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North County nursery's Instagram account hacked, ransom demanded

North County nursery's Instagram account hacked, ransom demanded
Posted at 4:30 PM, May 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-19 19:42:14-04

BONSALL, Calif. (KGTV) - A North County nursery says hackers took over their Instagram account, then demanded a ransom.

Over the past five years, Waterwise Botanicals, a specialty nursery in Bonsall, thrived as its Instagram following continued to grow.

“It drives traffic to our business. We had about 16,500 followers,” said Julie McNulty, the nursery’s social media manager.

McNulty says on Mother's Day, she got a message from an account named 'Help Service' that appeared to be representing Instagram.

“Basically told me that I was infringing on copyright laws, and that our account would be terminated within 48 hours if we didn't reply,” said McNulty.

Because the account had more than 15,000 followers, she thought it legitimate and clicked on a link to appeal her case, which took her to a screen that looked like the Instagram login page.

“After I submitted my credentials, it took me nowhere, and I immediately knew something wasn't right,” said McNulty.

She changed her password three times, but by the next day, someone had hacked and gained control of the account, changing the nursery's contact number.

When McNulty texted that number, she was told she could have the account back for $600 to be delivered in Bitcoin.

“Felt heartbroken, like my whole world had been ripped from under me, and there wasn’t a thing I could do about it,” said McNulty.

McNulty says the nursery owner decided not to pay the ransom.

“Didn’t want to give in to the bad guys. Whose to say they're not going to ask for more money after you pay them,” said McNulty.

Days later, after the nursery ignored the hacker's offer to cut the ransom in half, the hacker deleted all of the content on the account.

“Brutal. In tears all day. All my hard work deleted,” said McNulty.

Experts say the best way to prevent the hacking is to enable the two-factor authentication feature.

McNulty has done just that — for the nursery's new Instagram account @Waterwisebotanicalsnow — which she started from scratch.

“It’s heartwarming to see so many people supporting us already … We will build our Instagram back,” said McNulty.

Another measure McNulty wished she had taken: backing up the Instagram account.

She says she sent several emails to Instagram and didn't get a response.

ABC 10News also reached out to Instagram and are waiting to hear back.