When taking part on social networks, you need to be sure that your "friends" are truly your friends. So, how can you know that they really are who they say they are? There are two common scams in this area to beware of:
- Impersonators - when someone pretends to be someone they are not. Online, this may be creating a fake profile for a real person (someone you know, celebrity, etc) or a fake person that you could know (claiming to be a school friend, for example).
- Hijacked accounts - when an account belonging to a real friend is hacked or left open, others post their own content pretending to be this person. Users are often the victims of phishing or clickjacking themselves, while their hijacked accounts attempt to victimize others.
Both of these issues can be quite damaging. Some of the risks arising from connecting with impersonators or hijacked accounts include:
- Damage to the reputation of the person being impersonated or whose account was hijacked (by spreading lies, acting out, etc)
- Damage to the reputation of others, via posted photos or comments about them
- Malware spread in links in status updates
- Phishing messages designed to gather your personal information
- Personal safety issues (see this story of a predator pretending to be a celebrity to lure kids)
How to Spot the "Fakes"
- A friend is communicating oddly (weird messages, different style of speech, grammatical errors)
- A friend 'shares' a link to something that seems dodgy (health, diet, financially-related, etc), don't click it
- A friend asks you for money for an emergency situation; this money must be delivered by mail or electronic means
- A friend starts asking you leading questions about your employer
- You receive a friend request from someone who claims to know you in some way, but whom you don't remember (past high school friend, work colleague, etc)
- You receive a friend request from a 'friend of a friend' who you don't personally know
- You receive a friend request from someone famous
- Links in status messages are mismatched (hover over the link to make sure it goes where it says it's going)
If you think your real friend has had their account hijacked, contact them immediately to let them know. If you are ever unsure about a message, it doesn't hurt to call or text your friend to verify their status update. If your friend's account has been compromised, there are ways to get the account back, report the activity and delete the malicious content.
If you think someone is using an account to scam others or behave inappropriately, report them to the social network. On Facebook, you can report a violation here