Facebook has been a valuable social media tool, allowing me to reconnect with a number of former classmates and friends I have made in my travels around the country during the course of my career with the Federal Prison System. As a retired grandfather, I love seeing the latest photos of my grandchildren’s exploits and adventures. As a blogger, it provides a convenient means of distributing my latest posts.
But like any good thing, it can be misused by those with less than honorable intent. Such was the case recently when someone established a fake Facebook account in my name and sent friend requests to many of those on my friends list. Thanks to the help of several people, I was able to resolve the situation fairly quickly without any detectable negative consequences.
In the aftermath of this incident, I have discovered that my experience is not so uncommon. The photos and other information in one’s Facebook profile can be fairly easily accessed and copied to create a clone account. The impostor then sends new friend requests to individuals in your friends list, hoping that they will routinely accept it without questioning why they are receiving another friend request from you. A few months ago, my wife accepted a friend request from someone who had cloned the account of one of her friends.
If you receive a friend request from someone you have already friended on Facebook, you are the first line of defense against Facebook impostors. Do not assume your friend has set up a new account and click “Accept”! Instead, contact your friend through other means (text, phone, message) to determine if they indeed sent you another friend request. In my case, I received two messages on the Messenger app and a phone call from another friend within the span of ten minutes.
If you discover that your account has been cloned, immediately post a notice on Facebook. The message I posted was “Someone has apparently set up a Facebook account in my name and with my picture and is sending out friend requests to my Facebook friends. Please ignore – it is not me!” I also tagged each of my Facebook friends to increase the likelihood that they would actually receive the notice. If you are able to access the fake account, there is a process (described below) to report the account to Facebook. I was unable to access my fake account, thus undermining my attempts to report it. The impostor had most likely blocked me when the account was established.
If you are unable to access the fake account yourself, actions by your friends who initially receive the request are critical. When you have received such a friend request and verified that it is a cloned account, report the account to Facebook. When you click on the fake profile, you will notice three dots just to the right of the “Message” block. When you click on those dots, a menu will drop down which will include an option to “Report”. When you click on “Report”, follow the instructions to report this account as someone impersonating your friend. Thanks to quick actions from a couple of my friends, my impostor‘s account was removed within 24 hours.
To protect yourself, be very discerning about accepting friend requests from people you do not know. Do not assume that since they are friends of some of your friends, there is no harm in accepting their requests. Also review your Facebook privacy settings to make sure that your personal information, photos, and posts can only be seen by those you wish to have access to them. For information on Facebook privacy settings, <Click Here>.
Beware of data-mining Facebook posts. These come disguised as posts designed to tug at your heart strings or arouse your political passions. Examples include “Type amen if you love Jesus”, “Help this disabled veteran or crippled child get one million likes”, or the latest popular iteration, “Like and share if you believe Candidate X is right for America”. Many, if not most, of such posts are nothing more than data-mining tools to gain access to your Facebook profile.
If you have inadvertently accepted a friend request from a Facebook impostor, beware of Facebook Messenger requests from your impostor “friend” asking for money to get out of jail in Nigeria or inviting you to check out an opportunity for free money they received, noticing that your name was also on the list. The worst case scenario might include a link which installs malware on your computer, tablet, or phone which allows the impostor to track your activity and gain access to financial accounts.
According to an article I read recently, such impostor activity is on the increase lately. I encourage you to share this post on your Facebook timeline to alert your friends and hopefully keep it from happening to you.
Cyberspace can be a dangerous place. Be smart and be very careful out there.
“Be very careful then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” (Eph. 5:15-16 NIV)