Facebook has put together a social network of over a billion people. Some of those people do not have the best interests of their fellow humans at heart. They may seek you out to get information, steal your identity, or even destroy your reputation. How do you guard against predators like that? We'll show you a few ways to protect yourself and your family on Facebook. Read on!
Do a little detective work.
At the very least, it can be fun. You might also find out that your would-be “friend” is really bad news. Here are some things to sleuth out:
Read the profile carefully.
Does what is being said add up or are there some really hard-to-believe statements being made?
- For example, maybe there is a photo of a very young person next to claims of being a professor or a CEO. Does the embellishment seem more than the usual “making oneself look good” and come across as simply implausible? Trust your own senses on this one. You could even ask for proof of some of the things the person has stated—they’re approaching you, after all. You have every right to make sure they’re legitimate.
Search their name online to see if it returns.
This won’t be so useful if the name is very common, but for a more unusual or unique name, there might be some interesting returns.
- If they have a common name, add other information such as their location, approximate age, or any other information you can glean from their profile.
- Have they been tagged? A real person is generally tagged here and there as part of the Facebook sharing experience.
Check out their friends.
Are their friends global or local? The more local the friends, the more likely the person is to be real. The more global their friendship list, with very few or no local friends, start getting suspicious.
- The lack of local friends suggests that this is not a real person you’re dealing with but a fake account. This is often used by older adults pretending to be young and attractive. They will often contact you with a line like “I saw your picture and you looked nice.”
Block the request.
If you have a suspicious feeling about somebody, there’s a simple solution: don’t just turn down the request for friendship, block them completely.
- Click on their Facebook name and go to their Timeline. On the right, under the Cover Photo, click on the Message settings:
- You can block them from contacting you, or report them to Facebook if you feel they are a threat or involved in illicit or illegal activities.
Create a “probationary period.”
If you’re in the (not-so-great) habit of accepting friend requests from friends of friends’ friends, or friend people because they seem to have similar tastes to yours in music, cooking, dancing, or whatever, then you leave yourself open to the occasional fake.
- While you can make wonderful connections in this way, try to always have someone you do know vouch for this person first. And if that’s not possible, be alert to signs of weird behavior, such as suddenly bombarding you with likes, comments, photos, etc. on a daily basis.
- If you hardly know this person, they should be taking things slowly and politely, not invading your space immediately.
- If, after a week or two, you’re not comfortable with your new friend, unfriend them!
Beware interconnected faking.
At one time it was probably reasonable to think that if someone had a group of friends interacting with them and vouching for each other, that that person must be real. Not anymore!
- There are increasing cases of one person running numerous fake Facebook accounts, pretending to be an array of different people, all vouching for one another and all trying to be friends with someone real!
- An excellent example is the case of Natalia Burgess, who wove a web of deceit and caused many young males to fall for her various aliases — all because she felt inadequately loved. Sadly, impostors of this sort go to incredible lengths to create an array of fake accounts including other social media accounts and websites to give the impression that their fake personas are “real”.
Look for and record inconsistencies.
If you’re being targeted by an elaborate web of lies, eventually these start to unravel. This is most evident in someone who is trying to maintain several fake Facebook accounts at once and eventually, they will drop the ball and mix up their stories.
- If you start noticing this in response to questions, or in their comments, take note and remain alert for more inconsistencies.
Do a double-take if the person says anything weird or “out-of-character”.
For example: if an adult is pretending to be a teen, they may say something that dates them by referring to a historic event or person that teens wouldn’t really know much about. Or they may prove to know way too much about a topic that someone they’re claiming to be would not.
- Take note of what the suspicious person says, as everyone slips up! No one is perfect, and they’re bound to eventually say something that will give you a hint that your hunch is correct.
Be really wary of undying declarations of love, affection, and romance.
If someone you’ve never met, who lives thousands of miles away from you, and who has barely revealed themselves gets amorous with you, be suspicious. Sometimes the faker does this because they love the feeling of playing with the life and feelings of someone else; sometimes it’s because they’re in love with online love but are too afraid to reveal their true selves (or they’re in a relationship in real life); and other times it could be that they’re after something, like money, sex, or drugs.
- Question your own feelings and motivations if you start to feel something for a person who declares they love you online. Is it too sudden? Too weird? Too freaky? A little bit icky? Trust those feelings and delete this fake friend from your account.
- If they ask you for sexy pictures, immediately be suspicious. A fake account is a good shill for getting free pornographic material that then gets passed around online.
If you’re suspicious, unsure, or uncomfortable with having them as part of your Facebook friends, pull the plug. It’s not like they’re your real friends or family, and they could cause you a lot of future problems.
- Warn other friends of yours on Facebook if you know they have also friended the fake account; one of the tactics of an impostor is to befriend others in your circle of friends to try to make the friendship seem more “real”.
Know why it is important to spot a fake account.
First and foremost, somebody with a fake account is—almost by definition—a con artist. Unless you run with that crowd, you probably don’t want them in your life.
- While they may present themselves as a friend, or even a romantic interest, their sole purpose in friending you may be as harmless as a mind game, or they may be after much more, such as your money, goods, and property.
- The impostor might also be setting you up to steal your identity or valuable information from you that they can use to manipulate someone else.
Don’t talk to strangers.
At the least, think twice about accepting friend requests from people you don’t know and who are not connected to you through legitimate, verifiable means. If you’re not sure, do the following:
- Ask them questions: What makes them want to be your friend? How did they find out about you? Who do you know in common? By clicking on their name, you can see if you have any mutual friends. If you do, contact your friend. If not—that’s a big red flag.
- Look for evidence of offline interaction with their Facebook friends. However, keep in mind that even this can be faked if they’re running multiple Facebook accounts.
- Check any links they’ve provided to personal websites, social media pages, etc., to help you to see if things add up.
- Keep an eye on your teens. Young people are the most vulnerable to building online relationships with people who don’t exist. They fall in love with an image of the perfect person and the faker is happy to oblige for their own gratification or other reasons.
- Be careful what you put online and what you tell people you don’t really know. Some people act very caring until they have enough information about you and then they turn around and blackmail you with it. If you don’t know the person, no matter how friendly you’ve become in the online context, keep back your private details and keep everything very general.
- Remember, that while a person using a fake account could be after money, property, or personal information, they could also be after you. That is why it is extremely important for your physical safety to use discretion with who you choose to interact with.