Published: 06:00, 10 March 2021
| Updated: 16:10, 10 March 2021
A boutique owner has warned other shop owners to be wary after her business's social media was hacked and held to ransom.
The Bridal Boutique of Jules in Deal was looking forward to announcing its reopening when its Instagram account was invaded by a third party.
The shop's owner Jeska McGeehan said that she first realised something was wrong when she started getting odd messages on her account, just a day before Boris Johnson announced the plans to relax lockdown restrictions.
She said: "It started on the Sunday afternoon before Boris's announcement, I started to get really strange activity, I'm obviously on there quite a bit and I kept noticing these random messages from people I didn't know with various codes, that I kept deleting and ignoring.
"Later on in the evening, I received a message that said it was from Instagram, actually within the app's messaging system, accusing me of using a copyrighted image that I had to justify using.
"I had used an iconic image from Friends, of the three ladies sitting on the sofa with the wedding dresses, which a lot of people use; but because I had that little doubt in my mind I did what the message asked.
"It was at that point that it happened; it was almost like someone had tugged a rope and my account was disappearing away from me."
Left completely unable to access her account, Mrs McGeehan attempted repeatedly to report the incident but had no reply from Instagram.
It was then that she decided to use a second account, dedicated to her dog, to message her own business account.
She said: "About 10 o'clock in the evening it was still going on, I used our second account to look at the Bridal Boutique account, and it said that it was online.
"It was the strangest feeling, it was like someone was in my home - and when it started typing back when I messaged it, my heart started pounding.
"It was awful, I felt like I was being burgled right in front of my face."
'I'm here to make a deal if you're interested...'
The situation escalated when the hacker - of unknown gender and origin - demanded a ransom of €150 to return the account to its rightful owner.
"I hacked your account but didn't (damage it)," they said, "If you want to get your account (back) it's worth €150.
"I'm here to make a deal if you're interested, other than that, I'm going to have to change the information on your account."
Mrs McGeehan was faced with the difficult decision of giving into the blackmail, or losing her account with over 6,000 hard-earned followers.
In the end, she opted not to pay, and has since set up another account for the Bridal Boutique, which is named after her mum Jules.
She said: "I did report it to the police on the advice of a lot of people, and the officer who spoke to me was lovely, but didn't seem hopeful.
"If the hacker is based in the UK they have a chance of tracking him down, but the fact that he asked for Euros made me think he was European; although the police think that could have been a ploy."
The Walmer resident, 41, said that the incident left her feeling abandoned by the social media company and loathe to return.
She said: "I have come back now which might seem hypocritical, but it's a case of not cutting my nose off to spite my face.
"I just can't believe I reported it so many times and they have done nothing about it, not even acknowledged it. This happens all the time to other people as well, so many people got in contact saying they had had the same problem.
"I would just warn anyone who has a company that uses the app a lot, especially during the pandemic, to put all methods in place to stop this kind of thing.
"Something has to be done, surely it is Instagram's responsibility to address this problem and at least try and put a stop to it."
You can follow The Bridal Boutique of Jules' new account here.