Many movies and television shows play as cautionary tales of what can happen if you are not careful around people you meet on social media. Even the best of profiles can be fake. Fake profiles can be perfectly crafted to look trustworthy. Aside from real threats to your safety, fake social media profiles can also be created by professionals to convince you to buy a service or product. How can you be sure that someone is real? From hiring an influencer to promote your brand or to go on a date with someone you met on a dating platform –also a form of social media–, there are a few steps to make your interactions safe.
An Online Background Search
Sites like checkpeople allow you to search for someone by name. With the help of top-notch technology, you can find out someone’s marital status, criminal records (including sex offender’s status), known addresses, and social media accounts. The process is cheap and painless: for a few dollars per year, you get unlimited searches. With an online background check, you can not only determine if someone is real, but you can also know if they pose any kind of risk.
Criminals can be professional and careful, but there are always warning signs that help recognize false social media profiles. The most common are:
Lack of Connections or Activity
You get a message from a very beautiful girl. When you click on her profile, you find great pictures, nice and thoughtful posts, and some updates such as “having fun with the gals at a beach party”. But “the gals” are not tagged. There are little to no instances of other people tagging her in their photos or posts. And when you get to their friend’s list, there are very few or none of them. Lack of connections is a red flag because social media is primarily used to connect with other people. Lack of activity is also a warning sign. While not everybody is very active on social media, there is usually some activity per month. Another warning sign is an account in which most of the activity seems spammy or promotes a product or brand.
Someone that’s already on your Friends list
Criminals have taken to duplicating profiles and sending friend requests. If you get a friend request from someone that’s already on your list, always verify with them (via telephone, or the account that you already have in your connections) before accepting.
No Profile Picture
Fake accounts can have no profile picture or a variation of a logo, avatar, or other images. Beware of social media profiles in which there is no clear image of the person behind them. If there is a picture, but you think you have seen it before, a good step is to perform a Google Image search and verify that it is not a stock image or a picture of a public figure.
Someone that sends you a lot of messages to connect is probably a scammer or criminal. If you have no connections in common, and there is no clear reason to message you (for example, an item listed through a marketplace), never respond to those messages and proceed to block and report the profile in question.
Protect the Vulnerable
While adults can fall into scams and even identity theft through a fake social media profile, children and elderly citizens are at a higher risk. There are countless stories of child abduction using fake social media profiles, so if your kid has social media accounts, be careful of any unwanted interactions or people asking them for their pictures or personal information. The same applies to senior citizens.
Online safety is an important responsibility and you should always protect yourself and your loved ones. Never engage in interactions with strangers, and never disclose personal information (such as your phone number) on your social media profiles. Always report unwanted interactions, never click on any links on messages from someone you don’t know and keep your settings to “private”.