April 11, 2021

How to spot (and avoid) fakers and fraudsters on social media

How to spot (and avoid) fakers and fraudsters on social media
How to spot account on Instagram and Facebook, and other tips to protect yourself online. Details at une femme d'un certain age.

Update: I’ve decided to re-share this post, as I’ve noticed an uptick recently in dubious social media accounts. And in the few weeks since I originally posted this, I’ve had two accounts impersonating me on Instagram, and one on Twitter (that I know of). And there was a blog that was stealing my content and reposting as their own. Fortunately all of these accounts have been removed, but it’s a pain having to deal with it. To those who spotted the imposters and alerted me, thank you!!

This is something I’ve been meaning to write about for a while, but a couple of things I saw online and recent conversations with another blogger friend prompted me to sit down and do it.

I know you are a pretty savvy bunch. You’re online, you may use social media regularly. But the scammers and bots are getting more sophisticated and better than ever at fooling even careful users. A few months ago, a friend’s roommate (who has worked in tech for decades) had her laptop data hijacked online by a scammer posing as someone from Apple. They then demanded money in the form of a gift card as “ransom” to return her data.

Here are some of the social media fakers you might want to be on the lookout for:

The Impersonators

These are the people who set up fake accounts, try to engage, and establish online relationships. At some point, they’ll probably start asking for money.

  • A good friend of mine, an actor and good-looking man in his 50’s, is ALWAYS (and I mean almost daily) finding phony Facebook and Instagram accounts that have “lifted” his photos and are using them as their own, sometimes under versions of his name. At least one of those phony accounts has scammed at least one woman out of tens of thousands of dollars. (My friend found out when he was contacted by people investigating the case.)
  • A blogger friend of mine recently found her photos were being used on various phony social media accounts,
  • and I’ve had a couple of instances (that I know of) where someone has stolen my Instagram or Facebook images and used them to set up fake accounts on various platforms. (Apparently with the intent to establish relationships and scam for money.) All we can do is keep reporting these when we discover them.

I receive follows and/or message requests on Instagram almost daily from fake accounts posing as “honest, Simple man with loving heart.” 😂😂😂 If they bother to create a bio at all beyond “Medical Doctor” or “Military General,” that is.

On Facebook, my page tends to get followers claiming to be young men looking for relationships with older women. (Or advertising their “services,” if you get my drift. 😂 ) I assume they are scammers and block if they try to interact with me or any of my commenters.

How To Spot Fake Accounts

I’ve seen several helpful articles on how to spot and block/report fake accounts. I’ve linked to some at the bottom of this post. A few things I find are common denominators on Instagram especially:

  • A profile photo (and sometimes feed photos) that look like stock photos or commercial (i.e. “too perfect”) images.
  • They’re following a large number of people compared to how many followers they have. See image above. (And many of their followers look as suspicious as they do.)
  • A name that’s two first names: John David, George John, etc. Or a name followed by a long string of numbers: Dennis56849
  • A name in the bio that seems completely different than the account name.
  • No bio, or a bio that seems to have been translated from another language or is some variation of a badly-written dating profile.
  • Posts that are mostly “romantic” in nature (hearts and flowers), pictures of the guy with a kid (they’re often posing as “single dads”), memes, quotes (again see above), or random cute animals.
  • All or almost all of the posts in their feed have been posted within a short time frame.
  • Anyone you don’t know who tries to send a direct message, often just “hi,” “hello dear,” “hi beautiful,” or some smarmy pickup line, or product pitch (cough*bitcoin*cough), or a link or image.

If you think someone is impersonating someone you know on Instagram, you’ll need to let the “real” person know. Unless they’re a celebrity, they’ll usually have to report the imposter themselves.

And other fake Instagram accounts are set up as “followers” that can be purchased by brands or influencers to give them the appearance of more, well…influence. (I’ve never done this, and and am happy to see both the industry and users are getting wise to it.)

The Pot Stirrers

Sometimes fake accounts are people or bots (automated accounts that are programmed to simulate human conversation) that are deployed to amplify other users, websites or viewpoints. Or just to stir things up and create confusion and conflict. This article offers a great explanation of how and why they do it. And how to avoid unwittingly helping them.

Between Covid, the current BLM protests, and this being an election year in the U.S., I think we can expect to see a lot more of this kind of activity. Maybe it goes without saying, but be wary of taking accounts or sources you aren’t familiar with at face value. And even some you are familiar with. A pause and a little due diligence can help prevent spreading misinformation.

Tips To Protect Yourself Online

Here are a few practices I’ve adopted, and if you have any to add, please share them in comments.

  • Instagram: Don’t automatically follow accounts that follow you. Check their “credentials” (profile) and block any suspicious ones.
  • Facebook: Don’t accept friend requests from people you don’t know, especially if you have no mutual friends. If there are mutual friends, you might want to check with one or two of them first to see how they know the person.
  • Facebook: If you get a friend request from someone you believe you are already friends with, check with them first (preferably in a different platform) before accepting the request. Often this means their account has been hacked, or someone is impersonating them to try to get access to your information.
  • Facebook: don’t take quizzes (i.e. “Which Celebrity Do You Most Look Like?”). They are often a way to get access to your information to use for marketing or other more nefarious purposes.
  • Email: never click on links within emails that appear to be from your bank, Paypal, etc. Some phishing operations are able to make emails look perfectly legit. (You can hover your cursor over the sender to see the actual address the email was sent from.) If you believe something may need your attention, enter the website address of the company or financial institution in a fresh browser window and log in from there.
  • If you set up Zoom meetings, be sure to use security and passwords for all participants. (See article linked below.)

More resources:

How To Identify Fake Facebook Accounts

6 Red Flags Of Fake Instagram Accounts

How To Stop Spreading Misinformation

5 Ways to Protect Your Zoom Meetings

How To Report A Fake Facebook Account

What To Do If Someone Is Impersonating You On Instagram

How To Report A Post or Profile on Instagram

Protecting Yourself From Online Phishing Scams

Just a note: if you subscribe to my blog posts with a gmail account, you may be getting a “suspicious link” warning. I can assure you that my links ARE safe. This is due to something within gmail’s spam filtering, and unfortunately is out of my control. You may find that if you add “[email protected]” to your safe or preferred senders list, that it eliminates the warning. My apologies for any inconvenience!

Thanks for reading!

Stay in touch.

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