Fake Social Media Profiles: Watch What You Click

If you’ve been around social media, you’ve probably come across a few fake accounts. These spoofed accounts can be anything from someone who’s using a made up name and image, all the way to scammers who create fake celebrity accounts. The fake account might even be masquerading as someone you know, which explains why you might get a friend request from someone you think you’re already connected to.

Different platforms have implemented a variety of ways to combat fake accounts. There are reporting features that let you inform the company if an account may be spoofed, and some platforms also offer “verified” status, usually reserved for high-profile individuals. If you’ve ever seen a blue checkmark next to someone’s name, it means they’ve submitted the correct verification to the website to prove who they are.

A new form of spoofing has been detected in recent weeks, though, and on the surface, the activity behind it is pretty confusing. Someone has been creating fake social media profiles for public service agencies like police departments and using those spoofed accounts to spread “news” items.

Two police departments in Maine and another in California have so far been spoofed with a nearly identical post about a mother killing her three children. The article was updated on each of those sites to include an address that was local to those jurisdictions, leading readers to believe that the event had happened nearby when, in fact, it had not happened at all.

One of the Maine pages and the California page have now been deleted after being reported to Facebook, but as of December 20th, the other Maine page remained in operation. Its content, however, has been removed, leaving only the pictures that the operator stole from the real police department’s Facebook page.

Earlier this year, an Ohio man was arrested for creating a fake Facebook page for the Parma Police Department. His posts were original content that some might argue were satire, but they actually disrupted public service work and potentially put the city’s officials in jeopardy due to inflammatory statements that appeared to come from the police department. The posts included false information concerning sex offenders, minorities, and even children.

It’s hard to determine what someone gets out of sharing fake news, but one problem with many spoofed accounts is the spread of scams, fraud attempts, phishing attempts, and even malicious software. When individuals read a “news” story from a page they believe to be a trusted source, they’re more likely to share that content with their own social media connections. That makes it easier to spread scams and viruses.

It's actually fairly easy to tell if a social media account is genuine or not. First, look at the type of content being shared; if it doesn’t sound like something your local police department would share, it might not be the real deal. Also, check for strange spelling inadequacies—the still-active Facebook page for the spoofed Skowhegan Police Department actually has an extra “a” in the word “department.” Additionally, Facebook requires organizations to categorize themselves; police department pages should be listed as “government” groups, but the spoofed pages listed themselves as “community” groups.

But even if everything about it seems right, be very mindful of sharing content over social media just because someone posted it. Hoaxes, scam attempts, and even malicious software can be spread this way, sometimes innocently and accidentally.

Questions about identity theft? Contact the ITRC toll-free at (888) 400-5530 or on-the-go with the new IDTheftHelp app for iOS and Android.

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