January 23, 2015

How To Avoid Facebook Fraudsters

Anyone who knows me, knows I'm an avid Facebooker - sometimes posting multiple times a day.  It's been an invaluable resource for keeping in touch with my friends and family scattered across several states.  I keep my friend list fairly small, and most of my "friends" are related to me.

Recently, Facebook sent me a friend suggestion.  Since the name was the same as my brother's, I checked it out.  The "friend" was obviously not my brother, so I ignored it.  At least, I ignored it until I received a friend request from this individual.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Knowing he wasn't who he seemed to be, I declined the friend request.  But I noticed we had several mutual friends.

They were all members of my extended family.

I immediately posted an alert on my wall:
"Family members of the [my maiden name] persuasion - there's an individual on Facebook named [my brother's name] who is friending you. He's not my brother. I don't know who he is."
Soon after, my brother commented, confirming what I had said.  Our family members quickly began unfriending and blocking the individual.  I later posted my warning again for those who missed the first post and asked everyone to spread the word.  Those family members who had accepted his friend requests were tagged and messaged so they could take preventative measures.

This individual's intentions may not have been malicious.  I'd like to give him the benefit of the doubt, but when we live in a time of identity theft and equally damaging online crimes, it's best to be careful.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

How can you know if a "friend" is truly your friend?

Someone sends you a friend request, but you're not sure if they are who they say they are.  There are several ways to know for sure.
  1. Confirm through an outside source.  Call, text, email, or talk to the individual in person and ask if they sent you the request.  You can also message "mutual friends".  Remember, just because you have mutual friends, it doesn't mean those friends did their homework.  Make sure you do yours.
  2. Check personal information.  When I checked my "brother's" profile, there were glaring inconsistencies.  His birthdate was wrong, work history didn't match up, and his hometown was in a different state.  He also posted solely in Spanish.  Major red flags.
  3. Look through photos.  If the profile picture shows the right person, you're probably okay.  It's even better to check previous profile pictures and any other albums available for you to view.  A generic profile picture doesn't mean it's not the right person, but it does call for further confirmation.
  4. Message the individual sending the friend request.  I don't necessarily recommend this one, but it is an option.  Sending a private message through Facebook to the person in question may or may not result in an honest reply. 

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What should you do if you do encounter a "Facebook Fraudster"?

While you may do your due diligence, others may not.  It's nothing to lose sleep over, but take immediate action if you discover a Facebook fraudster.
  1. Be sure.  Confirm your suspicions before taking action.  If you can't confirm their identity, act as if they aren't who they say they are.
  2. Alert all persons involved.  Post an alert on your wall.  Tag "mutual friends" or message them privately.  Let them know what you've discovered so they can take appropriate action.
  3. Unfriend and block the individual in question.  It's best to err on the side of safety.  Do you remember everything you've posted?  You don't want a stranger to have access to your personal information, nor do you want backlash if they decide to get nasty.
  4. Change your Facebook password and the passwords of any accounts you've used since accepting the friend request.  You should be changing all passwords on a regular basis anyway.
  5. Check your privacy and security settings.  Make sure the things you want to be private remain so.  The posts on my personal account are set for "Friends Only".  Last I checked, the default was "Friends of Friends", which means your friends can share what you've posted with their friends.  Your posts can also show up on your friends' feeds if your friend has "liked" or commented on them.  I prefer the extra level of protection since I don't know all of my friends' friends.  Better be safe than sorry.
  6. Be aware.  You most likely won't have any problems, but hackers are known for being crafty.  Watch your accounts - especially if you've accessed financial information and Facebook on the same computer.  Check your credit.  

The takeaway

Most of the time, a Facebook fraudster is simply a case of mistaken identity.  An encounter or the possibility of an encounter with one is not a reason to boycott social media or flee from the digital public. As long as you take precautions, you can keep your personal information safe.

Including that embarrassing photo you wish would die a slow, painful death, but seems to pop up every few months.

Yeah....good luck with that one.

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