Facebook Scams, Hoaxes, and Malware
by Rich Pasco
The social networking site Facebook is large enough to have
attracted more than its share of scams, hoaxes, and malware. The
same cautions should apply when using Facebook as when reading
regular e-mail or outside web sites:
That much said, there are some Facebook-specific scams worthy of
- Don't believe everything you read.
- Don't share or re-post something just because it tells you to!
- Don't trust everything that seems to come from a friend. Your friend
may be misinformed, or it may have come from an imposter stealing his identity.
Remember your parents telling you not to accept candy from strangers?
Facebook “Friend” requests are much like that candy. Remember,
on the Internet, nothing is as it seems. That lonely, sexy young woman
might just be a devious hacker hell-bent on identity theft or taking over
your computer. Photos of lovely models are freely available online, so
pictures do not necessarily represent the person behind the Facebook profile.
A true friend is someone you know well enough to trust.
Simply declaring someone a “Friend” on a social network does
not make them one.
If you get a Friend request from someone you don't know, do not accept it
right away. You might reply (with a private message) and politely ask that
person how they know you.
Don't accept it just because they have mutual friends of yours, because it may be
that your friends fell for the scam, too. You might message your friends and
ask them how they know that person. If they don't know him either, then
send them a link to this page.
One reason it is dangerous is that once the person is your “Friend,” he has access
to all the information you have posted just for your friends. It is even easier for
him to create a duplicate profile and then befriend all your friends, and so on.
See “The Duplicate Profile” below. Another is that you might trust them
and then fall victim to one of the hacks to take over your computer (see my article
“Every Trick in the Book.”
Another scenario: You didn't know it, but that beautiful, lonely 26-year-old woman who sent
you a friend request last week is really a 45-year-old male burglar. And by posting your
vacation pictures as you travel, you've just told him that your home is available for his picking.
An example phony profile: “Samantha Sarah Misty”
Here are some “red flags” which cause me to doubt the validity of this profile:
- Mismatch between name in URL and profile name
- Lives far away, suggesting that we aren't real friends
- Profile picture updated very recently (within hours)
- Has no common Friends (or no Friends at all).
- Speaks multiple languages (few real people speak six languages, but a large boiler-room operation
could easily have enough agents to cover all six).
I reported the above profile according to my directions
“How to Report a Fake Profile (not impersonating anyone you know)” and look what happened:
Another phony profile: “Comfort Mylla”
I got a Friend request from “Comfort Mylla” on Thursday, January 28, 2016. It was a new account with no history before the profile picture update notice below (see the “his” in it), and only a few friends,
all older men.
I put the photo into Google Images and found the net awash with that same picture attached to phony profiles at various dating sites. So naturally I
declined the request. In fact, I never accept Friend requests from people I don't already know.
I sent “Comfort” a private message explaining that I only accept Friend requests from people I already know.
In an attempt to convince me of her sincerity, “she” sent me a few more pictures, which matched other shots of “Danielle” from the Danielle FTV site at the first link above.
When I asked about that, she said she used to be a model under the assumed name Danielle, but returned to Ghana to care for her ailing mum. Sure, right.
So I reported the profile as per the instructions under “How to Report a phony profile” below. Here is the result:
Another phony profile: “Mary Cusack”
When I opened my Facebook account on Friday, January 6, 2017, I had a Friend request from a beautiful,
sexy twenty-something young woman with a brand-new Facebook account and absolutely no other Facebook friends.
Eager to learn more about her, I right-clicked on her profile photo and chose “Copy Image Location.”
Then I went to Google Images, opened their “search by image” feature, pasted the link and found several
articles about “The ‘Yahoo Boys’ in Nigeria.” So I pulled down the menu on my new friend's
profile and chose “report this profile” and “this is a fake account.” Facebook took it down promptly.
Note: The instructions in this section are for reporting a completely fake profile not impersonating
anyone you know. The process to report a phony profile pretending to
be someone you know is similar but slightly different. See “How to Report a Duplicate Profile” below.
Another fake profile bites the dust! On Thursday, April 12, 2018 I got a Friend request from an obviously fake profile:
Cover photo created two hours ago by an attractive young woman with no friends, who inhabits places I seldom visit.
I wasn't content to just decline the request (and let “her” continue to bug other people),
I wanted the fake profile gone from Facebook. The screen shots below show how I accomplished that.
First, visit the phony profile (without accepting the Friend request). To do this, first
click on the two-faces icon in the top bar to bring up your list of Friend Requests.
- Next, click on the highlighted name in your Friend Requests list (neither the “Confirm” nor the “Delete” button).
Pull down the menu next to the word “Message”
to the right of the profile name.) and click “Give feedback or report this profile”
Next, click on “Fake Account” and click “Send”.
On the screen which popped up, I clicked “Report this profile” and then “Continue”
Epilogue: Buoyed by the positive result of my reporting this obviously fake
profile—Facebook removed it—I have subsequently reported a number of equally
obviously fake profiles, but unfortunately in most cases Facebook has allowed it to stand
because it doesn't violate their “Community Standards.” To me this says that they condone
lying as long as you don't use dirty words or post sexy pictures. I say, keep reporting them but be
prepared for this:
For More Information about Friend Requests from Strangers
- Meet the ‘Yahoo Boys’ – Nigeria's Undergraduate Conmen by Oludayo Tade, U.S. News & World Report, July 28, 2016
- Blackmailed and held for ransom on Facebook (video) by Erica Fink and Jordan Malter, CNN Money, May 30, 2016
- Man, Wife Blackmailed With X-Rated Facebook Messages, Facecrooks, September 2, 2015
- Common Tricks Yahoo Boys Use to Swindle Foreigners Revealed by The Nigeria Police Special Fraud Unit, Ikoyi, Lagos, Facebook, July 14, 2014
- 8 Facebook Friend Requests you should Never Accept by Surbhi Jalan, ListDose, July 2, 2013
- What are risk [sic] involved accepting friend request from strangers in Facebook? from Yahoo! Answers, 2012
- Five Reasons Not to Accept Facebook Friend Requests from Strangers Ayanna Guyhto, Yahoo Shine, November 9, 2011
- Facebook users pretty willing to add strangers as 'friends' by Caroline McCarthy, CNET, August 13, 2007
- A friend of a friend might be a scammer from the U.S. government
Hackers copy your name and your profile picture and create a new
Facebook account. They send Friend requests to all of your Friends.
Your friends think it is you, so they accept. From then on, the
hackers can say and post whatever they want under your name.
Hacked vs. Cloned (or Spoofed)
Please carefully distinguish between two terms:
Too often, I read well-meaning friends of someone whose account was cloned telling the victim that their account was “hacked” and
to change his password. Not only is this technically misleading, to change one's password is both unnecessary and ineffective in this situation..
It is unnecessary because there is no evidence that the original account was logged into or modified in any way—only published data
was accessed. It is ineffective because changing one's password neither removes the phony profile nor stops the impostor from continuing to
send Friend requests to the victim's Friends.
- “Hacked” means that someone logged into your account (and possibly modified its content or otherwise acted on your behalf). An appropriate response is to change your password.
- “Cloned” or “Spoofed” means that someone copied its publicly visible features (profile and cover photos, intro, biography and birthday) to create a phony account in your name.
An appropriate response is to (1) report the phony account to Facebook management so they can take it down and (2) hide your
list of friends from public view.
Confusion between hacked and cloned profiles resulted in an
e-mail virus claiming that hackers
could post insulting messages ostensibly from you on your friend's “wall”
(status timeline). As
explains, any such messages may
appear when your friends accept clones of your profile.
Configure your account so that your posts by default are visible
only to your Friends, not to the general public. Your public
profile should list only what is necessary for someone to recognize
Keep your Friends list non-public (so it is not publicly visible).
While this won't stop a hacker from cloning your profile, it will reduce his motivation to do so,
because then if he does, he can't send Friend requests to all your real Friends.
How to do this is explained below.
If you have a Facebook account, use it! Post frequent status
updates (with photos if possible) for your Friends' eyes, about what
you're doing in your life. That way they will know they are your
Friend and be less likely to accept a second Friend request. It
will also make it easier to distinguish the real you from your clone
(the hacker would have to copy your updates one by one, which would
introduce a delay.)
Periodically enter your name into the search box at the top of the
Facebook screen. If you see a second profile with your name and
profile picture, open it and report it as a fraud to the Facebook
Sadly, sometimes hackers will Block the account of the person whose identity
the are stealing. (In Facebook, if you “block” a profile, you don't
exist as far as that person is concerned. But the rest of the world can still see you.)
In this case, you may have some success asking a friend to follow the above
procedure on the duplicate account, except choosing “pretending to be someone I know”
in the last step.
If you get a Friend request from someone you thought was already your
friend, do not just Accept it. Instead, contact them (by a trusted means,
not via the fake profile!) and ask about the duplicate. If they did
not intend to create it, they should report it as above.
Note: The instructions in this section are for reporting a phony profile pretending to
be someone you know. The process to report a completely fake profile not impersonating
anyone is similar but slightly different. See “How to Report a Fake Profile” above.
Note 1: Access Facebook via a web browser.
I don't know how to report a phony profile from a cell phone's Facebook “app.” In
fact, I don't think you can.
Note 2: These instructions assume the imposter has a full Facebook profile.
Recently, some imposters have been creating Messenger-only accounts, without an associated
Facebook profile. For these, see Messenger-Only Accounts below.
First, visit the phony profile. If you got a Friend request from a phony profile,
you can visit it without accepting the Friend request by clicking on the highlighted name
in your Friend Requests list (neither the “Confirm” nor “Delete” button).
Pull down the menu next to the word “Message”
to the right of the profile name.) and click “Give feedback or report this profile”
Click “Pretending to Be Someone” and “A Friend” and then click “Send”
Start typing your Friend's name. When you see it on the list, click the circle next to it. When the dot appears, click “Next”
Read the acknowledgment and then click “Done”
It is a good idea to keep your list of Friends hidden from public view, for at least two reasons:
- To make it harder for a hacker who creates a phony clone of your profile to send Friend Requests (or Messenger Messages) to all of your real Friends (see “The Duplicate Profile” above).
- To make it harder for spammers to put your name on the “From:” of email spam to your friends, or your friends' names on email spam to you.
To do this on a web browser:
- Go to your home profile page (by clicking on your name in the blue bar at the very top of your screen).
- In the bar under your name and profile picture, click on Friends.
- On your Friends page, click on the pencil icon at the right of its heading.
- On the pop-up menu, click on “Edit Privacy.”
- On the Edit Privacy dialog, pull down the menu next to “Who can see your friend list?” and click on “Friends”.
Then click on “Done” to close the dialog and save your choice.
To do this on smart phone:
Go to your home profile page. There, tap on “More”.
On the pop-up menu, tap on “View Privacy Shortcuts”.
On the “Privacy Shortcuts” page, tap on “See more privacy settings”.
On the “Privacy Settings” page, look under “Who can see your friends list?” If it says “Everyone” then tap on it.
On the “Friends List” page, tap on “Friends.”
Update March 19, 2018:
Caution: The above steps are worthless if you explicitly grant a third party permission to
access your Friends list. Today's news brings reports of a scandal where a voter harvesting scheme involved
a personality quiz application which opened with a question like,
“This app needs to access your Friends list, OK?” Many users clicked OK without understanding
the implications of this action.
Update October 7, 2018:
To make matters worse, a viral chain letter began circulating recently.
It begins by stating “I actually got another friend request from you...”
(which is not true) and then concludes with instructions to forward it. So getting it
does not really mean that you were cloned; all it means is that the person who sent it to you obediently
followed the “forward” instructions without even understanding what it claims.
The insidious thing about this hoax is that awareness of it may lead people to dismiss all
reports of account cloning, and so ignore genuine ones, just like false fire alarms may cause people to ignore real ones.
As I see it, the biggest problem with the viral hoax message is that people who know that it is false may then dismiss genuine reports of cloned accounts, mistakenly thinking that all such reports are part of the hoax..
How can I prevent my profile from being cloned?
You can't prevent anyone from copying the publicly visible parts of your profile. But you can certainly discourage it by hiding your friends list from public view. That reduces the incentive because anyone who did clone it would not know to whom to send Friend requests,
I followed your instructions to hide my Friends list from public view. So am why am I still getting Friend requests from impostors impersonating my Friends?
You've got it the wrong way around. Hiding your Friends list will discourage hackers from cloning your profile (because they won't know to whom to send their Friend requests). Unfortunately if your Friends have not hidden their Friends list (on which you appear), then the hackers will still clone their profile and send their Friend requests to you. In short, hiding your friends list will discourage hackers from cloning you, but will not prevent you from receiving Friend requests from clones of your friends.
My life is an open book; I have nothing to hide. What's the harm in leaving my Friends list be Public?
While you may have nothing to hide, leaving your Friends list Public virtually invites scammers to clone
your profile and send Friend requests to all your Friends. See the next question for why this is bad....
Why should I care if a hacker cloned my profile? What are the consequences of just letting it be?
While you may know that the clone is phony, your friends may not. If your real friends accept the impostor, then he can see information they had posted for their friends' eyes only:
- The impostor could communicate with your Friends and, building on their trust of you, suggest investments, charities, or causes to support. They could fall for a scam by thinking the impostor's advice was coming from you, their trusted friend.
- Or maybe your Friend had posted about going on vacation, for just his Friends to read. The impostor, seeing this, could send his friend the burglar to your Friends's house which now knows it is vacant.
But what if I already did accept a Friend request from a hacker
pretending to be my friend?
You should un-Friend the phony account ASAP. To do so, visit
the phony profiles, and near the top, click on little triangle
next to the word “Friends” and choose “Un-friend” from the pop-up
How can I find out whether my profile was cloned?
Unfortunately there is no sure-fire way to tell. The best way seems to be to enter your name
(as shown on your profile) into the search box at the top of your Facebook screen. You may find harmless unrelated namesakes
(especially if you have a common name like “Bill Jones”), but you need to be concerned if you see any profiles
other than yours with a copy of your profile photo. This might not work is if the impostor blocked you. Sometimes (but not
often) impostors block their victims so as to evade detection.
My profile was cloned. Do I need to change my password?
While it is a good idea to change your password from time to time, there is nothing about simply
being cloned to suggest that your account was compromised. Most likely the hacker created a new profile based on your
public information (including public images).
My profile was cloned. Should I close my Facebook account?
Absolutely not! Not only is there no evidence that your account was compromised,
closing it would not stop the hacker from continuing to impersonate you. It would allow him free reign over your
identity while removing your only weapon to fight him.
My profile was cloned, but I can no longer see the phony. Does that mean it was taken down?
|A. ||It actually could mean any of three things:
- The phony profile was taken down.
- The hacker blocked you, his victim, so that you could not see the phony.
- Earlier, you yourself blocked the phony profile. In this case you need to unblock it in order to report it as above.
When dealing with cloned accounts, it is helpful to note (on a piece of scratch paper, or in a temporary file)
the subtly different URLs (web addresses) of the genuine and phony accounts. For example, my genuine URL is
If there were a clone, it would have a different URL, usually with a number after it or in place of the name.
by Rich Pasco
It is indeed unfortunate that Facebook's default setting (what new users get if they don't deliberately change
it otherwise) is for your list of Friends to be visible to the entire world. I think that this is dangerous,
because it encourages hackers to publish impostor profiles and then send Friend requests to all the Friends
of their victims. So I encourage everyone to change their settings to hide their list of Friends from public
view. I really wish that Facebook would change their default for new accounts to make your Friends list visible
to your Friends only, but of course nobody in charge there ever listens to me.
For More Information about Duplicate Profiles
- Scam alert: If you receive a message on Facebook saying ‘Hi….I actually got another friend request from you’, it's a hoax by Rick Rouse, Rick's Daily Tips, Tuesday, November 27, 2018
- ‘Got Another Friend Request from You‘ Facebook Warning by David Mikkelson, Snopes, Sunday, October 7, 2018
- No, your Facebook account hasn't been cloned by HTV National Desk, San Francisco Chronicle, Sunday, October 7, 2018
- No, your Facebook has not been cloned. Officials warn users of viral hoax by Kristine Garcia, PIX 11, Sunday, October 7, 2018
- Has your Facebook account really been cloned? Probably not, but here's how to check by Don Sweeney, Sacramento Bee, Sunday, October 7, 2018
- Facebook cloning: What's true and what's false about the viral warning? by Serina Sandhu, Brighton & Hove Independent, Thursday, February 2, 2017
- Fake Facebook Profiles and Pages – the Tools of Scammers, Bullies and Thieves, Facecrooks November 4, 2012
- What is Facebook Cloning and How Can I Protect Myself From It? by (author not credited), Hoax-Slayer (undated)
The above instructions to report a duplicate profile assume the impostor has a full Facebook profile.
Impostors have avoided being reported in this way by creating messenger-only accounts, which allow the user to use Facebook's
Messenger function without a full Facebook profile behind it.
Example Messenger dialong with an impostor
On Tuesday, January 15, 2019, I received a message from an impostor pretending to be my friend Maggie Fassett.
I knew immediately that it was an impostor because the Messenger screen said “Using Messenger without Facebook”
(my real friend Maggie has a full Facebook account) and “Account was recently created” (my real friend Maggie
has had her Facebook account for years). Also the URL was different (see “How to detect a phony Messenger account” below).
Nevertheless I decided to play with the impostor for a while to see how he
would answer some questions to which only my real friend would know the answers; in this case the medical conditon of her
significant other John. Notice how he ignored my concern and returned to his canned pitch:
It is important to understand that the presence of a phony Messenger account does not mean that the original account
was “hacked.” This would mean that someone logged into it without authorization, and that usually does not happen.
More often, it was “spoofed” or “cloned” which means that an impostor copied the victim's publicly visible
information (e.g. name and profile photo) to create a new phony Messenger account in the victim's name, and began sending messages to the victim's
Friends (which was possible because unfortunately their list of Friends was exposed to public view).
You can tell the original from the phony by looking at the URL in the address bar of your browser. For example, the two screen shots
below show the URLs of my friend Maggie's real messenger account and that of an impostor. Notice that they are very different.
The Real Maggie
How to report a phony Messenger account
Recently, Facebook added the capability to report
Messenger-only accounts as well. The illustrations below show how I reported a messenger-only impostor preteding to be my
friend Maggie. First, you have to be in a Messenger dialog with the impostor to report him. Then:
- Click on the gearwheel at the right side of a message from the phony.
- In the menu which appears, click “Something's Wrong”
- On the next screen, click “Pretending to Be Someone”
- Click “A Friend”
- Click “Send Feedback”
- On the “Which Friend?” screen, click the name of your real friend who is being impersonated
- Click “Next”.”
- On the next screen, view the confirmation (the other optional steps are usually unnecessary) and click “Done.”
If you get a private message via Facebook's Messenger component, apparently from a friend, with what looks like link to a video, do not click on that link without
first asking your friend what the link is about. It may be that your friend's account was compromised and the link is malicious. Or it may have come from an impostor who copied your friend's name and profile photo to create a phony clone account.
The general rule is, never click on a link received in any unsolicited message, even if apparently from a friend, without a clear understanding of exactly what is at that link. Ask you friend what's there and why he sent it to you!
For More Information about Malware
- Beware of Windows/MacOS/Linux Virus Spreading Through Facebook Messenger by Mohit Kumar, The Hacker News, Thursday, August 24, 2017
- New multi platform malware/adware spreading via Facebook Messenger by By David Jacoby, SecureList, Thursday, August 24, 2017
- Facebook Messenger Plagued With Malicious Links Spreading Malware: Kaspersky by Tasneem Akolawala, Gadgets, Friday, August 25, 2017
A lot of people don't understand the difference between the terms “published” and “public domain.” The former simply means that an artist (or author) has posted his work where others can see it. The latter means that the artist has surrendered copyright ownership of his work. Simply publishing a work does not place it into the public domain. The artist retains copyright unless he specifically states that he is donating it to the public domain. The artist may, under his copyright, grant permission for others to copy his work provided they give due credit, but again, such permission does not put works into the public domain.
One place this nuance is a frequently misunderstood is in Facebook's terms of service, which state that when you post anything on Facebook, you give them permission to distribute it. After all, that is why you post it! But merely posting something on Facebook does not place it into the public domain.
In November 2012 and again in January 2015 and January 2019, countless Facebook users began posting a notice to their profiles
encouraging their friends to do the same, apparently rescinding the Terms and Conditions they
agreed to by signing up for Facebook. This is a virus in that it tricks others into reproducing it,
while being a worthless, misleading waste of time. Think about it:
Here are two variants of that hoax which I received during the first week of January, 2019:
- You cannot unilaterally changed the Terms and Conditions to which you agreed by opening your Facebook account, certainly not by posting a few magic words to your status timeline.
- In order to do its job, Facebook must disclose, copy and distribute the text and photos you post: that is the whole reason you upload them to Facebook in the first place. If you don't want to share them, then don't post them on Facebook.
For More Information about the Privacy Notice Hoax
- That Facebook ‘Copyright Protection’ Message Is Garbage, So Stop Posting It, Tom McKay, News.Mic, September 29, 2015
- Watch out for these Facebook privacy hoaxes, Jennifer Earl, CBS News, September 28, 2015.
- Hoax! Don't copy and paste that 'Copyright' Facebook message, Dawn Dugle, The Clarion-Ledger via USA Today January 5, 2015.
- Facebook Privacy Notice, Snopes, January 4, 2015
- Stop! Don't Copy and Paste that 'Copyright' Facebook Message, Joanna Stern, ABC News, Nov. 26, 2012.
- [Hoax Alert ] Privacy Notice and Warning to Institutions, Agents & Agencies, Facecrooks, June 4, 2012
Graph App and Privacy
Since February 2013, there's another false “urban legend” going around on Facebook,
claiming that their Graph App compromises user privacy. Read the truth by
David Emery and on
“Quick! Share this photo before Facebook censors it!”
This is the photo that Facebook keep taking down and keeps disappearing from all pages including comments. See if we can keep it going. This woman had this tattoo to cover her mastectomy scars. I think it is beautiful and brave. What is so offensive Facebook?
Image from Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo by Margot Mifflin, copyright © Powerhouse Books
A friend shared a beautiful photo showing the chest of a woman who has covered her mastectomy scars with beautiful tattoos. The caption
says that Facebook keeps taking it down and urges you to share it immediately so as to “keep it going.”
The beautiful photo is real but the caption is another viral hoax which propagates by tricking its recipients into making copies of itself. Beautiful as the photo is,
it is a shame that somebody has misused it as incentive to propagate this hoax.
Just a note to the technologically uninformed. If Facebook were to remove a photo, then every “share” of it would also immediately vanish too, and be replaced by a “Content Unavailable” message. So if you think you are preserving something by sharing it, think again. That's just not how Facebook works!
If you really want to save the photo, you should download a copy to personal your hard disk. Right-click the photo and choose “Save Image As...” (exact wording may vary with your browser). And remember, Don't “Like” or “Share” pages from users you don't know
Your friend shares on his status/timeline what looks like a link to an interesting video (e.g.
“Rowan Atkinson died in car crash” or
“World's largest snake found in Brazil”), but when
you click in it you get a message that says it is a restricted video and you must share it first in
order to see it. Doesn't that seem strange? Personally, I share something after I watched it, not before.
If you do share it, you have become an accomplice in spreading this junk, just like your friend. Some examples follow:
RIP Mr. Bean
You see a post ostensibly announcing the death of a celebrity (in this example, Rowan Atkinson) and want
to learn more, so you click on it. A seemingly legitimate news video starts playing, but then is interrupted
by a “Security Check” pop-up, instructing you to Share the video to prove that you are over 18 in
order to continue watching. How sharing the item would prove anything about your age escapes me, but if you do,
you are led to more diversions, aimed at installing malicious software (malware) onto your computer, extracting your credit card number,
World's Largest Snake
The link your friend shared leads to a page on a different domain than facebook.com, which is cleverly
designed to resemble a Facebook page (that it is not). This too is a clue that it is fraudulent.
People who have persisted report that the process leads to a “survey”; which asks your cell phone number.
If you provide it, you get signed up for a “service” which is then charged via your cell phone bill. Don't fall for it!
For More Information about Scam Links
The Phony Login Screen
You see what looks to be an interesting video, but when you click on the “play” icon, you get what looks like another
Facebook login screen. Hey, weren't you already logged in to Facebook? You're looking at a phony screen—notice that its domain
is not https://www.facebook.com/—and if you entered your login credentials
(username and password) there, you would be putting them directly into the hands of a hacker!
Facebook is no stranger to “e-mail viruses,” defined as messages which
just beg to be shared (or forwarded) because they contain
an urgent-sounding warning, a heart-wrenching plea, an offer of something for nothing, or a heart-warming story.
It is imperative to check the validity of claims made by an item before you share it.
There are a whole class of scams which promise a valuable prize (or a chance
at winning an even more valuable prize) just for Liking, Sharing, and/or Commenting on
a free offer. The scammers come up with these faster than I can document all of them
here, so just because one does not appear among the examples below does not make it
legitimate. Remember, “if something seems too good to be true, it probably is,”
and “A virus is that which tricks its victim into reproducing itself.”
Since Facebook sends you more stuff from users you like, unscrupulous hackers eager to get exposure will do anything to get
you to “Like” or “Share” their content. Once they have baited you with cute animals, heart-wrenching
tales, or offers of free stuff, they can then use their popularity to broadcast scams and malicious software (malware).
Some falsely offer a reward if only you forward them. One common hoax contains a heart-wrenching photo of a deformed or maimed child and a claim that
Facebook and CNN will contribute some amount for every Share or Like. These hoaxes are very common.
Also, phony political ads abound, as the 2016 election demonstrated. Not everything is as it seems to be! For example,
phony news items which may claim to show friendship between a politcal candidate and a particular minority may actually
be posted by opposing parties to incent opposition to that candate. Check your facts and only share items of which
you have personal first-hand knowledge.
- House Democrats release more than 3,500 Facebook ads created by Russians by Mary Clare Jalonick, Associated Press via PBS News Hour May 10, 2018
- The more outrageous, the better: How clickbait ads make money for fake news sites by Joshua Gillin PunditFact October 4th, 2017
- It's simple maths, not a once in a 1000 year phenomenon Sustaining Community, October 22, 2017
- Don't click 'like' on Facebook again until you read this by Kim Komando, Fox News, February 27, 2016
- Thanks, Zuckerberg! by Dan Evon, Snopes, December 3, 2015
- Facebook/CNN Car Accident Appeal by David Mikkelson, Snopes, February 19, 2014
- Milagros Cerron Facebook Appeal by David Mikkelson, Snopes, May 19, 2015
- Alexandra (Olenka) Kuczma by David Mikkelson, Snopes, April 13, 2012 (updated August 6, 2015)
- Please don't pray for the dog injured in a fire, it's just ham by Lisa Vaas, Sophos, January 6, 2016
- Facebook hoax alert! No, Mark Zuckerberg is not giving $4.5m to people like YOU and ME by Lisa Vaas, Sophos, December 8, 2015
- The “Talking Angela” chain letter: Three tips to help you avoid Facebook hoaxes by Paul Ducklin, Sophos, February 14, 2014
- Free makeup scam spreads rapidly across Facebook by Graham Cluley, Sophos Naked Security, December 13, 2010
You see an advertisement offering coupons which look authentic and offer
fantastic deals at well-known merchants. To get them you have to fill out a
form asking for name, phone number, and bank account information—which a
legitimate vendor would never request. Enter that information, and you become
victim of identity theft and your bank account is emptied. Don't fall for it.
This video tells more:
Example Scam: Coca Cola 24 Pack Giveaway Facebook
Allegedly the Coca Cola company is giving a free 24-pack to everyone who shares
a post announcing that fact. In reality you are helping the scammers earn a commission,
and you get nothing.
I got an invitation from a friend to join a Facebook “Event” whereby I could win free airline tickets simply by inviting 200 friends.
The item claimed that Qantas airlines was giving away 17,000 free airline tickets! I didn't believe that claim, and checked
with the real Qantas Airlines who confirmed it was a scam. What amazes me is how many people are so driven by greed as to
carefully follow the instructions below without question.
- Don't type "Amen" on this viral Facebook post ' It's a scam! by Mark Jones, Komando, March 11, 2017
- How to identify a scam Facebook promotion (video) Di Coke, September 24, 2015
- Danger, Goodwill Robinson, Dan Evon, Snopes, January 16, 2016
- Beware of Facebook Posts Asking Users to Type “Amen” to Help Children, Adult or Animals, Online Threat Alerts, November 30, 2015
- Like-farming Facebook scams: Look before you “like”, Jennifer Abel, Consumer Affairs April 22, 2015
- On Facebook, clicking 'like' can help scammers, Doug Gross, CNN, January 22, 2014
- How to spot and avoid Facebook 'Like' scams, Dennis O'Reilly, CNet, July 22, 2013
- Facebook Scam Alert - What Really Happens When You “Like”, By Becky Worley, Yahoo News, May 8, 2013
Premium Account Trolling
Where you might expect to see a photo, you instead see a sign stating that the photo is only visible to Gold or Premium users.
There may or may not be a link whereby you can send money to “upgrade” your account. If there is, do not send money.
It is an old hoax.
Sometimes, on a friend's status timeline page, I read a heartbreaking plea or an urgent-sounding warning,
which concludes with instructions to “copy and paste this post to
your own status page—do not share, be sure to copy and paste.” So what do I do next?
I immediately realize that my friend did not thoughtfully write from his/her own
experience, but merely robotically followed someone else's instructions to copy and paste it.
I recognize that my friend has fallen victim to a form of virus, defined
as “that which tricks its victim into making more copies of itself.”
I wonder how seriously my friend takes our friendship if he or she would test it by whether
or not I am willing to copy and paste a chain letter.
I may reply with a statement that I post only original material to my status timeline; I don't
copy and paste anything, especially not things that tell me to. I may include this
link to this article:
I certainly do not follow the instructions to copy and paste it. And I recommend that you don't, either.
Okay, I got suckered into copying and pasting a hoax. Now what?
You should delete it. Just posting a comment under it stating that it is phony
will not effectively stop it from propagating, because many people may follow the
copy-and-paste instructions without reading the comments.
Here is how to delete an item you have posted on your status timeline.
- Pull down the menu from the caret in the top-right corner (or, if on a cell phone, hold your finger on the post to get the menu).
- Click Delete. It's that simple.
A friend posts an item claiming that “Facebook has a new algorithm”, and that to help them see more friends
on their news feed, you need to comment on this post. Oh, and by the way, please copy and paste it to your own status timeline
so as to spread the word. What do you do?
Here's what I do. First, I ask them for the technical details behind their post. I write something like this:
I have been trying without success to get some solid technical information about this supposedly “new
algorithm”—beyond what is an a copy-and-paste chain letter. Can you help me with some specific references?
Among my questions are, (1) on which exact date was this “new” algorithm put into service?
(2) Specifically, what was changed from the “old” algorithm used before that date?
Usually my friend replies by admitting that they actually know nothing about Facebook's algorithms (which does
not surprise me, because nobody outside the Facebook engineering team does), and that they have fallen victim to
a copy-and-paste virus (see above).
Second, I give them the links to the articles below.
Even so, I am amazed at how many people who have spread this falsehood won't take
it down (see “How to Delete a Post” above).
Instead the try to retroactively justify their mistake with “well, it can't hurt
though.” When I was a child, my mother told me that the harm in spreading a false
rumor is simply that it is false, and that my friends would come to doubt anything I said.
Further Reading about “Same Old 26 Friends”
- Warn your friends they can't bypass Facebook with this hoax by Lisa Vaas, Sophos Nakes Security, January 3, 2019
- Don't fall for the hoax: Facebook isn't restricting your News Feed to 25 friends by Rob Price. Business Insider, August 11, 2018
- Does a New Facebook Algorithm Only Show You 26 Friends? by Kim LaCapria, Snopes, February 6, 2018
- Don't spread the “Facebook has a new algorithm” message. It's misleading. by Craig Charles, That's Nonsense, January 6, 2018
Yes, I can see it, but please don't be so paranoid: Facebook does not limit anybody's “reach” (whatever that is). The truth is:
So the grain of truth is that liking or commenting on this post may increase the likelihood that you will see more from this person in your news feed in the future. Do you want to?
- If you post for a specific audience (e.g. your Friends) then all of that audience can see it by looking at your status timeline (home page) any time they choose.
- Facebook edits what any individual user sees in their news feed, depending on whom they are “Following,” according to a complicated algorithm involving what they have “Liked” and commented on in the past.
When a friend changed her Profile Picture, she noticed an announcement that she had changed her profile picture appeared on her Timeline.
She quickly selected the announcement and invoked “hide from timeline” on it. Indeed, it was hidden from her timeline, but
the same announcement also appeared in the Newsfeeds of her Friends who Follow her, and was not removed therefrom by her action of hiding
it from her timeline.
Yet another Facebook virus is a forwarded message which claims that you should search for people
following yourself by searching for “following me” and blocking the names which turn up.
But really, this searching simply lists people who have the letters me in their names, not
people who are following you. You end up blocking total strangers for no good reason. What a waste of time!
More about secret followers
- Weird Facebook 'Following Me' Hoax Has Unintended Consequences by Minda Zetlinm Inc., September 24, 2017
- No, Facebook spies aren't secretly “following me”, it's a hoax by Lisa Vaas, Sophos Naked Security, September 25, 2017
- Facebook ‘Following Me’ Hoax Suggests Users Can Reveal Secret Online Stalkers by Kashmira Gander, Independent, September 23, 2017
- Facebook 'following me' warning is exposed as a hoax by James Rogers, Bronwen Weatherby & Joe Bulmer, Devon Live, September 23, 2017
- A Bizarre Facebook Hoax Has Turned These Facebook Users Into Minor Celebrities by Paris Martineau, New York Magazine, September 22, 2017
- Are Facebook Users Secretly Following You? by Kim LaCapria, Snopes, January 5, 2017
When I see that a friend has forwarded or shared fake news, I usually comment to call them on it, often substantiating my comment with a link to a mainstream
news article giving the facts or a link to a Snopes article exhibiting the fallacy in their post.
- “Who the hell are you to tell me what I can and cannot post on my own status timeline?”
- “I don't care whether it's true; it illustrates what I was trying to express.”
- “I don't know how to delete it; Facebook is technically beyond my grasp.”
- “How dare you embarrass me to my friends?”
- “Well, it just might be true, and better safe than sorry!”
- “The only reason you think it's fake is that you are gullible enough to believe the main stream media (MSM). My site is correct; the MSM are all in conspiracy to suppress that truth.”
- “You know Snopes is wrong, don't you? They are controlled by the [insert conspiracy name here] .”
For More Information about Facebook Scam and Hoaxes
- Facebook Hacking Scam by Matt Vaughan, KOLO 8 ABC, Thursday, October 4, 2018
- Facebook just had its worst hack ever – and it could get worse by Donie O'Sullivan, CNN Business, Thursday, October 4, 2018
- Facebook breach: what to do next by Lisa Weintraub Schifferle, U.S. Federal Trade Commission, October 3, 2018
- 3 clever scams spreading on Facebook right now by staff, Komando, December 7, 2017
- Please Stop Sharing Links to These Sites by Ed Brayton , Patheos, September 18, 2016
- 5 Facebook posts you should not be sharing by Craig Charles, That's Nonsense, August 16, 2016
- 21 Signs That Story You're About To Share Is Secretly B.S. by AuntieMeme, Cracked, August 6, 2016
- The 6 Biggest Facebook Scams by Christina DesMarais, December 4, 2012
- Facecrooks: How to Avoid a Facebook Scam / All about Facebook Scams (blog)
- Hoax-Slayer on Facebook
- The complete guide to Facebook blocking and unfriending by John Pettitt, January 28, 2015
- Inside Facebook's Outsourced Anti-Porn and Gore Brigade, Where 'Camel Toes' are More Offensive Than 'Crushed Heads' by Adrian Chen, February 16, 2012
- How to Block Facebook Game Requests by Donna Saliter, December 2012
- 7 Facebook Habits You Should Adopt In 2015 by Matt Kruse, December 31, 2014
- The 5 Reasons People Fall for Scams and Gotchas by Bob Sullivan, Money Talks, September 16, 2014.
- Social Media Hacker Warning by David Mikkelson, Snopes, March 17, 2009 (Updated September 16, 2018)
- Facebook Help Page: Scams
- 6 Biggest Facebook Scams by Christina DesMarais, American Grandparents Association
- Scams and Malware to Watch Out for On Facebook, VPN Pick Tutorial
Index to all of Rich Pasco's articles on e-mail and viruses
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