random guy. I still have some ideas laying around which I now maybe could propose to Berra, maybe we can work together. That’s pretty cool.

What about mainstream media, did they cover this?

It made it to the newspaper. A guy I know who used to work in the same skate shop as me, now has this job, something with social media, so I thought maybe he can help me, so I wrote him. This guy also works for this television/news channel. He thought it was an interesting story so he pitched it to them. And they wrote an article about it. At this point it didn’t look that promising with Instagram so I thought maybe if I get some publicity, it might help me. Then some newspaper called me and wrote about it. There was also an article about it on the website of a magazine that targets middle-aged woman, (laughs).

So how did you end up getting your account back?

I don’t know what at the end made Instagram decide to give me the account back, maybe it was just a combination of things. I sent all of this “evidence”, you know. And going to the media might have helped. I was super stressed out, it felt so terrible. I put a lot of time and effort on this page. Of course, I like to do it, I wouldn’t have started it if I didn’t, but it takes so much time. Now it’s pretty big and I’m very happy with it, it brings me a lot of nice things, like good contacts and opportunities, like for example go to events and such, and I earn some money with it. It’s super cool! Would’ve been so sad if it would’ve been gone, but yeah, it’s back!

But you’re not doing that much promotion, right?

No, not that much. And I want to keep it that way, I don’t want my account to be like a Nascar sports-car which has advertisement all over, you know? That just doesn’t look good. It’s a way to earn a lot of money, I could do promo every day for like €50. But I think you can do that only for a few months maybe, but after that no-one will take your page seriously anymore, after that it’s over. I do some promo every now and then but only if it’s legit. Sometimes I promote stuff from my local Skateshop, Sparky (the Netherlands) and sometimes I do giveaways, those are cool to do.

If you did not get back your account, you could probably build it up again. I would think these followers came to you because of your “taste” in clips.

Yeah, maybe. But still, that would take like a year and a half for something you already accomplished once.

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True, and then you would constantly compare it, like you would be thinking: “Now I’m halfway the followers I had” or “Now I have this many compared to what I had”, that would probably feel like it takes so much time.

Yeah, exactly. And nowadays there are so many of these pages, I think that I started at the right time. I mean all these pages have a good amount of followers but there’s not really need for another one of these pages anymore. There are also pages that literally repost everything that I’m posting, including the text. That’s just weird.

Happy you got it back, thanks, Hans!