Facebook fraud: how to spot a fake account

Monday, 21 May, 2018

Despite measures taken by Facebook to reduce the plague of fake accounts on its platform users are still being targeted by scammers and ‘undesirable’ accounts continue to grow rapidly.

Facebook themselves estimate there are as many as 87 million fake accounts. A dramatic increase from 2016 when, they said there were 18 million accounts that were fake. Facebook pointed toward to ‘episodic spikes’ in fake accounts being created in countries such as Indonesia, Turkey and Vietnam.

Back in December Facebook offered a new facial-recognition technology that would spot when a phony profile tried to use someone’s photos. Facebook urged users to agree to use the new technology, claiming if they don’t they won’t be protected from imposters.

But following revelations, Facebook had to admit its system was much less effective than they had claimed. It transpired that facial-recognition only worked within a user’s circle of friends and friends of friends. Not the site’s 2 billion users worldwide.

We use new technologies to protect people on Facebook and we’re often able to improve as we roll them out. In the early days of this feature, we’re focused on alerting people to new and recent photos posted by their friends and friends of their friends.

We hope to improve how we use this technology over time.

- Matt Steinfeld: Spokesperson, Facebook Inc

Facebook has used facial-recognition for some time but the revelation that it is making little difference, experts have questioned how a $500 billion, high-tech company continues to struggle to protect users’ identities.

One such sleuth is Zach Elwood who has been monitoring Facebook to expose fake profiles. He claims that even without AI he can spot a fake with just a few clicks.

It’s a kind of cop-out to pretend there’s some high-tech solution needed for this. I’m not anybody with any special knowledge. Anybody can go on there and find these things.

- Zach Elwood: author, Portland Oregon

It is not always clear as to why a person becomes a target for fake profiling or for what reason.

The political nature of many fake accounts has become a serious problem in recent times and is a reminder of the role Facebook has played in American politics with the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

And attacks can impact on anyone whatever their political leanings.

Terry Hestilow, a conservative US army veteran who comments on the news listed 60 scam profiles he said had used his old photos. Then there was 21-year-old student Katie Greenman, who’s fake profile extolls President Trump. It attracted all sorts of followers both in support and against.

Analysts now believe that Facebook could be facing some existential threat if fake profiles continue to proliferate as users will, inevitably become more and more cautious.

But there are ways and means to spot a fake profile

Talk to strangers.

If you’re unsure about someone requesting friend status, then ask them questions. Such as why do they want to be my friend? How did they find out about you? Who do we have in common?

Read the profile carefully

Does what is being said add-up? Do their statements look suspicious? If unsure then ask them for proof of some of things they have said. Remember they are wanting you to sign-up.

Search their name online

If their name is a common one this might be difficult but coupled with other information such as their location, age or if they’ve been tagged you may be able to pin them down.

Check out their friends

Are their friends global or local? Generally, the more local the more likely they will be real. If their friends are global then view them suspiciously.

Block any request

If you are unsure about somebody, then simply turn down their request and block them. You can do this by clicking on their Facebook name, go to the timeline and on the right, under the Cover photo, click on the Message settings.

Unfriend them

Stay in control. If you’re suspicious, unsure or uncomfortable with having them as a friend then simply unfriend them. It’s not as if they’re family or real friends and it could save you a lot of problems.

Report them to Facebook

If you are suspicious then you should report them to Facebook. They have procedures to deal with this. Also contact you real friends and warn them of a possible fake out there.

Tim Bamford author picture


Tim is a veteran freelance journalist writing extensively on internet news and cybersecurity.