In this photo illustration, the icons of WhatsApp, Messenger, Instagram and Facebook are displayed on an iPhone in front of a Meta logo

Enlarge / Meta has a verified program for users of Facebook and Instagram.

Getty Images | Chesnot

The trouble began three days before Christmas. When my sister-in-law Amy tried to log in to her Instagram account shortly before midnight, she was notified that an unauthorized user had tried to access her account. Instagram suggested that she change her password. Wanting to protect the security on her account—an important tool for her successful photography business—Amy did so.

She then tried to log in with her new password but first needed to enter a code to confirm her identity. The code had just been sent to the phone number on her account—a phone number once belonging to her ex-husband but now disconnected.

This was going to be a problem.

Fashion photography and new phones

Amy started her business by posting photos of her two daughters on Instagram, which is how brands like Walmart and Stella McCartney Kids found her. Over time, she expanded her following on Instagram and even used the service’s messaging capability to find and hire models for fashion shoots.

In August 2021, someone successfully hacked into her Facebook account, and as part of the recovery process, Meta recommended that Amy attach a new phone number to her account. So she changed her “recovery” phone number from her personal number to her husband’s number. The two of them were happily married, so this seemed like an easy decision. And because Meta owns Instagram as well, the change affected that service, too. Fast forward two years, and Amy was filing for divorce. As part of that process, Amy removed her husband from their phone service plan. He got a new plan and a new number—and the old number was disconnected.

In all of the turmoil, Amy didn’t remember that she had used her now ex-husband’s phone number for her Meta account recovery until—you guessed it—she received that note in the middle of the night, just days before Christmas.

Getting verified is the answer?

After a mostly sleepless night, Amy woke up on December 23 and scoured Instagram’s and Facebook’s various help pages. There was simply no way to get around the need to access the recovery phone number.

Amy tried calling and texting her ex-husband’s number, asking its new owner for help. But the number had not yet been re-assigned and likely wouldn’t be for months. So Amy spent some quality time on the phone waiting to talk to T-Mobile. Could she buy a new phone and get the old number assigned to it? No chance.

The reality is that Instagram offers little customer support for most users. There is no number to call and no real online support. If you find a telephone number online, it is almost certainly a scam.

But there is one way to get some help: pay up. The “Meta Verified” program costs $14.99 per month and includes “account support” as one of its benefits. So on Christmas Day, Amy pulled out her credit card and got herself verified.

It happened super fast, even on the holiday. Within 30 minutes of submitting her information—a process that involves a copy of a driver’s license—Amy got her verified checkmark. She promptly contacted Meta’s support team, and they said someone would soon reach out with an email link to get her back into her account.

Was this going to be a Christmas miracle?