Facebook cloning: What’s true and what’s false about the viral warning?

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Facebook users may be seeing posts from their friends warning them about “Facebook cloning”. Some concerned account holders are urging others not to accept a second friend request from accounts purporting to belong to them.

The warning might look something like this:

“Heads-up!! Almost every account is being cloned. Your picture and your name are used to create a new facebook account (they don’t need your password to do this this). They want your friends to add them to their Facebook account. Your friends will think that it’s you and accept your request. From that point on they can write what they want under your name. I have NO plans to open a new account. Please DO NOT accept a 2nd friend request from “me”. Copy this message on your wall.”

Or this:

“HEADS UP: I have been hacked. There is a new hack on Facebook. It includes trying to befriend you, asking for money, or wanting to give you money, and or hurtful phrase coming from you to one of your contacts. It’s very dirty and it appears that you have written it. You do not see it but your friends do. This situation can create many misunderstandings. I would like to say to all my contacts that if something shocking appears, it absolutely does NOT come from me and I would be grateful if you let me know. Thank you very much! HEADS UP!!!! Almost every account is being cloned. Your picture and your name are used to create a new facebook account (they don’t need your password to do this this). They want your friends to add them to their Facebook account. Your friends will think that it’s you and accept your request. From that point on they can write what they want under your name. I have NO plans to open a new account. Please DO NOT accept a 2nd friend request from “me”. Copy this message on your wall.”

Some elements of the warnings are true, the Hoax Slayer internet scam information site reports. But some are false:

It is true that scammers can use people’s names and profile pictures to create a second, fake account under the same name. This has been happening for a while.

It is true that the fake account can then send friend requests to your friends – the scammers can see Friends lists if they are public – who might accept.

It is true that the scammers behind the fake account could post, leading friends that have accepted the request to believe the posts are genuine.

It is not true that Facebook cloning is a hack. The word “hack” implies that someone has gained unauthorised access to your account. Actually the scammers are just using information that is public to create the second account, the Hoax-Slayer points out.

It is not true that almost all accounts are being affected. Facebook’s 1.79 billion monthly active users are unlikely to have all had their accounts cloned.

So what is happening?

Scammers are creating fake accounts in existing users’ names. The more information that a user has made public, the more genuine the fake account can seem.

People who accept friend requests from the fake account, believing that it genuinely belongs to their friend, might be at risk. The Hoax-Slayer warns that scammers, using a more elaborate scam, might be able to draw money out of friends. Identity theft is also a possible consequence, the website says.

What can I do?

Make your Facebook account as private as possible. Using the privacy shortcuts button in the Facebook masthead, you can check what others can see.

You can also hide your Friends list to deny the scammers this information.

You can find out how to report a cloned account to Facebook here.

If you want information about the timeline from the account that was impersonating you, check out Facebook’s advice here.

If you receive a friend request from someone who you think you may already be friends with, double check before accepting it.

Facebook considers cloned accounts to be a violation of its policies. The site has experts focused on identifying fake profiles and is continuously building and updating tools to tackle the problem.