Social media can be a fun way to keep tabs on your favorite famous people and even get the chance to have some one-on-one communication with them. But cybercriminals are taking advantage of some fangirls and fanboys by impersonating the people they love to follow online.
Ben Nimmo, with the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, told Gizmodo there are millions of social media accounts that don’t belong to the person they claim to be.
The people behind these fraudulent accounts use various ways to try scamming innocent people, and most involve getting their hands on your money. Some imposter accounts of celebrities will try to sell followers tickets to fake private shows; others will claim to be supporting a charity and ask followers to send money. Many times, the fake famous people will attempt to strike up a romantic online relationship with a unsuspecting fan, only to attempt to get money from the follower using some lame story.
Country music stars got together last year to plead with fans to be cautious when following them online and to always look for the blue check that indicates a verified account on most social media networks. The website Social Media Safety Nashville reiterates, “Your favorite artists have not and will not ever ask you for your personal information or anything like that.” A video on the website has singers such as Blake Shelton and Keith Urban encouraging country music fans to report fakes.
It’s not difficult to create a fraudulent social media account since these networks only ask for an email address. But Facebook (which also owns Instagram) told The New York Times it had added software that automatically detects fakes and that it removed hundreds of millions of accounts in just a few months last year. But The New York Times also found in one of Facebook’s earnings documents that the company estimates it still has between 20 million and 80 million fake accounts on the site.
There are ways to steer clear of falling prey to any scams coming from these fake accounts. If it is a celebrity, their social media accounts should be verified. That means you’ll see a little blue circle with a white check mark next to the account name. But a problem arises when it’s a local celebrity. Sometimes these influencers have tens of thousands of followers, but social media networks won’t give them verified status.
So users need to be smart about it. If an account asks you for money for any reason, before you send cash, do your homework. Go to an official source (a website, a different social media account, an email) and ask some questions. Make sure the account is legit before you ever send money or give any personal information.
And if you find someone running a fake account, call them out. If possible, post to the account letting other followers know that the account is fraudulent. Then let the person running the account know you will be reporting them, screenshot the account for evidence and then block them.
Notify the social media platform about the fake account. On Facebook, simply click the three dots on the cover photo of the offending page and select “Give feedback or report this profile.” Twitter and Instagram each have specific forms for reporting an account for impersonation. Finally, let the Federal Trade Commission know about it.
Of course, you’ll want to take these steps if someone is dragging your good name through the mud by impersonating you on social media. But we should be responsible digital citizens and report any fake accounts we see online. You never know — your good deed could possibly save a fellow social media user from getting scammed.