Social media has become commonplace, with over 4.8 billion active accounts worldwide. However, despite social media platforms providing a space for people to connect with others, it’s also used by fraudsters, scammers, and hackers to target the innocent. Back in 2022, Facebook sought action against 1.6 billion fake accounts – and this only accounts for one social media platform. The chances are you’ve come across fake profiles before, even if you didn’t realize it at the time. Below, you will find out how to spot fake social media channels and what to do about it.
What are Fake Social Media Channels?
Fake social media channels are created with no permission using someone else’s personal information, whether it be a business, celebrity, or average person. These types of profiles are often called sock puppet accounts or imposter accounts, with the former set up to tear down other people while building themselves up. Here are some of the motives behind creating a fake social media channel:
- To destroy reputations
- To review bomb or leave false reviews
- To become another person
- To steal money through extortion
- To bully and harass people
Every single social media platform has fake channels, whether it’s giants like Facebook or lesser-used platforms like Tumblr and Quora. Fake profiles don’t stop at social media platforms either, as it extends to dating apps and other services.
Businesses use social media platforms to strengthen customer relationships, build trust, and give their brand a voice. Therefore, social media managers need to keep an eye out for fake social media channels, whether they be following the business or pretending to be them.
If scammers are allowed to parade around with a business’s persona, it makes it much easier for them to trick unsuspecting followers into buying services that don’t exist. When this happens, victims build a negative image of the business because they often don’t know otherwise.
When fake accounts follow a business, they can appear harmless because it helps boost the follower count, which may attract new followers. However, even if they don’t bombard the comment sections or send malicious messages, they harm brands in the following ways:
- Causing difficulties with grouping followers to devise strategies.
- Reducing engagement rates.
- Damaging credibility by having large amounts of fake follower accounts disappear.
Fake profiles often create their account and then change their usernames afterward, which can offer some evidence of whether an account is real or not. For example, if a scammer was trying to be Kim Kardashian, they would input these details afterward to avoid any issues signing into the platform. When they do type the name, it’s often with intentional errors in the name, which is the first obvious telltale of a fake account.
If the name still has you convinced, have a look at the profile’s URL. If a celebrity or business created the profile, they would use their name as the URL tag, whereas scammers tend to leave theirs as default numbers – a clear red flag.
If you suspect a social media account, the first place to look is the profile picture. In most cases, fraudsters use symbols and avatars instead of authentic images. Even if they are using a “legitimate” photo, the resolution is often distorted to try and avoid detection by the original owner. After analyzing the photo, you can pass it through Google’s reverse image search, which will tell you whether it’s been used elsewhere on the internet.
Popular businesses and celebrities have thousands or millions of followers. Take the Kim Kardashian example from above – she has 35 million followers on Facebook and 75 million on Twitter. If there was a fake Kim Kardashian account, there’s a good chance it would have an unusually low number of connections.
Many social media platforms have a verification system for celebrities and businesses, but the most notable is Twitter. Historically, Twitter had a simple blue tick to resemble an authentic account. However, when Elon Musk bought the platform in 2022, he changed the system to allow anyone with a photo, profile information, and regular account activity to purchase a blue tick for $8. These changes meant the platform became a scammer’s playground which led to people leaving the platform.
After the backlash, a new system was introduced, which means Twitter-verified celebrities and businesses are provided with a gold tick. However, they have to subscribe for $1000 per month, meaning you’re very unlikely to come across scammers with a gold tick.
When fake social media accounts post content, it often doesn’t align with the real person or business’s character. Typically, the type of content includes memes, recycled misinformation, extreme news, and generic stock photos. If an account hasn’t posted anything at all, that’s a clear indication it’s fake.
Fake profiles leave comments in an attempt to catch people out, so have a look at the type of comments they leave. If everything they comment on is about quick ways to make money or other ‘too good to be true’ promises, then it’s safe to classify the account as fake.
When you come across a fake social media channel, there are steps you can take to limit their actions and even get it removed completely. If you’re connected to the account already, remove them from your friends or following list straight away – you can even block them to prevent them from appearing again. Depending on the platform, you can take matters further by reporting the account or completing a form. If a legitimate account reports a fake account, it is more likely to get banned.
Fake social media profiles have the power to destroy lives by stealing money, damaging reputations, and so much more. To spot a fake account, look for discrepancies in the URL, profile name, comments, content, and profile picture. Then, make sure you take action immediately by removing, blocking, and then reporting them.