Imitation is the Insincerest Form of Fakery.
Chances are pretty good that you’ve either seen Facebook friend requests from someone you’re already friends with or you’ve received questions from your Facebook friends asking why you’re requesting to be their friend again. Confusing and scary, huh? Has Facebook been hacked? Does someone have your password? Is your memory going? Most likely, none of these apply (well, okay, I can’t confirm that you aren’t losing your memory…). So, what’s really going on?
It’s most likely someone has enough information on you to impersonate you even though they don’t have direct access to your account. Think about what you publish publicly or even what is visible to friends of friends. Everyone on Facebook has at least one photo viewable by everyone because Facebook requires your profile photo to be public. If you publish any additional photos that can be viewed by everyone or if you’re tagged in someone else’s public photos, an imposter can simply grab a copy of all of these public photos and use it to create a fake profile. The more public photos you post or are tagged in, the easier it will be for the imposter to fool your friends. If any other personal information (hometown, job, school, etc.) is publicly visible, the con job gets even easier.
…And They Told Two Friends…
Which brings me to the next point – visibility of friends. If your friends list is visible to the public, the imposter can send them friend requests using a fake profile with your photos and any other public information. This ploy almost always works on at least a few people.
Help! I’ve Been [Insert Personal Tragedy Here]
Not to deflate your ego, but these imposters aren’t doing this to flatter you. Many times, these schemes are designed to establish trust with your friends so they can be scammed. For example, a fake profile can be set up and after posting to it for a while, the imposter can send a desperate plea for help to friends using an excuse like getting mugged, being in a car accident, etc. Sure, many people seeing these messages may not fall for it if they are close enough to you to know if the ‘emergency’ is likely. But, it only takes one person to make it worthwhile for the imposter.
Caring Means Not Sharing
What can you do to avoid being a victim? Here are a few tips for managing your Facebook account:
- Share photos with friends only. The easiest way to do this is to go to the Facebook Privacy settings, under Who can see my stuff? Choose Friends. If you want to share a photo publicly, you can always change the setting on the photo as you post it.
- Hide your Friends list from the public. To do this, go to the Friends tab. Click the pencil in the upper right corner of your Friends list, then click Edit Privacy. Change both options to Friends.
- Make sure all of your other profile information (seen on the About tab) is only visible to friends. This can be tedious, but it’s worth it. Click on each major section (Work and Education, Places You’ve Lived, etc.). Hover your mouse over each item in each section. You’ll see an option to edit the information, which should include the ability to make it visible only to friends.
Go to the other sections (under the More tab) and make the same changes to those lists (i.e., Likes, Checkins, etc.).
- Review photos and posts you’re tagged in before they show up on your timeline. If someone tags you and makes the photo or post public, it can give an imposter material just as if you posted it yourself. In Facebook settings, go to Timeline and Tagging and adjust the options there to let you review and control how you are tagged in your friends’ posts.
These changes don’t make you anti-social, they just give you back control over who sees your information (and keeps them from abusing it). You can always share things publicly. Get in the habit of doing it consciously and make sure you do not include personally-identifiable information.
You should also double check a few things when you receive a friend request:
- Are you already friends with the person?
- Does their profile look real (e.g., reasonable number of recent photos and posts, accurate likes, etc.)?
- When in doubt, contact them to confirm.
Also, remember that if you accept a friend request from an imposter posing as one of your friends, you’ve given them access to your photos, friends list, etc. even if you’ve restricted them from public view.
Yes, this is a lot to think about. Take a deep breath, grab your favorite (hopefully, alcoholic) beverage, and relax. Once you understand this stuff, it’s not such a big deal. If you need help figuring out these settings, feel free to leave a comment.