Facebook imposters are cropping up in many different forms. Since Facebook is now one of the largest social networking sites (with over 150 million worldwide users), it was only a matter of time before people started to use it to scam others. There are increasing numbers of Facebook imposters who plague the site with everything from hacking accounts and posting false information to creating fake celebrity accounts.
Hacked Facebook Accounts
In January 2009, the Better Business Bureau released a warning on its website for social networking users. The warning stated that due to the popularity of social networking sites, users should be particularly careful about sharing personal information on those sites.
The warning was due to a recent surge of Facebook imposters who were using a scam to get users to send money to people who they thought were their friends. The scam works the same in all cases, and it has already affected about 1 percent of Facebook users. The way it works is that a scammer will add a new contact address to an account in order to gain control of the person's profile. He or she will then post an urgent message to the effect of "Help I'm stranded and need some money." The status update will appear on the newsfeed of all of the original account holder's friends.
The requests come in different forms. Some scammers stated that they were robbed at gunpoint and needed money transferred to a wire service in order to get home. Others stated that they were robbed in a taxi and needed money for airfare home. Friends of those with hacked accounts willingly sent money to those "in distress" to the tune of several thousands of dollars. Money is normally sent through wire transfers or through overnighted cashier's checks, so those being scammed can't tell that they aren't actually sending money to their friends.
False Facebook Accounts
Another common Facebook imposter is a person who creates accounts under fake celebrity or business names. While the creators of these accounts don't normally have specific malicious intentions, they can be problematic if you find someone is using your business name for a profile that you didn't authorize.
This type of scammer attempts to capitalize on the popularity of the name in question. If someone creates an account with the name "Pepsi Co." or "Beyonce Knowles", they'll attract a lot of followers quickly. What they do with these followers varies.
How to Protect Yourself from Facebook Imposters
Facebook is already taking steps to prevent imposters from taking control of other users' accounts, or creating new fraudulent Facebook accounts. The company started implementing new security measures in early 2009 after the sudden increase of "stranded" Facebook imposters.
One of the main focuses of this security increase is altering the way that people can change their e-mail addresses. Since the most frequent Facebook imposters use the e-mail address change feature in order to gain access to accounts, this will greatly reduce these types of scams.
Even though the social networking site is making attempts to improve their security, there is still a lot that you can do in order to protect yourself. If you receive a call for help through your Facebook account, be sure to contact the person through their e-mail address or a phone call before trying to help.
Be wary of Facebook users who have celebrity or major corporate names. If they add you out of the blue, try to double check their authenticity before adding them as a friend. Consider adding these friends under a category that has limited access to your profile.
If someone is using your company name, contact them first in order to see if they are a fan or if they are pretending to be you. Depending on their response, you can contact Facebook to have the account removed. You may also be able to take legal action if you have a registered trademark for your company.