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In recent weeks we’ve seen more and more people expressing concern about cloned profiles on Facebook. Some users are exasperated because the social network pays no heed to the plight of what seems to be a growing problem for South African users. Others are merely taking it in stride, posting the occasional “I’ve been cloned, please don’t accept friend requests” status message, alerting their friends of the impending friend requests from impostors.
To be clear, the cause of cloned accounts is (likely) not hacking, malware, or viruses – it’s just basic privacy settings on Facebook not being secure enough. Last month we wrote a comprehensive how-to detailing these privacy settings, to help people secure their profiles and prevent their accounts from being cloned. But what about those who’ve already had their accounts cloned?
With feedback from a number of users, and some from Facebook friends who’ve been victims, we investigated what happens when an account is cloned.
Keep your privates private
To clone somebody all scammers need is a profile that has terrible security settings. And we’re not talking about complex password security – no sir, this is privacy security. With bad privacy, a Facebook account is a sitting duck.
Stealing an identity
Once the scammers have found a profile that has lax security they just go and harvest the important information – the second step in stealing an identity. Names, photos, and friends are all easily accessible when somebody doesn’t have that information set to private.
Keeping you oblivious
In almost all the cases we investigated the person who’s been cloned only found out about it when their friends told them, “Hey, I’ve just received a friend request from you!”
That’s because once you’ve been cloned the scammers go ahead and block your profile on Facebook. This way, when you search for the cloned account you turn up empty-handed. Even worse, if your friends search for it, they cannot find it. How’s that? Well, the cloned account has its privacy turned up – the way you should have done – and will remain invisible to everybody except those it makes contact with.
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Why clone me?
The incentive for cloning an account, as we mentioned in our how-to, is that of identity theft. Once somebody can pretend to be you, they can take advantage of those who don’t know any better by – for example – asking for money. Chances are that if Aunty Dot accepted a friend request from fake you, she’ll probably be concerned that you’re stuck in Mexico and need a few thousand rand to fly back home. This is social engineering at its simplest, and the scammers are taking advantage of people who aren’t internet-savvy.
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Ok, I’ve been cloned, now what?!
1) Get your friend to report the cloned account.
Since the scammer will likely have blocked you – to prevent being found – then you’ll have to tell the friend who received a request from the cloned account to report it. This seems to be the only way to report the account, because searching for it won’t return any results.
2) Let others know.
Once it’s known that you’ve been cloned, let your friends know. Don’t just post on your wall. Yes, do that anyway, but also phone up your gran, your kid cousin, and anybody you think might not grasp the concept of a cloned account. Explain it to them and give them the instructions to report the cloned account.
3) Secure yourself.
It’s no use doing anything else until you’ve secured your profile. Go and change the privacy settings for your friend list, your photo albums, your posts, and any of your public information. Facebook’s support centre helps you do this, but you can get the same information right here.
4) Update your profile.
Now that your information is secure you should give thought to sprucing up your Facebook profile. Change your profile photo and cover photo to something more recent. Update your employment details, relationship status, and other things that might be outdated. This will help your friends know who the real you is, because it’s unlikely a clone account is going to have photos of you at a braai this past weekend.