The Impostor SCAm

Updated: Aug 15, 2018

Sometimes, in my study of sketchy internet use, it's like the scammers hand a me gift. I'm sure they don't mean to send presents because trolls aren't nice by definition, but if they do, I'll take it, especially if it's directly connected to a blog series I'm working on.

Yesterday afternoon I was on the computer, ironically researching trolling, working on my blog addressing the issue of internet abuse and I got a Facebook friend request from a lady from church, who, for the sake of this post, we'll call Edith.

I don't know Edith well. She's grandmother over three generations that attend our church, and a really nice lady from a really nice family. I'm Facebook friends with some of her family, and think it would be great to get to know Edith better, so I accept it.

Anyway, as soon as I accept the friend request, I get a private Facebook message where she says, "Hello. How are you doing?"

Wow, I think, Edith must be pretty tech-savvy to hop on Messenger that quick. I reply, "Fine, thanks! You?"

She immediately replies, "i hope you have heard the recent good news yet?"

Huh, maybe Edith is messaging people from church because there's some sort of excitement going on. She's a grandma, maybe she has a big brag or something happy news and thinks messenger is a fun way to share it. (I would have expected better grammar from Edith, though...she's a very sharp lady). I reply. "I've heard lots of good news lately! What are you referring to?"

"Its a lottery setup to help the youth ,old, retired, poor ,unemployed and the disabled in the society which I have already won $50,000 from it."

Riiiiiiiiiiight. We're not a big church. We're not even a big city. News like Edith winning $50,000 would be everywhere. And why would she message me about if she did? Also, if it really was Edith, I think she'd be downright ashamed of her punctuation.

I must confess, despite of my rule against not feeding trolls, I threw them a crumb and replied, "'re a troll and I'll let Edith know someone is using her name. Have a great day!" Then immediately blocked "Edith," reported the fake profile, and sent a private message to her son with a screenshot letting him know someone was trying to pull scams with his mother's name. Although it was tempting to see where the troll would go with this, the fact that it was my "friend" gave it access to my friends-only information, and my friends list, so nope, nope, nope. I'm not giving it any more time to snoop, and locked it out as fast as possible.

Screenshot from my conversation with Imposter Edith. Real name and profile picture have been blurred to avoid contributing to any future issues for her.

While I didn't stick around long enough to see why someone wanted to steal Edith's profile, it's a pretty safe bet that Impostor Edith would have offered me a generous gift as part of her good fortune, or said that I also won this lottery, and in order to claim the prize, I'd have to send her my bank account number, along with the routing number, and my social security number for tax purposes, and by the way, she can't remember my birthday, when is it again?

Or something like that. When "prizes" come up, usually it's trying to trick you into giving away your financial information. I'm sure none of us want to feed the trolls with our entire bank account or a credit card they opened in our name.

So what do we do about it?

For the rest of this post, I'm going to explain how to deal with Impostor Trolls. Sadly, the practice of copying Facebook profiles and pretending to be someone is widespread, but fairly easy to catch. The good news about impostor profiles is that while some people will say the "profile got hacked" and advise changing your password, that's not usually how it works. Normally the impostor just copies your profile picture and then goes on to make a new, separate profile. You don't need someone's Facebook password to copy their picture. So if this happens to you, the impostor probably did not have your password or see the friends-only information in your profile. Changing passwords often is good practice and certainly can't hurt, but it won't help if someone "borrows" your name and picture on a brand new profile.

If your profile is copied, take the following steps:

1. Immediately type a message on your newsfeed that your profile has been copied and if someone gets a new friend request with your name and picture, or has already accepted it, immediately report and block it. Share Facebook's link with directions how to report, the more people who report, the more obvious it will be to Facebook that it's a fake profile for them to shut down.

2. Set Facebook so the public can't see your friends list. I realized later that I already was Facebook friends with the real Edith, but she rarely used her account - making her an easy target for impostors. The Impostor profiles work by going to the real public profile, and then sending requests of the fake profile to the person's real friends, in hopes they'll just accept it blindly assuming it's that person, because they already have a relationship (exactly like I did with "Edith".) If your friends list is hidden from the public, the trolls don't have anyone to send the fake profile to. To do this, go to your Facebook Privacy Settings, "Who can see your friends list?," click "Edit" and set it to "Friends." This way, only people who are a part of your Facebook friends list, that you have approved, will be able to see who your friends are.

If you catch the impostor profile of a friend:

1. Report and Block. DO NOT ENGAGE. If you already accepted the request, kick it off as fast as you can, before they start farming your friends list and other information. Facebook has detailed directions on how to report and block impostors here.

Facebook should give you an option to block the profile as you go through their reporting process, but just in case, here's the link to how to block.

2. Encourage your friend to turn off the public settings for their friends list. It may not solve the problem completely, but it will make them less desirable prey for impostors. (Feel free to share this post!)

3. If you know that the friend isn't very tech-savvy, either offer to help or contact a friend or relative who may be able to help them navigate the situation. In this case, be sure to let them know that the impostor probably doesn't have access to their profile (unless the private messages are coming from inside the person's actual profile, that's hacking and Facebook has a guided system for changing passwords and cleaning out the unwelcome posts) but is just using their picture. The original profile itself is likely safe.

4. Ignore all future friend requests from that friend. Sometimes impostors can be persistent, and you'll see the same picture and request popping up again and again. Again, this is annoying, but you don't give them anything else to work with, it can't hurt anything.

5. Try to be discerning about the friend requests you accept. If you're already friends with that person, it's a huge red flag if you get a second request. Send a message to the original profile asking them if they're starting a new facebook, or even better, if it's someone you know "in real life" shoot them a text or email, or talk to them about it in person. If you don't recognize a name or don't know a person well, it's okay to delete a request.

6. Minimize how often you put your profile out to the general public. Scammers need a way to find people to copy, and if you comment on a post that has, say, 1,000 comments already, if that troll happens to be scrolling popular posts looking for prey, then it might end up clicking on your name, too. However, if you keep your profile fairly low-key, and don't spend a lot of time commenting on viral posts, then at the very least, you'll be harder to find if a troll goes searching. Keep your comments to your friends and maybe local pages and posts. There's not really any point in adding to the noise if a zillion people already commented on a post anyway.

To wrap this up, here's a screenshot of the private message I sent her son after the fact. We both agreed that if Edith really did win $50,000 and failed to mention it to her own son, she might have some explaining to do!

The screen shot is blurred out because I didn't crop or blur it out when I sent it to her son. While I trust him with thumbnails of my recent messages and who they went to, I'm not going to put that information out to the general public. Oh, and now I see my typo. It should have been "Copying," of course.