AUSTIN (KXAN) — Made by hand and handheld, Tiny Pies is known for its big taste.

Photos of a variety of sweet and savory pies made from scratch recipes fill Tiny Pies Instagram page.

“We bake from four generational recipes using locally sourced ingredients,” said Amanda Wadsworth, co-founder of Tiny Pies. “We can do breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert.”

Tiny Pies Instagram is where customers go to for latest flavors and specials. (Courtesy: Tiny Pies) 

The family-owned business has been a staple in Austin for more than a decade, reaching customers by word of mouth and on social media platforms like Instagram.

Like many small businesses, Tiny Pies relied on their social media throughout the pandemic to keep customers up to date and if they were open. Last October, Wadsworth said their page, which had 55,000 followers, disappeared.

“We had 55,000 followers, and, and that was us moving into our busiest season of the year, moving into Thanksgiving. And so, it was devastating,” said Wadsworth.

Hackers demand ransom

She said they had gotten an email about their Instagram account verification. It showed the sender as “Support Verification” with a gmail address.

“We accidentally clicked on it, it looks legitimate,” explained Wadsworth. “We clicked on it. It was a hacker, and they asked us to give them ransom, or they threatened to delete our account.” 

Amanda Wadsworth, co-founder of Tiny Pies, started the business in 2011 at a farmers market. (Courtesy: Tiny Pies)

Wadsworth said the email looked like it was from Instagram with the logo and steps necessary to verify their account. Once they clicked on it, they said they were sent another email saying, “Your account is now temporarily blocked. We are waiting one hour to hear back from you. If you don’t answer us, we will clean up your account and sell it.”

Wadsworth explained that she couldn’t connect with Instagram, so she turned to Facebook for help and started a live chat with a representative. 

“They told us in real time not to give into the hackers demands and not to pay the ransom, and that they would help us,” Wadsworth said. “We followed exactly what they told us to do to the letter, and then our account was deleted.”

She said it never reached a point where they knew how much the hackers were demanding. 

Push to get account restored

Tiny Pies has been fighting to get it’s Instagram account back ever since — more than seven months ago. 

“The initial reaction is that people just think that you’ve gone out of business. So, you know, we’ve had to fight and try to try to get messaging out. So instead of focusing on what we need to focus on, we’re trying to focus on making sure that people still know that we’re, we’re still here. And that’s, you know, that’s distracting to what we need to be focusing on,” said Wadsworth. 

Wadsworth and her staff shared with KXAN several exchanges over a number of weeks with Facebook about recovering its Instagram account after it was deleted by the hackers. 

In one they were told that an investigation is ongoing, and that Facebook was waiting on an internal team to respond. 

KXAN investigator Arezow Doost asked Meta, which owns Instagram and Facebook, why Tiny Pies’ Instagram account can’t be recovered and what businesses should do if hacked. After eight emails and several phone calls over an almost two-week period, a Meta spokesperson told Doost that no comment would be provided on the record. 

KXAN did identify an Instagram security feature under settings where users can check for emails and verify which ones are real and which ones are fake. 

Wadsworth said several team members now review all emails.

Warning to other businesses 

She has contacted the FBI, DPS and also the state Attorney General’s office to see if there is anything that could be done.

Tiny Pies was able to keep the original handle on Instagram. (Courtesy: Tiny Pies)

The FBI advises not to pay a hacker. 

The Better Business Bureau advised to be cautious when interacting with links received through email or social media and make it a habit to check for the “lock” icon in a website address which indicates it’s secured.

Additionally, the organization said to enable strong authentication tools like security keys or a unique one-time code through an app on your phone. 

The BBB explained that a survey in 2019 revealed that roughly one in five Americans have experienced a ransomware attack on a personal or work device — 46% say their company paid the ransom.

Tiny Pies was able to create a new profile with their original handle. 

The company is now warning other small businesses as it rebuilds its own followers. 

“It’s like a historical file has been deleted. That is 10 years of our brand,” said Wadsworth. “Ten years of photos, it’s 10 years of DM messages to people that we don’t have record of now. It’s events and things that, you know, we don’t have record of and other places.”