The all-consuming global popularity of social media has spawned an opportunity for fraudsters keen to get their hands on your personal details.
Criminals have been known to target a range of social media sites, from Facebook to Twitter and LinkedIn, with fake online profiles. They send connection requests in the hope that the unwary will accept and divulge a goldmine of information about themselves and their whereabouts.
So how do you guard against becoming a victim? Here are some warning signs to watch out for and spot a fake profile:
Fake accounts often have no image attached to their profile – they may also have a name that doesn’t make any sense at all. Search their name online and see what comes up.
Alternatively, they may even use a stock picture found on Google, or even of a famous person.
If there is a picture, is it almost too perfect? Does it look like it’s been touched up to appeal to potential connections, such as an airbrushed photo of an attractive model?
You can drag the photo into Google image search to see where else it has been used on the internet – if it has been used on someone else’s Facebook profile, the chances are that the image has been stolen and is being used by a scammer.
Read more about five scams that attempt to steal your personal information
Hardly any followers, friends or connections – if any
If there are connections attached to the profile, are these strangers around the world, or local to the area or within your friendship group? The person is more likely to be real if they have friends in their country and area, or some of the same connections as you.
Check out mutual friends, though beware that many fakers go as far as to friend request people in your circle to try and appear genuine.
Lack of activity
Typically, social media is used to interact with friends and share information, thoughts, pictures, videos, news items, music and topics of common interest. If you receive a friend request from someone you don’t know, check through their updates.
Fake profiles tend not to include any interaction or very limited posts. They also often only have one picture on a Facebook page, if any – and that’s a fake profile picture.
Worried that email may be a scam? Read our guide to the warning signs
Timeline full of spam
Suspicious profiles often push out spam, perhaps sharing the same link several times on Facebook, or the same on Twitter. Does the profile of this person look genuine?
While some people don’t share much on social media, it’s possible to distinguish between their relatively unused but real profile and a faker’s that spawning rubbish.
How to spot and avoid Facebook scams
Someone you know - and thought was already on your friend list
If you're ever added by someone you know but thought was already on your list of friends, be wary. Criminals have taken to duplicating the profiles of real people and then adding all their existing friends, as you're much more likely to accept a request from someone you know.
A good habit to adopt is to check the profile of everyone who adds you for the above giveaway signs. If you aren't convinced the person is genuine, don’t in any circumstances click on the friend request, and then report the profile to Facebook to prevent them fooling others.
One last thing - always trust your gut
If the profile looks like it isn’t real, then steer clear and reject any requests to connect. Treat social media as you would your interactions in day-to-day life.
Be alert to odd behaviour. Ask yourself: “Do I know this person, and if I don’t why are they trying to engage with me?