Stranger Danger Online

For me, Sunday was a great day. The return of football saw me getting all my chores done around the house at whirlwind speeds so that when 1 pm rolled around, I would have nothing to do but sit in front of the TV and cheer!

By noon, I was on social media talking up my Sin City Raiders and debating pretty much everyone else. Drawing the ire of other football fans is one of the best things about being a loud and proud part of Raider Nation! If you’re already feeling a little ire towards me, you should also know I’m a die-hard Ohio State Buckeyes fan! Feel free to leave your thoughts and comments on that below.

So, while explaining why I found the new name for the Washington Football Team so amusing, I received a friend request from someone I didn’t recognize.

In addition to being a rabid football fan, I’m a writer, and sometimes fans find my personal profiles and friend me. It’s actually pretty cool. The thing is, I’m also a cybersecurity expert, so before accepting any friend request, I always do a little checking. As it turns out, the profile was not only fake but when I did a search on the name, I found eleven accounts with the same picture. A reverse image search took me to the celebrity website from where it was taken.

Annoyed, I deleted the request and did a little ranting about it. After several people asked me how I knew it was fake and – more importantly – why it mattered, I decided that this might be a good security issue to discuss in this week’s blog.

Fake Accounts

Regardless of the social media platform, we’ve all accepted friend requests from people we don’t know, barely know, or might have at one time known. It’s the polite thing to do. No one wants to hurt anyone’s feelings and who’s going to say no to a pretty girl or a hunky guy who wants to be friends. It’s social media, who cares.

You should.

Accepting friend requests can cause a lot of potential harm to you, your family, and your other friends on social media.

In 2019 Facebook alone removed 5.4 billion fake accounts. That is a staggering number and that’s only Facebook. Twitter acknowledges that roughly 4% of its user accounts are fake. LinkedIn removed 21.6 million fake accounts in 2019. This is a problem on every social media platform and there are two reasons for it:

  1. to spread disinformation and
  2. to steal your personal information

In both instances, accepting friend requests from fake accounts leaves you vulnerable.

What Can Hackers Really Get?

Social media makes it so easy to share information about ourselves, that we sometimes don’t pay attention to how much we put out there.

On virtually every social media platform, your “friends” can see your complete profile. This could include your birthday, phone number, home location, workplace, previous places you’ve lived, schools you’ve attended, and from where you post pictures or check-in when you travel. We don’t even have to be talking about trips here – how useful would it be as a burglar to know that you always go to your favorite burger joint on Friday nights to post pictures of your food? When you accept friend requests from strangers, you are handing them this information.

Admittedly, it’s unlikely that criminals would go to the effort of creating a fake account on social media to just to break into your home. Unlikely, not impossible. What’s far more likely is that they will use this information to steal your identity. This is especially true when they start sharing those infamous social media quizzes. We’ve all seen them, they ask seemingly random questions to tell you what kind of dragon or wizard you are, or what superpower you possess. Except that very often, these questions aren’t random. They are the same types of questions that banks and secure websites use as security questions.

As if all of this isn’t bad enough, by accepting these requests you also give them access to your friend’s list, providing them with a list of even more potential victims.

And yes, when I received the above friend request, I checked. The fake profile indicated that we shared two friends in common. So, one of them was most likely responsible for me getting the invite. You don’t want to be that person!

How To Avoid Being A Victim

This is really not hard and only takes a few moments. Before accepting any friend request, you should go to the person’s profile and look for the following things:

  • How long ago was the profile created? If it was less than a month ago, it’s probably not a real profile.
  • Have they posted any pictures? Who doesn’t post pictures on social media – hackers, that’s who.
  • What information have they shared? If everything from marital status to location is blank, it’s probably a fake profile – anyone that not interested in sharing is not going to be on social media in the first place.

One other thing to look out for is repeat friend requests. Sure, sometimes people create new profiles because they lost their password or just want to get rid of all the baggage, but that’s not usually the case. Before accepting a new friend request from someone you know, do a search on their name on the social media platform. Hackers will often do screen grabs of profile pictures and then create fake profiles. If your search shows up more than one profile with the same picture, there’s a good chance it’s fake. If you know the person, reach out and ask. If you don’t the person, report the profile. This will allow the social media platform to confirm it and save everyone on their friend’s list from becoming the next potential victim.

All it takes to protect yourself from these scammers on social media is a little awareness.

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