How to Turn a Facebook Identity Theft Into a Trust-Building Opportunity

18/09/2017
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On Saturday evening I was enjoying a long walk with my dog along the stunning scenery of the Bečva river in East Moravia when my phone biped with a new Facebook message. My cousin had noticed a new Facebook account with my name and picture, and wanted to check if it was really mine. It was not.

It’s quite a funny – for lack of a better word - feeling to see your name and picture on an account that.. well, it is not yours. So, what to do? First things first:

  • Already from my mobile phone I did a print screen of the fake account
  • I reported it
  • I took the print screen and placed it together with a post on my real Facebook account, informing my genuine Facebook community that this account was fake
  • I jumped in the car and wanted to get in front of my laptop as soon as possible.

I also sent the person hiding behind the fake account a message with a couple of hearty words that I can only spell in Romanian, but that’s a different story.

It took Facebook 14 minutes to acknowledge my report. It took them less than 12 hours to take the account down. Well done!

Fishing around or stealing around?

Here is what was interesting about this fake account.

It was set up in Romanian, targeting Romanian-speaking people, many of them from my real account (who, sad to acknowledge, have fallen for it and added it to their friend list). The remaining people were in their wide majority also from Hunedoara and the wider Transylvania, my birth region.

It was quite new – made around September 11th, as visible in the print screen. In the time between the fake account setting and the time we spotted it, it managed to make 17 friends (which is already an indication of amateurism, but – let’s be grateful for that).

Who was behind the fake account? A girlie / horny teenager fishing around under a fake account? Or something worse? Hard to say.

Which doesn’t make the attempt any less scary.

How to turn an identity theft attempt into a trust-building opportunity?

Once I reached my laptop, what I did on top of reporting the fake account and asking my friends to report it, too, was that I went on the fake profile, clicked on its friends list, open each of them in a new tab and sent them each a personal message informing them that the account they have added was fake.

It was not mine, this was the real Cristina Muntean writing them, that the fake account had been reported and I encouraged them to report it, too. Mainly I warned them not to answer any call for anything from this account.

My major concern was that, under the shadow of a fake identity, the person could start contacting my acquaintances and, at best, steal their personal information. At worst, ask them for money or other stuff – God knows what a crooked mind can come up with. Schemes of contacting the original family of an economic migrant with stories of an accident and immediate need of a cash transfer have been quite common in Romania during the last few years. I was horrified at the thought that someone on my friends list, in my family or friends, might fall for such a scheme.

Fortunately the fake account had managed to gather only 17 people, which I managed to inform personally in less than an hour. Out of them 16 answered back, the majority thanking me for addressing them personally and saying they will report the account.

All is well when it ends well

Yesterday morning, when I woke up, the fake account was already down. Great job, Facebook, and much appreciated.

There are a couple of things I realized in the process:

  • With the rise of social media, none of us is totally safe in the virtual environment
  • With the rise of social media, every one of us should be able to recognize a communications issue (a fake Facebook account gathering contacts in one’s name) and address it before it turns into a crisis (people being actually robbed in one’s name, having one’s identity connected with an actual crime).

Another thing that I learnt in the process – thanks, Hany Farghali, for bringing it up - is that making our list of friends available / visible only for ourselves makes it more difficult for potential hackers to reach out to our contact list.

On the one hand, that is very true. On the other hand, should the person behind the fake account had done that, I wouldn’t have had the chance to contact the people in his list personally and warn them on the potential threat. So, I guess, everything has its pluses and minuses.

Should you like to stay on the safe side though, I encourage you to hide your friends list. I did that, and I feel a bit better about myself in consequence.

On top of that the whole situation caught my attention and made me aware that all visibility comes with a cost. Thus I will pay more attention to the Facebook security measures in the future. My only FB accounts remain these:

Have I missed anything? Do you have examples of good practices in handling similar situations? Do you have access to tools monitoring potential fake accounts on social media? Should you feel like sharing your thoughts on the matter or your own experiences around security in the virtual environment, please do join me in a conversation under this blog post on… Facebook or LinkedIn.

Cheers and… protect your accounts well.

I focus on strategic communications, emotional and systemic intelligence and personal and organization leadership. I help leaders and future leaders to develop their strategic communication skills, to build reputable personal brands and to boost their team and organizational leadership. I support individuals, teams and organizations through advisory, training, coaching and mentoring services.

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