The spread of falsehoods in cyberspace is disturbing enough, but when your own social media account is being faked, it is especially damaging.
Worse, you may not know that an impostor is pretending to be you. But you’ll probably start hearing from friends and followers who weren’t fooled when they saw highly inappropriate messages or urgent pleas for money being made in your name. Sometimes they’ll see a request for a connection to the cloned account when they’re already friends with the original you.
Cloned social media accounts, different from other accounts that may have been hacked, can be scarily convincing, especially since your original account may remain intact and untouched. Indeed, a crook may hijack your profile picture, other images and biographical details from your original account.
“More people have their guard down or are more open to clicking on links, providing information or even providing money if the request comes from someone they know,” says Mona Terry, chief victims officer at the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) in San Diego. The nonprofit educates consumers on the risks of identity theft and offers free services to help victims recover.
What’s more, incidents of cloned accounts appear to be on the rise. Before 2021, less than 1 percent of cases brought to the attention of the center were related to social media account takeovers, Terry says. In 2021, the number of reported cases climbed 1,000 percent, and so far in 2022 it rose by another 157 percent.
Always be on the alert to prevent problems
Of course, you want to avoid getting hacked in the first place. Employ strong passwords you don’t repeat elsewhere, take advantage of multifactor authentication options in which sites send a one-time code to your smartphone for you to type in, and practice good security hygiene across all your accounts.
You can’t assume that social media companies will catch the bad guys before the crooks wreak havoc. The companies say they are trying.
“Through paired use of technology like artificial intelligence and teams of experts, we stop and remove the vast majority of policy-violating content that we detect before it ever goes live: 96 percent of detected fake accounts and 99.1 percent of detected spam and scams are caught by our automated defenses,” Oscar Rodriguez, LinkedIn’s senior director of product management, wrote on the professional networking site’s official blog.
If you find your account has been compromised or cloned, the first thing to do is to try to recover the account, Terry says. Thieves will typically try to change the recovery email and phone number for the account to their own so the account’s original owner can’t recover it.
Also alert your friends and contacts that the account has been infiltrated or copied. Report the issue as soon as possible to the social media company. Here are some of the ways to do that.
No account? You can out a Facebook impostor
1. Go to the fake profile if you have a Facebook account. If you can't find it, try searching for the name used on the profile or ask your friends if they can send you a link, Facebook says.
2. Click or tap the ellipsis ⋯ in the gray rounded box under the cover photo on the right and select Find support or report.
3. Select the problem in the Report box that comes up. Relevant here are Pretending to be someone, Fake account or Fake name.
4. Follow the on-screen instructions to file a report.
Facebook parent Meta will also let you report an impostor account even if you don’t have a Facebook account or lost access to your account.
1. Visit the Facebook Help Center on a computer or the Help Center in the Facebook app on Android or iOS.
2. Tap Report an impersonating page or account if you didn’t get to that page directly.
3. On the Report an Impostor Account form, click or tap either Someone is using my email address on their account, Someone created an account for my business or organization, or Someone created an account pretending to be me or a friend.
4. Click Yes or No when asked if you have a Facebook account.
5. Click Send.
Instagram allows only victims of fakers to report
You can report someone through the Instagram app on an iPhone or Android device. Instagram, which is also part of Meta, lets you report someone from their profile or from their feed.