About 7 months ago, I got a friend request from someone I knew well and accepted it without thinking. Soon after, I got a message (on Facebook messenger) from them asking how I was. I replied but started thinking something wasn’t right … it didn’t “sound” like them.
It struck me that they were already on my friends list. So why the new friend request? (It does sometimes happen that friends change their mobile phone and have forgotten their login credentials so just set up a new account.) However, in this case my friend soon posted on their existing account saying that they had been “hacked”.
The other week the same thing happened with another friend. I got a friend request from them. It turned out to be the same type of scam. It appears to be happening regularly on Facebook.
So what is actually happening. Are people “hacking” your account?
Well, no. The only thing these scammers are doing is “copying” your account. This is very easy to do. I’ll set out briefly below how it’s done just so you can understand how easy it is to do. But DO NOT DO THIS. It is computer misuse and fraud! I’ll also explain why they are doing it, so you can understand the risks you or your friends face. Finally, I’ll show you a SIMPLE step that EVERYONE should take that will prevent this type of scam.
In a random sample of complete strangers, about HALF of the Facebook accounts I looked at NEED to do this or their friends could be open to scammers.
First - How the scammers copy your account
It’s very easy to look up random people on Facebook. Just type any name into the search box …
….. such as “Joe Bloggs” or “Harry Smith” etc., and you will get a list of people with that name. You can then select one and look at their profile and timeline. The amount of information you will see depends upon their security settings but in about half the examples I looked at, I could see their friends list: This is the type of account the scammer is loolling for.
The first thing the scammer will do after picking such an account is open the profile picture and download it onto his or her device. Once they have the photo (in a matter of seconds) they can go to a fresh device and set up a new Facebook account using this photo and with the same name as the person who’s photo it really is.
All done. In a matter of seconds!
All they do then is log into their new “copied” account, look-up the same person again, look at their friends list and click “Add friend” for each one. This is exactly how you can appear to get a new friend request from someone who is already your friend on facebook!
Second – Why are they doing it?
If it’s your account that’s been copied, then it’s not you they are trying to scam. Rather it’s your friends who are going to be the targets!
We tend to trust people we know and the scammers are using this fact to attempt their various scams. A report in the Independent Newspaper in 2017 suggests that “[the] scheme allows them to confidently approach your friends and family members, who could unknowingly accept a friend request from the clone account and eventually share private information with it, depending on how convincing their messages appear.”