Be aware of fake social media accounts: More than 1 billion were ousted in 2021

Investigators

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Fake social media accounts are on the rise. Everyone from name brands to the famous to just plain folks is being hacked.

It’s a growing trend as criminals seek additional ways to find new victims.

Internet scammers are working overtime on social media to create counterfeit accounts. They’re oftentimes impersonating average people.

“They actually go to great lengths to reverse engineer who your friends are and build up a profile so it looks legitimate,” said cybersecurity expert Craig Petronella. He has written several books about hacking.

Recently, consumer investigator Steve Sbraccia was victimized when someone created a counterfeit Twitter account pretending to be his professional account.

The fake account used a photo of him that was stolen from the internet and had a phony resume, listing several TV stations where Sbraccia supposedly worked. None were true.

The fake Twitter account also falsely claimed he was a West Virginia alum. It contained a photo of a pair of albino tigers and proclaimed him an animal lover.

Meanwhile, his real Twitter account clearly states he doesn’t put personal information on his work account —it’s strictly for news tweets.

What are these scammers getting via impersonation? Petronella said it’s simple.

“The motive is for the bad actors to trick your friends,” he said.

Specifically, they use fake social media accounts to get you to reveal things like personal information, credit card numbers, and other data that can be used to steal money.

You are the first line of defense in keeping a fake social media account offline.

“What everyone needs to do is constantly search their name on social media and Google to make sure whatever is coming back is actually you,” Petronella said.

Fake accounts are a problem on all platforms. Facebook took down 1.3 billion fake accounts in 2021. Instagram found 95 million and Twitter dealt with 20 million.

In Sbraccia’s case, he went right to Twitter to deal with the fake account. 

He clicked those three dots on the upper right photo of the fake account. That brought up a page that gives a list of options. One of them is, “someone is pretending to be me.” 

Shortly after sending that report, Twitter responded by email asking Sbraccia to upload documentation because it wanted to be sure he wasn’t a scammer trying to remove the real account. 

That documentation included uploading a government-issued ID to prove he was legitimate. 

Several hours later, Twitter responded that the fake account was removed. 

Twitter support also offers a webpage.

Facebook and Instagram have similar systems that allow you to report fake accounts. For Facebook, you can access information on its webpage about fake accounts. It also has a link to report a counterfeit account. 

Although Instagram is owned by Facebook, it has a separate webpage where fake accounts can be reported. That page also has guidance about what to do regarding an offensive account.

You should also report fakes to the FBI’s Internet Crime Center — especially if you’ve lost money to a social media scammer. The FBI has the resources to chase these criminals.

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