He hijacked the accounts of Instagrammers who earned a living straddling the gray area of what Meta considers acceptable content and made them pay to get their accounts back. Pro Publica took up the case, tracking down a scammer that has exploited Meta’s security loopholes and ambivalent customer support.

OBN exploits weaknesses in Meta’s customer service. By allowing anyone to report an account for violating the company’s standards, Meta gives enormous leverage to people who are able to trick it into banning someone who relies on Instagram for income. Meta uses a mix of automated systems and human review to evaluate reports. Banners like OBN test and trade tips on how to trigger the system to falsely suspend accounts. In some cases OBN hacks into accounts to post offensive content. In others, he creates duplicate accounts in his targets’ names, then reports the original accounts as imposters so they’ll be barred for violating Meta’s ban on account impersonation. In addition, OBN has posed as a Meta employee to persuade at least one target to pay him to restore her account.

“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,” said Kay Jenkins, a Miami real estate agent and model. Her main Instagram account with roughly 100,000 followers has been repeatedly deactivated since 2021.