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Beware of Fake Social Media Accounts

  • Published
  • By Bo Joyner
  • Air Force Reserve Command

As Air Force Reserve Command’s social media manager, Senior Airman Erica Webster is constantly on the lookout for bogus accounts claiming affiliation with AFRC. Unfortunately, she usually doesn’t have to look too hard to find a fake page or two.

“Just within the last month, we’ve had four bogus Facebook pages claiming to be the official page of Lt. Gen. Healy,” Webster said, referring to Lt. Gen. John Healy, the commander of AFRC and chief of the Air Force Reserve. “Senior Air Force leaders are a prime target for social media scammers.”

This same issue plagues senior leader social media accounts across the Department of Defense, with platform managers constantly on the look-out for fake pages and profiles on all platforms.

When a fake account it discovered, Air Force social media managers immediately report it to the social media company to have the page taken down. Occasionally, the social media company will freeze a legitimate page while it sorts out the fakes.

“That’s what happened with Lt. Gen. Healy’s Facebook page in December,” Webster explained. “There were so many fake Healy pages out there that Facebook temporarily locked our legitimate account while it handled all of the bogus accounts.”

Fake social media pages are a global problem. In the second quarter of 2022 alone, Facebook reported taking action on 1.4 billion bogus accounts. Fake social media accounts can promote phony products, spread scams and even share lies and misinformation. It’s important to spot a phony account right away before engaging with a page’s content.

“If you aren’t sure where to start, there are numerous ways to quickly identify if a profile is legitimate or not,” Webster said. She offered these tips for quickly spotting a fake page:

  • Check the URL. The address bar is largely ignored when it comes to identifying a fake social media account, but it can be one of the quickest ways to spot one. Legitimate accounts will be registered and have a vanity or personalized URL created for their page, which will match the profile name or something closely related. Unlike fake accounts, these won’t contain any numbers.
  • See if there are there a lack of followers, mentions or engagements. Official pages will have hundreds, if not thousands, of followers, along with mentions or comments. Fake profiles of senior leaders will have very few followers and little to no engagement on the page.
  • Look for subtle differences of the account name. For example, “Lt. Gen. John Healy” and “Lt Gen John Healy” look identical at first glance, but only the former is an official page. Fake accounts may include or remove letters and punctuation when impersonating a legitimate one, making it difficult to spot on first glance.

Here are a few additional tips from the Better Business Bureau on how to identify a fake social media account:

  • Look closely at the content. Scammers and spreaders of false information often fill their feeds with stock images, memes or other recycled images that are not original. They may use profile pictures that are not of an actual person, or simply an avatar. Be wary of accounts with no original images. Also outdated/old images or ones of poor quality tend to be frequent on fake pages. Posts that contain no written content at all, or written content with many spelling or grammatical errors, could be signs of a fake account as well.
  • Analyze account transparency. Ask yourself, who runs this account? If an account profile is little more than generic phrases, quotes or introductions, with no specifics about a person’s name, occupation or background, you may have stumbled across a fake account.
  • Inspect the quality of engagement. Some fake social media accounts purchase engagement. This means that, at first glance, their account appears to have many real followers. However, these purchased fans and followers typically leave comments unrelated to the post, comments that are just emojis and multiple comments from a single individual that aren’t part of a conversation. Even real accounts inevitably gather a few fake followers, but if the bulk of the engagement looks fake, steer clear.
  • Take advantage of verification indicators. Not every average Joe will have a verification indicator by their name, but if you want to follow someone who is famous or influential, make sure they have a legitimate, verified badge on their profile. Check the FAQ section of each social media network separately to know what the verification badge should look like and where it should be in the account. Accounts without verification are potentially owned by imposters.
  • Beware of polarized political opinions. Accounts designed to spread misinformation or sway political opinions often promote one-sided viewpoints that border on extremism. If an account posts only one-sided political theories and ideals, never revealing information about the person posting, you may be dealing with a troll.
  • Be wary of scams. Fake social media accounts are also a favorite tool of scammers. If a social media account repeatedly shares the same link in a short period of time or if the account shares a link with incorrect information about where it leads, it’s probably a scam. Only click links you trust, otherwise you could fall victim to a phishing scam and download malware onto your device.