Fake friends and followers on social media – and how to spot them

Cyber Security

Social Media

One of the biggest threats to watch out for on social media is fraud perpetrated by people who aren’t who they claim to be. Here’s how to recognize them.

Fake friends and followers on social media – and how to spot them

Some 4.5 billion people worldwide, or almost 55 percent of the global population, have at least one account with one of the big players. And global internet users spend around two-and-a-half hours each day reading news, sharing stories and swapping pictures on their social media platforms of choice. In other words, social media has had an immeasurable effect on our lives, including on how we engage and interact with other people.

Yet not everything is always as it seems on social media. As per the internet in general, these platforms have become a hotbed for scammers and fake news peddlers. The sheer volume of global users, the dynamic nature of user-generated content and the agility of malicious actors make policing these platforms extremely challenging for the providers.

That means users must take matters into their own hands.

Social media is a haven for scammers

Among the biggest threats to watch out for are friends and followers who aren’t who they claim to be. Scammers use these profiles, often registered and managed by automated bots, to spam users with too-good-to-be-true offers, clickbait stories, romance scams and more. It could range from a “who viewed your profile” link to a bogus cryptocurrency investment opportunity or a free gift card offer.

The bottom line is that they want your money and/or your data. They may be hoping you click on a malicious link, triggering a covert malware download, or that you voluntarily hand over personal information. They may even be reeling you in for a bigger scam like romance fraud or crypto scams.

10 tips for spotting the fakers

Social media platforms are getting better at removing inauthentic profiles and accounts. But they’re nowhere near 100% successful. We all need to be more credulous about what we see on these sites. Here are some of the top ways to spot the scammers:

  • An unusual bio: Fake accounts may have bios that are copied and updated from elsewhere, leading to an incongruous mix of sentences. Also look out for typos, excessive emojis and/or stilted language indicative of a bot.
  • Catfishers: Scammers might use fake social media profiles just as they do on dating sites in a bid to con their way into a romantic online relationship with the victim before asking for money to be wired to them. A reverse image search should be the first port of call. Also check for some of the other tell-tale signs of a scam artist listed in this article – or watch the video.
  • A mismatch between “followers” and “following”: This is particularly prevalent on Instagram. Spam accounts will automatically follow hundreds or thousands of users, but few will follow them back.
  • Friend’s profile pic: Sometimes scammers will try to clone a friend’s account. They may then send an urgent message pretending that friend is in trouble and asking for money. It’s easier to do than it sounds and still tricks a lot of unwitting social media users. It always pays to double-check with any friend if they really have sent you a message like this. Drop them a line via another channel. Alternatively, scrutinize the account sending the message. Does it display any of the tell-tale signs of a scam listed here?
  • Direct message (DM) spam: A scam account will often try to message you directly with fake offers and encourage you to DM to someone else or visit a website to find out more. These accounts will also be fake, used to peddle anything from crypto investment fraud to retail scams.
  • No official checkmark: Instagram, Facebook and X (Twitter), for example, have badges or checkmarks to identify the official accounts of businesses, celebrities and others. If you see an account purporting to be an organization or individual of some import, but which doesn’t feature any of these, it’s likely to be an imposter.
nicolas cage
Just one (extreme) example for many (source: Reddit)
  • Posting activity: Fake accounts will often post a barrage of content in one go – perhaps with similar or identical captions – and then fall silent. Or they may even fail to post at all. So check the quantity, quality and cadence of any posts.
  • Free gift offers: Beware of any accounts that offer you giveaways and/or cash – perhaps in return for filling out a survey. They may impersonate a big-name brand to do so. They just want your personal information.
  • Heavily discounted items: Fake accounts might also promote luxury items that have been heavily marked down. Remember, if it’s too good to be true, it usually is.
  • Random comments: If an account is leaving comments on your posts unrelated to that post, it is quite probably a fake.

How to report fake accounts

The good news is that many social media gatekeepers like Instagram and LinkedIn, are continually looking at ways to improve account verification and boot inauthentic users and bots off their platforms. However, one of the best tools they have to spot fake accounts is their eagle-eyed users. If you come across a fake profile, here’s how to report it on four of the main social media sites:

If someone is pretending to be you, visit this page. If you spot a fake account, click the button with three dots at the bottom of the profile photo and then “Find, support or report” or “Report Page.”

  • X (formerly Twitter)

Report here. Or click on the three dots beside the account name and then follow the instructions.

Click the three dots beside the account name then “Report.” Or click here to report an account impersonating you, your business or child.

Click “More” under account name and then “Report/Block” or “Report Abuse.”

The best antidote we have against scam followers is to make our profile private, and then thoroughly vet anyone wanting to follow. If life sometimes moves too fast to make this 100% viable, bear the above in mind to stay safer online.

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