Today we are going to address a different topic than we normally do, and that is the issue of what some people call, “Facebook hacking.” It isn’t truly “hacking” but it can appear as if someone has hacked into your Facebook profile and it is becoming increasingly common in Facebook. Crooks are using this cloning method frequently to prey on unsuspecting victims to obtain information or even money from them. While this topic isn’t specifically financial related, it CAN have financial consequences, which I will explain later.
Hacking vs. Cloning
Most Facebook users have had the experience of logging into their account to find a friend request from someone whom they thought they were already friends with on Facebook. Some people will check their friends list to see if that person is already listed there and recognize that this new request is a fake and ignore the request. However, some people proceed with accepting the friend request without thinking about it. After all, they see the person’s profile picture, city and state where they live, name of employer, etc. and it all matches the person that they know.
Some people think it is the case of their friend’s account actually being “hacked”- someone else obtaining access to their user name and profile and hacking into their account. In reality, what has likely happened is the “hacker” has used the information from a person’s public profile to set up a new fake profile that exactly matches (clones) the legitimate profile. They are probably not friends with that person on Facebook but rather have obtained the information that is viewable by the public. They establish a fake email account through free email services such as Gmail or Yahoo, and then create a fake cloned profile using the exact same information as the real profile- everything from profile picture, hometown, employment, pages they have liked, groups they are in, etc. Then they send the friend request from the fake profile to the real user’s friends (also public information). Once those friends accept the request, the hackers will either send spam messages to these new “friends” or in worse situations, they will try to con them into giving them money, pretending to be that person’s legitimate friend in some kind of dire situation requiring funds be wired.
How to protect yourself
- Keep your profile private. The easiest way to protect yourself from becoming a victim is simply to limit what information the public can view so they don’t have enough information to create a cloned profile. Your profile picture and cover photo will always be public. Facebook does not allow you to make that private. However, all other information, including your friends list, can be kept completely private or made viewable only to friends. This will need to be done in two separate steps:First, make all of the information in your profile private or viewable by friends only by changing all of your settings in Privacy Settings and Tools. First, go into the settings menu by clicking the drop-down arrow on the far right of the blue bar at the top of the screen, then click on Privacy from the menu on the left. Under “Who Can See My Stuff”, you will see “Who can see your future posts?” Click on EDIT and change from Public to Friends. Here is what it looks like:
You will also need to click on your friends list and make that private as well. That way, even if your profile were to be cloned using just your name and profile photo, they will have no way of getting to your friends list. Go back to your profile page and click on Friends. Then click on the pencil icon and select “edit privacy”. Again, change from “public” to “friends”.
- Check your own friends list for duplicate friends. If you notice you have a duplicate of any of your Facebook friend profiles, check with your friend outside of Facebook and find out which one is legitimate. Immediately remove the fake profile and report it to Facebook.
- Never accept a friend request from someone who is already on your friends list unless you receive confirmation directly from them outside of Facebook that it is a legitimate profile.
- Never ever send money by wire services such as Western Union and MoneyGram to anyone who is requesting it from you by email, Facebook, or any other method that could easily be hacked by someone else, even if you think the request is coming from a friend. Always verify with them directly over the phone or in person.
Taking these simple but important steps can help protect your profile from being cloned. Of course, we know criminals are always one step ahead so if you do find yourself the victim of Facebook identity theft through a cloned profile, please ask your friends to report it to Facebook immediately. Also notify your friends of the fake profile by announcing it in your Facebook status and change your profile picture so your friends can easily identify the difference between the two profiles.