While I don't usually write about hoaxes and scams, a little encounter that I had over the weekend with a con artist brought this issue into clear focus for me. So, I thought I would share some thoughts about what to watch out for when dealing with Facebook friends and how to respond if one of those “friends” turns out to be someone else entirely.
You've probably already heard about facebook imposters – individuals who pretend to be someone you know. After you accept them as a friend, they might ask for money, claiming to be stranded in some foreign country or complaining that their wallet was stolen while on vacation and now they need your help getting back home, or they might just try to learn more about you for some nefarious reason or another. In my case, my “friend” -- after a quick "hello" -- started telling me that I'd won some an award amounting $150,000 in cash and that it should be on its way to me. She suggested that I call a number that she provided to be sure that I was still on the list. She claimed that she had noticed my name on the list when she got hers. Why shouldn't I believe that?
The conversation started like this, but note that I replaced my friend's photo to protect her identity and changed the font color of my replies to purple so that you might more easily follow the conversation.
Obviously, something's amiss here. Some group is hoping to eradicate poverty and they're just handing out money to whom? Names they're picking out of a hat? The drama continues:
The plot thickens. Now there's a name and number to call. Of course, I was well onto “her” before this point. I guess you can call me a resigned pessimist (the opposite of a wide-eyed optimist), but UPS showing up at my door with $150,000 in cold cash just isn't something that I'd waste any of my remaining brain cells trying to visualize. Still, I decided to drag this on just a bit further.
It was about time to close the conversation. It wasn't very likely that “she” was going to call to ask about the flowers I'd said I sent, but I provided a phone number (which just happens to be a tip line for the FBI) and wrapped up the conversation rather abruptly.
So, now let's look at this a little more seriously.
How did this happen?
First, it's important to understand that, even when you have only a very select group of facebook friends, that some of your information is viewable by anyone. This includes your name, your profile photo, and your friends list. So, it isn't hard for someone to grab your photo and set up an account that looks like yours. And then they might or might not go to the trouble of trying to make the faux page look realistic. In this case, the person hadn't even bothered to add any posts.
So, here is how all this came about. Just a few days ago, I was chatting (facebook messaging) with a new friend who had messaged me earlier. He then asked if I might accept his friend request. So I went and looked at my outstanding friend requests, noticing that quite a few had piled up. I quickly befriended the guy I'd been chatting with and then made a quick pass down the list, accepting several people I recognized. What I didn't think to do, however, was check whether any of those requestees were already in my friends list.
As a result, I apparently befriended the imposter, thinking she was my friend Gladys Noname (fictitious name, of course).
The imposter, posing at Gladys, a week or so later messaged me on Facebook. Of course, the conversation was suspicious from the get go. Some of the things that I found myself wondering about included:
- Why is this friend who has never messaged me starting now?
- Why is she opening the conversation with just “Hello” rather than saying something that suggests why she is contacting me?
- What is this CFDA acronym she's using? Council of Fashion Designers of America? No, that doesn't make any sense. Why is she assuming that I know what this means?
- Ah, the Community Financial Domestic Assistance. Yeah, right! This friend and I sure don't live in the same community. Not even in the same state! And why would this organization pick either of us, never mind both of us?
- And then there are enough grammatical errors – “they are giving out special offer” and “maybe you get yours also”, etc. – to make me wonder if my articulate friend would ever write like that.
- And the $150,000. In cash. To be delivered by UPS. This is obviously too bizarre to be believed.
So, I went a little further.
What to do?
Here are the things that I did beyond toying with the imposter just a bit:
- I looked up my friend's facebook page by entering her name and quickly noticed two friends listed with the same name and the same photo
- I did a Google search on the phone number I had been encouraged to call and noticed that it had already been reported by a couple of other people as a scam. I added my report.
- I reported the problem to facebook, asking that they shut down the offending page and explaining why.
- I also looked at the imposter's friends – undoubtedly other people who had clicked on a similar friend request and asked my friend to alert these other friends of hers to the problem.
- I even entered my own name in various forms to make sure no one had (yet) set up a facebook page to pretend to be me.
- And, lastly, I resolved to check future friend requests to make sure they're not already friends and do whatever I can to verify to the extent possible that they are who they claim to be.
I also made a point of looking through all of my friends to make sure there were no other “duplicates” that might suggest another imposter. I actually found one more and unfriended the imposter – another with no posts who had been added as a friend just recently.
While it's not the most obvious thing to list your friends in alphabetical order on facebook, it can be done and that's how I noticed the second imposter. Listing your friends in alphabetical order makes it easy to notice duplicate names and, especially, the identical photos side-by-side. Here's how I created my alphabetical list:
Listing your Facebook friends in alphabetical order
It would be nice if there were an option to do this simply, but there isn't. After working on this a while, I found this procedure works pretty well.
First, click on that little Facebook "f" in the upper corner of your home page.
Your page should fill up with your friend's profile photos. Click on Finish and you're done.
Your friends will be listed in alphabetic order. You can scroll through the list and look for duplicates. This list is also useful for finding people or reviewing your friends. Just remember to update it when you add new friends or next time you want to review your friends list.
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