Knowing how to spot a fake profile can go far in protecting you and your loved ones against online exploitation. Online predators commonly hide behind fake social media profiles, creating accounts by using fake names and bios designed to appeal to their preferred victims. Creating these accounts simply requires an email address, a phone or computer, and takes less than 2 minutes. With the click of an “Accept Request” button, they gain access to their target’s profile. Here, the grooming process begins, and underage victims may be vulnerable to the manipulation and control of experienced predators.
One of the O.U.R. Operators recently shared the best practices for how to flag a fake profile.
1. Friends Check: Social media was designed for social interaction. Make sure the profile has a normal number of friends or followers. Profiles with under 100 friends are highly suspicious, especially if the account allegedly belongs to a teen.
2. Photo Check: Profiles without a profile photo are almost always spam or fake accounts. Profiles with none or only a few posted photos of themselves in social situations should raise your alarm.
3. Status Check: Profiles with minimal status updates or comments should be looked at as suspicious accounts. Again, the purpose of social media is to be social. Having a private account is common. But accounts with whom you are “friends” with should show social interaction beyond just that profile and your profile, or your child’s profile. If there is only isolated interaction, then it is likely that account was created solely for interaction with you or your child.
4. Surname Check: If an account’s “friends” list is visible, check for other “friends” with the same last name of the account holder (if known). If the account holder does not have connections with other people using the same last name, it may be a fake account.
5. Birthday Check: Many social media networks allow you to search posts for a specific profile. For instance, Facebook has a “search” function which is visible from most profiles once you navigate to their main page and click on “search profile”. One of the most common social interactions is birthdays. Simply typing in “Happy Birthday” or “HBD” should bring up all posts and/or comments related to birthdays. (This search capability can be disabled by users).
6. Reverse Image Check: If a profile has only a few photos or you feel as though the account may be suspicious or fake, a quick reverse image search of some of the photos may be useful. This can be done by downloading or saving the published photos. Once saved, navigate to www.google.com/imghp. This is the Google photos page. Drag the photo into the google search bar or click the “browse” button and navigate to the saved photo. Within seconds, google will return results if that photo is found elsewhere on the internet. If the photo is visible on other accounts using a different name or appears to be from a commercial website, the profile is most likely a fake account.
7. Username Check: Profile names and account usernames can be different. For instance, Facebook allows users to create a “vanity URL” for their page if they desire. If a vanity URL is created the profile page might display the name “John Smith” but the account's official username may be “johnny.davis.0001”. This can easily be identified by checking the URL or web address of the profile page visible in your internet browser (www.Facebook.com/johnny.davis.0001). This is similar for other social media networks. Users can display a name on their profile, but their actual account username may differ. Once an accounts unique username is identified, a quick Google search of that username may lead you to other social media accounts or to comments/complaints related to suspicious activity. When searching usernames on Google be sure to place the username within quotes (“username.123” or “@username.123”) depending on the social media network. Discrepancies with usernames often indicate a fake account.
Reporting and blocking suspicious accounts are quick and straightforward processes; become familiar with how to report suspicious activity on all platforms your or your child uses.
Tactics and techniques used by offenders change and evolve constantly. The best defense against online exploitation is to monitor their online interactions as best as possible. Parents should educate themselves on the effects and signs of grooming to convey this information to their children.
If you identify suspicious activity or possible grooming behavior, take immediate action to terminate the contact and notify law enforcement.