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Instagram shuts down major meme account over coronavirus scam

A meme account with close to 14 million followers on Instagram was taken down by the social media company this weekend for perpetuating misinformation about the coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19.

The account, @bestmemes, posted images of fake tweets from President Donald Trump and former President Barack Obama, according to the Daily Dot.

The identical fake messages stated: “Due to the coronavirus, if your state is currently under lockdown, you are eligible for $1,000 via @PayPal by completing the #StayAtHome survey. Stay strong everyone.”

The images also reportedly showed what looked like a PayPal account balance of $1,448.71, according to the report. Followers were then prompted to click on a link in @bestmeme’s bio, which took people to a three-question survey and asked for their email addresses.

By Sunday evening, Instagram had deleted the fake tweet images. The one featuring Obama reappeared and garnered thousands of likes before disappearing again, the Daily Dot reported. By this morning, Instagram had disabled the entire account.

Instagram did not immediately respond to a request from Digital Trends for comment, but this story will be updated when we hear back.

The posts appeared to reference the recently passed U.S. stimulus package that will send checks to Americans to help mitigate the economic impact of the virus. Federal law enforcement and state attorneys general have issued warnings to Americans about not sharing financial and personal information like bank account or Social Security numbers to anyone asking for them in order for them to receive a stimulus check.

There is no signup or form to fill out in order to receive this particular payment, which people should see in their bank accounts in about three weeks or later if a paper check needs to be mailed.

Instagram and other social media have cracked down on misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic. Instagram has also implemented a feature that brings up verified links to information about the virus whenever a user taps on a hashtag related to COVID-19.

Scams involving money transfer apps like PayPal and CashApp have also proliferated during the panic over the global lockdown, particularly after announcements of the federal stimulus checks, rampant layoffs of service workers, and stock market fluctuations.

Mythili Sampathkumar
Mythili is a freelance journalist based in New York. When not reporting about politics, foreign policy, entertainment, and…
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