I know I'm frequently talking about Twitter, but this time, I wanted to give everyone a little PSA about Facebook. Odds are if you've been on Facebook for more than a month or so you've had this happen to you.
You get a friend request from someone that you could just swear you're already friends with. On the surface this account looks like your friend's. It's got his/her picture, and name, and might even have already roped in some mutual friends. Maybe even a couple of extra snapshots. But that's where the similarities end.
What you've got is an impostor account. Scammers create impostor accounts for two reasons:
- They're phishing. You can set your privacy settings to only show your posts and information to your friends. Pretending to be your friend is the impostor's way of getting around that. By mistakenly accepting their request (thinking that you know them), you are granting them access to all that information that you meant to keep private.
- They are going to ask you for money. These will give themselves away pretty quickly, because they will likely send you a message after you accept their request. "Hey, how have you been?" And you, believing that they are your friend, respond. Eventually, they will work the conversation around to some story about how they really could use a little money because they are having trouble making ends meet, just got hit with a sudden expensive car repair/medical expense, their nephew needs bail money...Hopefully, you're not gullible enough to fall for this, but I'm sure there are some folks out there who are.
The thing about impostor accounts, is that they are hard to prevent and hard to keep up with. Just about anyone can create a Facebook account with any name they want. And because we post pictures where anyone can see them, people can download those pictures and use them for their own purposes. The internet is full of stories of unsuspecting people whose images and even video have been coopted for other people's purposes. They get made into memes, used as before or after pictures in shady internet ads and even used in YouTube videos (anyone remember Techno Viking?). The scammers who create impostor accounts don't need your password. They don't hack into your account. They just copy it.
Facebook is supposed to police this, and they do to some extent. But they can't catch or keep up with all of them without our help. So, if you get one of these friend requests, DON'T IGNORE IT. The thing about social media is that it's a community. Would you walk past a mugging in process and not do anything? Would you watch someone walk through a crowd of your friends and pick their pockets without stopping it or reporting it? The only way to stop impostors is for those of us who use social media for legitimate reasons to behave like the good citizens that we are by reporting the scammers whenever we see them.
Luckily for us, Facebook has a protocol for reporting exactly this kind of thing. It only takes a few clicks, but it can stop a scammer in their tracks. Of course, not everyone uses all the features on Facebook. Many people don't even know these things are there. So, I've made a handy infographic to walk you through the steps. (See all those years as an instructional designer are good for something ;)