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Security tip: How to spot fake social media profiles

Social media is packed with interesting accounts to follow and tons of useful information, but some people use the internet’s power for nefarious purposes by creating fake profiles. Whether it is to scam other users, spread spam messages or post questionable article links, fake social media profiles are a huge problem on almost all platforms.

The dangers of engaging with content from a fake profile are more than putting you and your profile at risk. It contributes to the ever-growing problem of spreading fake news and can compromise the safety and security of your loved ones’ profiles. Last year, Facebook removed over 2 billion suspicious accounts. Research also suggests that 270 million Instagram accounts might not be genuine.

You certainly don’t want to contribute to the spread of fake news or scam posts. So before engaging or sharing content from that profile, here are some tips on how to spot them and keeping yourself safe.

Verification is a good start

Social networks like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter all have verification systems. A user can apply to have their profile verified, and the profile is then vetted and marked as genuine. This indicates that the page belongs to and is the official profile of that person.

RELATED: Phony “violation” email from Facebook spreading

Not all official social media profiles are verified, though. It tends only to be celebrities or well-known public figures. Twitter, as an example, verifies profiles of prominently recognized individuals or brands, in line with its own notability criteria.

If a profile isn’t verified, it isn’t to say that it’s fake. It will be easy to determine if it’s authentic or not by going through the following steps.

Fake profiles use generic photos

One of the simplest indications that a social media profile might be suspect is the lack of a profile picture or a generic picture. If it’s a personal profile and the photo doesn’t reveal their face, it should send up a red flag. Most scammers or fake profiles tend to use stock photos or images that have been widely used before. Fake profiles also tend to change the profile picture rather infrequently.

It has questionable or a lack of content

Going through a profile’s timeline, it is easy to establish the type of published content. According to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), fake accounts tend to lean towards a certain opinion.

“Accounts designed to spread misinformation or sway political opinions often promote one-sided viewpoints that border on extremism. If an account posts only one-sided political theories and ideals, never revealing information about the person posting, you may be dealing with a troll,” the BBB warns.

A throw-away or fake profile will almost always be littered with comments on other people’s posts, sharing content from accounts that fit into their ideals or share blatantly altered images to push a narrative.

Check the number of friends or followers

Fake accounts have no interest in connecting with friends. By going through their connections, it should be easy to establish their motives. If an account has no friends, connections, or followers, it will probably be used for unsavory things.

If there are some followers or connections, a quick check will also supply you with answers. “Account owners can also buy followers, so one tell-tale sign of a fake account is thousands of followers, with little to no engagement,” the BBB explains.

Check engagement and interactions

Does the profile engage in a meaningful way with followers, or does it just post links and comment on other posts? The general health and activity of a profile is a big indicator of authenticity. How do the account’s followers interact with the profile?

BBB explains what to look out for: “Some fake social media accounts purchase engagement. These purchased fans and followers typically leave comments unrelated to the post, comments that are just emojis, and multiple comments from a single individual that aren’t part of a conversation.”

The dangers associated with fake or spoofed social media profiles are endless. There was a recent Facebook scam circulating where thieves posed as friends asking for money. Tap or click here for red flags you’re being scammed.

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