How do you know if an account is real or fake?
It's easy to create an account on most websites, forums, and social networking sites. As a result, it's common for anyone to create a fake account that appears to be that of another person, company, or product. Below are the steps and helpful tips you can follow to help determine if an account is real or fake.
Social networking companies are aware of the problems that can be caused by fake accounts on their networks. That's why big social network sites like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter offer official verification of accounts. A verified account has a badge check mark next to the name of a person or company, indicating it has been verified by a real person as a real account. Below is a picture of four Donald Trump accounts on Twitter that all appear very similar.
The account on the far left with the blue circle with a white check mark next to the name is the real Donald J Trump account. Facebook and Instagram also has a similar check mark for brands, celebrity, companies, and public figure pages.
For an account to be officially verified, the account owner must submit a request with additional identifying information. This information may include a verified phone number or e-mail address. For individual accounts, an official government photo id may also be required.
Additional tips in verifying an account
Unfortunately, not all accounts can be verified. However, with some detective work, you can identify if an account is a real account. Below is a full list of signs that can help you identify a fake account.
Using default profile picture or fake picture
If the account has the default profile picture (not a picture of the person) or a picture that is widely available with other accounts, it is likely a fake account. If you're trying to verify if a Facebook account is a real account you can also look through their photos to see if more than one photo has been posted. Often a fake account will only have no photo or one photo they've randomly found on the Internet.
Note: If the account is a new account, it may take that person some time to post pictures. Also, not everyone may want to post their picture online.
Tip: Many fake accounts also steal other pictures of people and use it as their profile picture. If the account is not someone you know and is a picture of a model, beautiful person, or a scandalously dressed person, it is likely a fake account.
An incorrectly spelled name is another common mistake and tactic used to create a fake account. For example, in our above Donald Trump Twitter example, you can see one of the fake twitter accounts is "@donaldtrumpp" with an extra "p" in the name.
Note: When an account is created on Facebook, it is created using an ID system instead of a unique identifier like Twitter. What this means is that it is easy for anyone to create a Facebook account with the same name as you or one of your friends, even if that name is already in use.
None of the same friends or contacts
If the fake account is on a social network like Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, look at their friend's list or who follows them. If you don't recognize anyone or share any of the same contacts, it is another indication of a fake account.
Note: Many scammers are aware of this method of detecting a fake account and may have already sent out friend requests to all of your friends who may have already accepted the fake request.
Tip: If you determined that an account is a fake account let any of your friends who have accepted their friend request know that it is not a real account and that they should unfriend them.
Read the person's profile
Before accepting a friend request on Facebook look at the person's profile. If what they are writing doesn't seem like something they would say or advertise in real life, ignore the request. If you've already friended them, unfriend them.
Tip: If most of their posts are related to a product, service, or are links to other pages it's also an indicator that the fake account may have been created to help promote (spam) a product or service.
Is following more people than they have followers
On services like Instagram and Twitter, if a person is following more people than how many followers are following them by a large percentage, it is often a clear sign of a fake account. Often a person who creates fake accounts create a script (bot) that automatically follows other people in the hopes that they will follow them back and increase their follower count.
Substitution of characters
Another common tactic used by fake accounts on Twitter is using characters that resemble another character. For example, you could substitute the "m" in "trump" with an "n" which is not going to be noticed by most people looking at the name "Donald Trunp."
Addition of extra space characters
On many services, all that is required for an account to be a unique is for it to not have the same characters as another account. So, some users will create unique accounts by adding spacing characters like the underscore, hyphen, and period between names. For example, "DonaldTrump," "Donald_Trump," "Donald-Trump," and "Donald.Trump." are all valid and unique account names.
Added a prefix or suffix word to a name
Adding a prefix like "a," "the," or "real," to the front of an account is another way a fake account to be created. However, as seen in our earlier example of Donal Trump's account (@realDonaldTrump), some valid accounts may have a prefix.
Adding a suffix like "ed," "ing," or "s," is yet another way to create a fake account. For example, not many people would notice the extra "s" in the username "donaldtrumps."
Low follower count
It is not uncommon for a celebrity account and big business to have several thousand or even millions of followers. However, most fake accounts will have very few followers and always have fewer followers than the real person or company.
Recent join date
If the service tells when the account was created, it is also easy to identify a fake account if it has been recently created. However, keep in mind that it is not uncommon for fake accounts to be created before a real account.
Why would someone create a fake account?
Below are some of the different reasons why someone may want to create a fake account.
- Harass you or one of your friends.
- Spy on you or someone connected to your account.
- Gather information about you or a friend to steal your identity or one of your friend's identity.
- Make false statements about you or your business to damage or destroy your reputation.
- Try to phish, catfish, or spear phish you or one of your friends.
- Create a parody account of a famous person or company.
- To keep themselves anonymous from others on the Internet.
Is it illegal to create a fake account?
No, it is not illegal to create a fake account as long as that fake account is a parody account and not committing any other crime or breaking the terms of service.
Can I report a fake account?
Yes. All with all social networking services and websites you can to report a fake account. However, as mentioned above, it is not illegal or usually against the terms of service for someone to create a fake account. So, unless that account is doing something illegal such as harassing you or threatening you, most companies will not take action against a fake account.
How can I identify someone behind a fake account?
Unfortunately, there are no easy ways for you to determine who has created a fake account. It is possible for the company running the service to help in investigating a fake account if that account is engaging in any illegal activities. But because of privacy laws and company policies, they will not release that information unless it is ordered by a court to release the information.
How can I file a lawsuit against a fake account?
If you cannot get the company who handles the account to take any action, you can contact your local police department if you know who is running the account.
What to do before contacting the police department
- Print out or take screen shots of all of the harassing posts for evidence in case they are deleted.
- Take notes of all your attempts to contact the company requesting for removal and the fake account and any of their responses.
- Copy the URL of the fake account page.
Tip: If you're getting harassing or offending posts do not delete or hide them as they may be needed for evidence.
Unfortunately, most local authorities also do not have the human resources or ability to do anything about a fake account. If your local authorities cannot do anything, consult with a lawyer who can advise you about your rights, and possible actions you can take to protect your online identity.
What should I do if I accepted a friend request from a fake person?
All services allow you to unfriend a friend or unfollow anyone that you are following.