Fake Facebook Profiles

Last year I watched a movie called “The Social Network.”  It was a great movie about the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerman.  He created the first version of Facebook from a dorm room in 2003.  At the time of the movie, Mark Zuckerman was the youngest billionaire in history.  The end of the movie depicted the legal problems with former friends who collaborated on the creation of Facebook and invested in the early stages.

Few innovations have changed social interaction the way Facebook has.  Nearly everyone I know has a Facebook profile.  I talked to Middle Schoolers right up through sixty-somethings for this article.  Everyone had a Facebook account.

Many of the people I talked to had seen fake Facebook profiles.  The Middle School aged children thought they were created for fun, and didn’t see any harm in them.  Although I’ve heard of teens creating them for another teen in order to bully them, no one in this group had seen that.

The teens and young adults felt sure they could recognize a fake profile if they saw one.  Key indicators given were a small number of friends, friends all from one high school, and minimum information in the profile.

Young adults added to the list of key indicators by saying the profile picture might be provocative, or possibly look like a model.

Those of us in our 40s to 60s are not generally accepting any friend requests unless it’s someone we already know.  If you’re not trying to meet new people, you definitely limit your risk.

In reality, there are plenty of fake Facebook profiles and they’re not just for fun.  It’s so easy to be anonymous on the web that fraudsters are rampant, even on Facebook.  We have to be vigilant.  It’s hard to think like a criminal, and that makes us vulnerable.

Don’t assume that all your Facebook friends are real people.  Fraudsters create false profiles for a number of reasons.  A lot of identity theft occurs because people post too much information on Facebook or answer questions that they shouldn’t.

Sometimes it’s more personal than identity theft.  If you give away information about places you will be you can be subjected to stalking or a violent crime.  If you talk about your vacation your house could be burglarized while you’re out of town.

Con artists can create such a rich “fake” relationship that they can extract gifts and cash from a Facebook friend.

A documentary thriller “Catfish” explores this topic by showing a New York photographer’s relationship with a woman he met on Facebook.  It’s a complicated story with the fake 19 year-old woman also creating a fake 8 year-old sister who’s an art prodigy.  It was the artwork that the alleged 8 year-old sent in the mail that hooked the photographer and caused him and his friends to start filming the documentary.  There was a mother and a crowd of fans of the 8-year-old’s artwork all interacting with the photographer.  He felt safe starting a virtual courtship with the 19 year-old.

Eventually, the photographer realizes he’s not dealing with a real person.  He traveled to Michigan to see what was real and discovered the “Mom” had created an elaborate cast of characters and had assumed all their identities.

There are indicators you can look for in order to spot a fake profile.  The kids and teens I talked to got some of them right.

  1. A perfect picture could be a model picture or a stock photo.
  2. Real people have pictures of family and friends.
  3. Real people interact with others on Facebook.  There will be tagged photos of him or herself in the Photo Gallery.
  4. Fakers might fill out the photo area by adding pictures of objects and graphics.
  5. Real people comment regularly.
  6. Anyone saying ALL the right things, anyone who is perfect for you?  Probably a fake.
  7. Fakers are only on the web.  They don’t have posts, comments or photos of real activities.
  8. An info page with very little information is a red flag.
  9. Try a Google search.  I’m a runner.  If you Google my name you can find some races I’ve participated in.
  10. Does the person give a full name?

These are all signs, but they’re not fool-proof.  It’s best if you have a mutual “real” friend.

A fake profile is a violation of Facebook rules.  You can report it to Facebook.  It’s not against the law.  Legislation regarding the web hasn’t kept up with changes in technology.  You have to take care of yourself on the web.

Gina Bliss, CPA, CFE, is a senior manager at EFP Rotenberg, LLP, Certified Public Accountants and Business Consultants, who specializes in internal audit, fraud audit, and forensic accounting.  She may be reached at (585) 295-0536 or by e-mail at gbliss@efprotenberg.com