Facebook Profile Copycats – Help Someone Impersonating Me!

by rishil on January 24, 2011

Over last week, unknown to him, my best friend had a copycat profile set up. We were discussing ways of getting his own properties such as linked in etc appear for his name in the top 20 pages in google SERPs, and I asked him to do some research before we went ahead.  Couple of hours later, he calls me and  tells me someone has gone to the trouble of cloning his whole profile, and has been adding his current friends to that fake profile.

Now if I got a friend request from someone I already know is a friend on facebook, I wouldn’t approve them immediately, I would check the profile. Saying that, it’s not always easy to spot copycats that have done a decent job, and when you get a friend request, normally not a lot of detail is available. So it may pay to check and double check who is pretending to be your friend, especially if a “current friend” re-invites you to be a friend!

Why would someone clone my profile?

Many many reasons.

Spammer – there are a whole host of spammers on facebook now, who create loads f fake profiles and start spamming peoples walls. Some of these are quite sophisticated, after all if someone is your “friend” wouldn’t spam you, right? Right?

Malicious Social Hijacking – this is much much worse. Ex Girlfriends / Boyfriends, or simply someone who doesn’t like you. If this type of a personality creates a copy of your profile successfully, there is no limit to the damage that they can create on your personal life. AND your professional life as well. After all, your real friends think they are talking to you – all the while potentially revealing things they wouldn’t to a stranger.

What can I do about a Facebook Copycat profile?

1.       Report it! There is a report button on facebook, which allows you to identify if the person is impersonating someone, as well as the ability to indicate who the person being impersonated is. I suggest you do that, as well as BLOCKing the profile. More Info on Facebook Rerporting (and link to the Facebook Quick Tips in the Help Centre).

FaceBook Report Button

FaceBook Report Button

2.       Tell your friends. One report may not be enough to activate Facebooks spam team – but a few dozen may be. I advised my friend to email everyone he is friends with and explain the situation, and encourage more people to report the fake profile.

Hijacked Facebook Profile

Hijacked Facebook Profile

PRO TIP: Dont Display your email addresses.

Although facebook asks you to verify your email address, it doesnt stop the account from being used. (Arrington proved this).  This would reduce the possibility of your account being easier to create and share as demonstrated by Arrington – however wont stop someone who already has your email details.

Will Facebook Take The Fake Profile Down?

Most probably. How long the rocess will take is uncertain, but if many people report it, they will action. Will update this page when that happens.

Facebook said in a statement: “Facebook does not permit fake profiles on its site. Fake profiles are an abuse of our terms of use and they will be removed.

“When fake profiles are reported we thoroughly investigate and remove profiles found to be in violations of our terms of use – just as we did in the case of Mathew Firscht.”  Source

If you feel that you would want to take things a bit further, you can report the copy to the police, especially if you suspect severe malice.

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Rishi Lakhani is an independent Online Marketing Consultant specialising in SEO, PPC, Affiliate Marketing and Social Media. Explicitly.Me is his Blog. Google Profile

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Shane Jones January 24, 2011 at 10:25 am

What do you think the chances are of Facebook ever adding a verified badge like Twitter?

Reply

rishil January 24, 2011 at 10:53 am

Not likely – although they do let Paid business profiles have better control of what their pages look like.

Reply

Jane Copland January 24, 2011 at 12:07 pm

Hey mate,

Not sure if you saw it or not, but this happened to me last year. In some ways, it happened twice. The one using my real name and photo was live for a few months until I found it. I reported it to Facebook, and had others do the same, to no avail. I had to go the unconventional route and sift through my email contacts to find someone who knew people at Facebook. We’re luckier than 99% of people in that we can do that.

The profile impersonating me had taken many of the images ranking for my name in G Images to populate a “my pics” album. The profile said I was from Los Angeles (not even close) and went to “the University of London.” It had 56 friends. I couldn’t see all of its information, due to not being its friend, but I could see enough. It gained “favourite quotes” and some other information. I have no idea why someone would want to do this – I haven’t been active in the SEO world in the way I used to be for over two years and have no idea who else I could have pissed off or ingratiated myself to to warrant something like that.

The response from Facebook annoyed me, however – I was passive aggressively scolded for going through my contact rather than reporting it through the site. The email, of course, didn’t allow me to reply to say that I *had* reported the fake profile, and other had done so as well.

There was also that one that used Lisa Myers’ and my photograph, but at least it didn’t also use our names! I doubt they do remove fake profiles, since the one using mine and Lisa’s photograph is still live, and is obviously fake, and has been reported: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1749121671&sk=friends

I fully believe that if I had not gone the personal route, the profile that used my name, false information and 30+ pictures would still be there.

Reply

rishil January 24, 2011 at 12:16 pm

I remember both instances – Lucky you DID have a personal contact at FB – people I knew have left now :(

btw – just reported that other profile as well.

Reply

Jane Copland January 24, 2011 at 12:23 pm

Thanks – obviously Hayley Mansfield bothers me a lot less than the one actually pretending to be me, but I still find it irritating that they’d tell me to report it via the site, and when you do, they do absolutely nothing. I found the Jane Copland one when I was trying to demonstrate some security feature to my mother… so, that didn’t end up convincing her of Facebook’s good security points :p

Reply

Kasy Allen January 24, 2011 at 6:58 pm

Going through this with one of my clients, as we speak. She’s famous, so there was no doubt that she’d have copycats on Facebook (FB), but I’ve been waiting 3 weeks now and all the imposter pages are still up. I reported it through the client’s FB account, and through my personal account, still no good.

Unfortunately for this client there are nude pages that are up, and other fan pages with well over 10,000 fans. Ugh, you’d think that FB would jump all over taking down the nude ones, but nope, they’re still there.

Reply

rishil January 24, 2011 at 7:27 pm

If the client is famous, sometimes it helps to send a legal letter to FB, makes them take more notice.

Reply

Kev Strong January 25, 2011 at 8:52 am

Funnily enough, I saw this this morning. http://www.metro.co.uk/news/853573-facebook-bans-kate-middleton-for-sharing-royal-brides-name

It appears as if Facebook is proactive in protecting names and likenesses (a little more so due to royalty in this instance I’d imagine).

Reply

Bijit January 24, 2011 at 8:00 pm

I’ve been on Facebook for a few years now. In all this time I’ve had a few ‘why the heck did they change that, it’s certainly not an improvement’ moments as well as the occasional ‘wouldn’t it be much better if they added this functionality’ phases, but all in all you could say I was a fan…. Until things went wrong and then you realise just how exposed the lack of real support makes you feel.

For majority of the people on Facebook, the perpetual debate on security and privacy seems inconsequential, unless of course you get stung by a famacide impostor… at which point you start taking the issue of privacy more seriously. Only a handful of the hundreds of people on my friends list on Facebook have hardened the privacy settings on their profile. Considering that the (limited) settings interface on Facebook is very simple and intuitive, I can only conclude that people do not bother tweaking the privacy settings for two reasons; 1) They don’t feel at risk so no need to bother with the effort; 2) They are intrigued by the possibility of making new and interesting friends. After all Facebook connects you to strangers across the world and strangers are just friends (possibly more) waiting to happen right? So why bother locking down your profile and thereby reducing the chances of your next friend or partner finding you.

In any case, the general lack of vigilance is alarming. I have some pretty smart friends on Facebook, who consistently demonstrate super levels of alertness in the real world but are equally imprudent when it comes to Facebook. Social networking is a relatively new concept and for most peoples the general awareness of possible consequences is just not good enough when you consider that nowadays any person with nefarious intent and access to a computer and the internet can get to your network of friends and family and attempt to defame you.

In my opinion, both public and private social networks have a strong responsibility to educate, protect and support their user communities and Facebook just isn’t doing enough in terms of prevention, detection or correction.

Prevention mechanisms against impostor profiles don’t seem to exist. Anyone could create a fake profile and impersonate somebody else with malicious intent. If Facebook takes the profile down, another one could pop up immediately. There is no way to validate the integrity and identify of the person creating a profile and also there is no inteligent process to verify profiles that have been created (especially from a different location) with the same name, photo and other personal information matching a profile that already exists.
Facebook would argue that the general trend in social networking shows people moving away from greater levels of privacy but the point is that the option to enhance privacy at a preventive level should still be made available to everyone.

Automatic detection of copy cat profiles is not possible. It is fully dependant on a user raising the alarm. But what if you don’t know that someone else is impersonating you? It could be too late before the impostor profile is detected and shutdown.

The process for corrective action can take too long and for the victim, it can feel like having to writing a letter to Santa to put the fire out in your house. Reporting the fake profile doesn’t necessarily guarantee removal so you have to somehow convince your connections that you are being impersonated. Also you have no communication or acknowledgement that the concern you have raised is being looked at and what stage of investigation (if any) it’s in.

Surely things can only get better? Who knows?! What I do know is that I have to change my mindset to stay safe and not just rely on the basic Facebook privacy and security features.

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