Chances are you’ve seen the following message pop up more than once on your Facebook news feed recently:
The language of this kind of post is designed to scare you (and your friends) and encourage you to repost the information. You might be tired of seeing these types of messages in your news feed, but I would encourage you to at least pay attention to what’s being said, and why.
The Clone Wars
When one (or several) of your friends send you a message telling you they think your Facebook account has been hacked, it’s likely because they’ve received a friend request from a profile that appears to be yours. Since they’re already your friend, it seems strange to get such a request. But what your friend is seeing isn’t the result of your profile being hacked – it’s a duplicate profile.
Facebook has a term for duplicate profiles: cloning.
First and foremost, understand what a duplicate profile is NOT: it is not evidence that your account has been hacked. What it is, however, is an attempt to mine data from your account and the accounts of friends who would accept a second friend request from “you.”
Profile clones can serve a number of purposes:
- Data mining – Even if you have your profile security set to “Friends Only,” if you accept a friend request from a cloned profile, your data is exposed.
- Scams – By gaining access to your friends, the cloned profile can target the people who know and trust you with a scam designed to get money from them. A story about being stranded on vacation (bonus points for being out of the country), needing legal assistance, or being seriously ill can be accompanied by a request for money. They may even share a GoFundMe link and claim personal knowledge of a person with life threatening illness or similar tragedy — and encourage friends to help out. Since you will see that your friend has vouched for the financial hardship, you will be much more likely to give.
- Spam/Phishing schemes – You’ve seen the ads on profiles about cheap Oakley sunglasses. A cloned profile can spread these kinds of ads, which are usually filled with malicious links.
How Did They Make a Fake Facebook Account that Looks Like Me?
Duplicate profiles are set up by duplicating a person’s original profile with much of the same information readily available, including photos. Then, to keep the original profile owner from discovering the cloned profile, the original profile is blocked. When the original owner is alerted to this clone, a search turns up nothing. Meanwhile, the clone account is busy sending out friend requests to everyone on the original profile’s list.
How to Delete the Other Facebook Account
Most of us have no intention of creating a second Facebook account. Even if you don’t copy and paste the warning message, chances are good one of your friends will notify you if they get a friend request from “you.”
If this happens, you have a couple of options:
- If you can see the cloned account, report it to Facebook.
- If the cloned account has blocked you, ask the friend who notified you to report it on your behalf.
Protecting Yourself on Facebook
Many times, a profile gets cloned because the original account is set to “public” – a scammer can see everything you’ve posted and can copy photos and status updates, including those about your children. If you don’t want total strangers to have access to this much information, you can adjust your privacy settings.
To do this, simply click the padlock icon at the top right of the Facebook page. Under “Who can see my stuff?” change your setting from “Public” to “Friends.” This action will limit the amount of information visible to the general public.
Additionally, you can make your friends list off limits to the public, as well. Go to your profile page and click the Friends tab. Click the pencil icon at the top right, select “Edit Privacy,” and set your access to “Friends.”
Going forward, you’ll want to make sure that everything you post is shared with friends only. Carefully vet any friend requests you receive, and if it’s a cloned account, notify that friend on their real account or off of Facebook.
Know About Your Facebook Security Settings
In addition to making sure your security settings are sufficiently solid, you’ll want to protect your online life with other measures, as well.
Even though we’re talking about cloned accounts and not hacked accounts, I want to remind you that an important part of online security is strong passwords. One of the most common vulnerabilities online today is weak passwords on social media accounts. As Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg learned, using the same password across multiple accounts is a way to get those accounts hacked, too.
Another facet of security is two-factor authentication, which requires an extra step to gain access to an online account, typically via a text message sent to your smartphone or by plugging in a code generated by a service such as Google Authenticator.
Online security operates in layers, and Facebook clones represent an attempt at compromising security. You can’t be passive about your online accounts, even the ones you use for fun, like Facebook. Be smart, be vigilant, and keep your personal and social information secure.