How to spot (and avoid) fakers and fraudsters on social media

Update: I’m reposting this article on how to spot fake accounts on Instagram, Facebook and other social media. Just this month I’ve had at least 4 fake accounts on Instagram either impersonating me or stealing my photos and using as their own. 🤬 I’ve reported them to Instagram but I’ve received no responses indicating they’ve taken any action.

Scammers on Instagram impersonating me or stealing my photos

I know you are a pretty savvy bunch. You’re online, you may use social media regularly. But the scammers and bots are getting more sophisticated and better than ever at fooling even careful users. Not long ago, a friend’s roommate (who has worked in tech for decades) had her laptop data hijacked online by a scammer posing as someone from Apple. They then demanded money in the form of a gift card as “ransom” to return her data.

Here are some of the social media fakers you might want to be on the lookout for:

The Impersonators

How to spot account on Instagram and Facebook, and other tips to protect yourself online. Details at une femme d'un certain age.

These are the people who set up fake accounts, try to engage, and establish online relationships. At some point, they’ll probably start asking for money.

  • A good friend of mine, an actor and good-looking man in his 50’s, is ALWAYS (and I mean almost daily) finding phony Facebook and Instagram accounts that have “lifted” his photos and are using them as their own, sometimes under versions of his name. At least one of those phony accounts has scammed at least one woman out of tens of thousands of dollars. (My friend found out when he was contacted by people investigating the case.)
  • Blogger friends of mine regularly find their photos being used on various phony social media accounts.
  • and I’ve had a couple of instances (that I know of) where someone has stolen my Instagram or Facebook images and used them to set up fake accounts on various platforms. See above. (Apparently with the intent to establish relationships and scam for money.) All we can do is keep reporting these when we discover them.

I receive follows and/or message requests on Instagram almost daily from fake accounts posing as “honest, Simple man with loving heart.” 😂😂😂 If they bother to create a bio at all beyond “Medical Doctor” or “Military General,” that is.

On Facebook, my page tends to get followers claiming to be young men looking for relationships with older women. (Or advertising their “services,” if you get my drift. 😂 ) I assume they are scammers and block if they try to interact with me or any of my commenters.

How To Spot Fake Accounts

I’ve seen several helpful articles on how to spot and block/report fake accounts. I’ve linked to some at the bottom of this post. A few things I find are common denominators on Instagram especially:

  • A profile photo (and sometimes feed photos) that look like stock photos or commercial (i.e. “too perfect”) images. Or a scantily clad woman in a suggestive pose.
  • They’re following a large number of people compared to how many followers they have. See image above. (And many of their followers look as suspicious as they do.)
  • Or they may have a number of followers that’s way out of proportion to the number of posts (e.g. 3 posts, over 1K followers)
  • A name that’s two first names: John David, George John, etc. Or a name followed by a long string of numbers: Dennis56849
  • A name in the bio that seems completely different than the account name.
  • No bio, or a bio that seems to have been translated from another language or is some variation of a badly-written dating profile.
  • Posts that are mostly “romantic” in nature (hearts and flowers), pictures of the guy with a kid (they’re often posing as “single dads”), memes, quotes (again see above), or random cute animals.
  • All or almost all of the posts in their feed have been posted within a short time frame.
  • Anyone you don’t know who tries to send a direct message, often just “hi,” “hello dear,” “hi beautiful,” or some smarmy pickup line, or product pitch (cough*bitcoin*cough), or a link or image.

What to do…

If you think someone is impersonating someone you know on Instagram, you’ll need to let the “real” person know. Unless they’re a celebrity, they’ll usually have to report the imposter themselves.

And other fake Instagram accounts are set up as “followers” that can be purchased by brands or influencers to give them the appearance of more, well…influence. (I’ve never done this, and and am happy to see both the industry and users are getting wise to it.)

The Pot Stirrers

Sometimes fake accounts are people or bots (automated accounts that are programmed to simulate human conversation) that are deployed to amplify other users, websites or viewpoints. Or just to stir things up and create confusion and conflict. This article offers a great explanation of how and why they do it. And how to avoid unwittingly helping them.

Between Covid, politics, and current events, I think we’ll continue to see a lot more of this kind of activity. Maybe it goes without saying, but be wary of taking accounts or sources you aren’t familiar with at face value. And even some you are familiar with. A pause and a little due diligence can help prevent spreading misinformation.

Tips To Protect Yourself Online

Here are a few practices I’ve adopted, and if you have any to add, please share them in comments.

  • Instagram: Don’t automatically follow accounts that follow you. Check their “credentials” (profile) and block any suspicious ones.
  • Facebook: Don’t accept friend requests from people you don’t know, especially if you have no mutual friends. If there are mutual friends, you might want to check with one or two of them first to see how they know the person.
  • Facebook: If you get a friend request from someone you believe you are already friends with, check with them first (preferably in a different platform) before accepting the request. Often this means their account has been hacked, or someone is impersonating them to try to get access to your information.
  • Facebook: don’t take quizzes (i.e. “Which Celebrity Do You Most Look Like?”). They are often a way to get access to your information to use for marketing or other more nefarious purposes.
  • Email: never click on links within emails that appear to be from your bank, Paypal, etc. Some phishing operations are able to make emails look perfectly legit. (You can hover your cursor over the sender to see the actual address the email was sent from.) If you believe something may need your attention, enter the website address of the company or financial institution in a fresh browser window and log in from there.
  • All platforms: use Google reverse image search to check source of images on any account.
  • If you set up Zoom meetings, be sure to use security and passwords for all participants. (See article linked below.)

More resources:

How To Identify Fake Facebook Accounts

6 Red Flags Of Fake Instagram Accounts

How To Stop Spreading Misinformation

5 Ways to Protect Your Zoom Meetings

How To Report A Fake Facebook Account

What To Do If Someone Is Impersonating You On Instagram

How To Report A Post or Profile on Instagram

Protecting Yourself From Online Phishing Scams

Thanks for reading!

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  1. Thanks for doing a terrific job alerting your readers. Another scam is using something like genealogy research to reach out to an individual, then establishing a friendly (and helpful) “relationship”. All of a sudden some financial hardship and a promise to pay. Then POOF! Gone with the wind. I still feel stupid for having fallen for that.

    1. Thank you for mentioning this Georgia. When we were visiting my son and daughter-in-law this Christmas they were talking about someone contacting them saying they had a common ancestor between my mother and my daughter-in-law. We were commenting on the weirdness of that, but now I wonder if they were trying to set up a scam. I’ll have to ask them about it.

      And I’ll echo what others have said below–check your browser settings and you might be able to eliminate a lot of ads. I’m using Firefox with a pop-up blocker, and I thought the ads hadn’t started on the blog yet. I had to scroll back and find the 3 that were there they were so subtle.

    2. My sister was contacted by her brother. Our brother really. My first thought was impossible. Second he is barking up the wrong tree if he is looking for money. Long story short – our mom gave him up for adoption when she was very young. He had been looking for us for years. We like him a lot and his story had a happy ending. That doesn’t happen too often. I’m glad he found us.

  2. I LOVE this post! Thank you for sharing! As a longtime reader, I must say the new ads are sadly distracting and undermine the quality and class of your site.

  3. I had a friend request just last week from a “Military Man” with two first names , HAHAHA. He was unbelievably handsome ( ok, suspicious right there. My friends are all normal looking people) and we had NO friends in common. I deleted his request and reported it as spam. I never accept a friend request from someone I do not know. And people think this is very paranoid of me, but I never facebook from my phone. Only at home on my own wifi with my computer.

    Your advice regarding the bots that stir up controversy? Perfect timing. I see many well meaning friends displaying outrage at some injustice that just can’t be verified.

  4. I had to shut down by Instagram account after it was repeatedly hijacked by someone in Russia. Just try to get through to Instagram. Then my email account which I changed to a stronger password.

  5. Hi Susan, thanks for sharing all this information. It comes at an interesting time. Over the past few weeks, I have noticed a lot of men trying to connect with me on instagram. Like many of your readers, I too delete them as I have no idea who these people are. Your article and information is well done with a lot of resources I will be reading.

  6. Your last 2 posts have been very enlightening.
    Some time ago, I tried to get off Facebook because I didn’t like what it was allowing before the last election. Just try to get off! I think the best I could do was “suspend” or some such term but all of my posts leading up to that time are still there. Each year at my birthday, I get emails from friends who I wouldn’t expect to hear from so apparently Facebook is still giving alerts to that date.

  7. I deactivated my Facebook account, which I had used mainly to see my daughters-in-law’s posts. People seem to feel free to say things on Facebook that they wouldn’t say in person. Sooner or later, someone will call you out out for something you posted or as I heard lately, for NOT posting a politically correct message. To me, it’s scary and dangerous. I don’t need the aggravation.

  8. Thank you so much for sharing this post. We can’t be too careful and it’s always so helpful to know what to do on a regular basis to keep safer. It should be just a routine part of taking care of our digital life. x

  9. Thank you so much for all the information you shared this morning. My husband thinks I am a bit too paranoid but I prefer to be careful. We tried to get off facebook when it was constant with requests we did not know, but still not able to completely get free. When I heard that people much more savvy than myself cover their webcam when not using it, I did not feel so silly. As for the ads, the one at the bottom is easy to get rid of and the rest I can handle for now. Not worrisome enough to leave you for sure.

  10. Thank you so much for today’s post! Very enlightening.
    Also, you seem to have really found your “groove “ with your new colors. Love all your recent posts!
    I always liked how you looked before, but you are even more beautiful now.

  11. Ads can be a distraction but I’d never allow them to stop me from enjoying great content!
    There are ads on the radio, television and magazines. I’ve learned to ignore them.

    1. Jennifer, I feel exactly the same way. I am able to ignore the ads while focusing on what I actually want to see and read. Maybe it’s how we are wired.

  12. I don’t do Facebook or other social media except what I have to do for work. I do enjoy Pinterest and reading Susan’s blog. I see too many people looking at their phones instead of enjoying the real life going on all around them. Just thinking about all these creeps trying to cause harm through the internet is upsetting. I don’t think anyone likes ads but let’s give Susan a little time to work it out.

  13. Reading today’s post about fake accounts validated my recent reaction to recent follows on my IG account. As the Covid-19 quarantine progressed, I noticed a huge increase in the number of follows from accounts set up as you described. The one other trait that I don’t think you mentioned is that many accounts were private, requiring a request to follow in return. I’m cynical by nature so I blocked them all. It didn’t occur to me to report them as spam—quarantine brain, I think—but now I will
    As for your ads, a bit annoying. Another blogger I follow offers readers a choice : free with ads or no ads with a subscription fee.

  14. I too am as careful as I can be with my email and social media. This is a great post with a great reminder. I also read your post last week about trying ads and why you are doing it. I appreciate your blog and we are all trying to make a living. I can see that you do a lot of work to give us good information. I support you in that and ignore the ads.

  15. This happened to me on Instagram two years ago…I felt SO FOOLISH . Now I delete any request unless I know the person. I HAVE STARTED GETTING THEM EVERY DAY AS WELL….THEY ARE RAMPING UP THEIR EFFORTS THESE DAYS!

  16. Hi Donna, before I order from any new website, I do an online search to read reviews or reports about them, and also carefully read their shipping, return and refund policies. In general, if you see prices that look too good to be true, they probably are.

    And over time, any ads you see should become more relevant to my content and reader interests.

  17. Hi Susan,
    Thank you for this timely information.
    I recently had some issues with my Amazon account, which they solved. (Yay!). But, in the meantime got an email from Microsoft about my google account….without even thinking, clicked on the link. Then realized …
    oh, $#it! Immediately cleared the cache and cookies and shut off my iPad.
    Haven’t had a problem, yet…still keeping fingers crossed. I’m a fairly tech-savvy person, if I can goof, anyone can.
    Thanks for this info. I love your blog….we are totally different body types. I’m dark/gray haired and big-boned…Fluffy…you’re a petite, toned blond. But, I love your style and I’ve been trying to translate it for my own look. Thank you. Keep up the terrific work. ❤️

  18. With regard to people you think you’re already friends with – there is something about the mothers’ of friends, who’re also my friends that seems to attract hacking.
    If I’m a friend of yours, and your mother – which means you are probably a friend from high school- I never respond to suspicious friend requests. I know some of them forget their passwords and have to start over again, but that particular group of people seems prone to fraudent activity.

  19. Well, according to your checkpoints, I am a bot. ☹️ I understand people have to be careful on line, and being careful is why I look like a bot. I use VisageTome for groups (including yours) and some of these are political. I don’t use it to keep in touch with real life friends and family. As a result, I only have a handful of on line “friends” that I’ve been interacting with for years. I use two first names because someone with control over my family’s livelihood said he wouldn’t do business with anyone who doesn’t share his politics. I don’t put personal photos on the Internet, so my profile pic is a landscape picture. I follow a lot of people on the picture site for their stories but am not followed by many because I don’t post pictures. I just wanted people to know that there are sometimes good reasons for doing those things.‍♀️

      1. I post almost nothing personally identifiable on FB and have my account set to Private. I have a landscape picture I took in Hawai’i as my avatar, and I don’t use my real name. I’m over 65, but I’ve had a stalker since shortly after I graduated from college. We dated only a handful of times, but there was something a little off about him, so I ended it. I’ve been married for over 40 years, and we have two grown children. We’ve moved 12 times and lived in three different states, but this . . . person . . . has managed to find me almost every time. He’s even contacted my children, who live in different states, trying to find me. I’ve never known how he learned my married name to be able to connect my children to me. The police have never been able to help because he hasn’t done anything illegal. Most likely he isn’t dangerous, just fixated, but it’s very unsettling. I admire you all who share snapshots of your lives, but I’m afraid to. We have grandchildren now, and I don’t want them on his radar. Like Terry, I’m also a real person, but my FB profile probably would make you wonder. Be safe, y’all, and merci beaucoup, Susan, for looking out for us.

        1. How frightening! And I’m sorry now for joking (in a comment below) about my husband being “stalked” on FB by women he went to school with 40 years ago & doesn’t even remember now — he wasn’t actually being “stalked” at all, & I should have been more thoughtful with my comment because it’s not even remotely funny when it’s real.

          1. No worries, Janet! I told my grandchild this morning that I have a “black thumb.” When my brain heard what my mouth had said, it threatened to stencil THINK BEFORE YOU SPEAK across my forehead. . .

        2. Oh, I’m so sorry to hear this, how awful for you! I think our legal system does not take stalking seriously enough, and that the laws need to change.

        3. Good lord, Sierra Delta, you just showed me my future.
          When I told my employer’s security chief, a retired police captain, about a recent incident, he urged me to get a restraining order. We discussed this, & I told him I hoped the guy would just get married & move on with his life. His reply: “In my experience, even when they do get married, they don’t ever stop. They don’t move on.”
          It’s miserable.

    1. Terry,
      I’m also either a bot, troll, or “fake” according to these definitions. I don’t post pics of myself & do not give *any* bio or personal info. I have an account on a platform to follow health & political news.
      I prefer to remain private online; I’ve had a psychotic stalker for 7 long years & this has taught me well.
      The expectation for everyone to be an open book online (or risk being accused of bottiness) is bizarre–& dangerous.

      1. Hi FA, it’s not an either/or situation, and there’s no need for anyone to feel defensive about their choices, especially for self-protection. I don’t disclose certain things online either, even though my livelihood is online. All I’m suggesting is that people be aware and maintain some healthy skepticism.

  20. Excellent article, Susan, & as you say, with all that’s going on these days, including that US election, the Crazies are going to be out full-force, especially on FB & Twitter. My solution? I don’t do social media of any kind, period. Not every one wants to opt out (& some can’t because of work) but I find I don’t miss a single thing for not being “plugged in”. It takes a bit more work to stay connected without FB or Twitter or IG, but I figure if someone isn’t worth that extra effort, I’m probably not that interested in staying in touch with them anyway. My husband opened a FB account last year for his new business but after months of almost daily friend requests from people he barely knew in high school & college & didn’t find that interesting then — including a lot of women who apparently don’t have anything better to do than stalk guys they went to school with 40 years ago — he deleted it again 🙂 But your tips are good ones, nevertheless.

    Re the ads: I run AdBlock Plus & don’t see a single one, which I realize isn’t helping you at all. I’ll fiddle with the settings to let at least some through.

  21. My sister was contacted by her brother. Our brother really. My first thought was impossible. Second he is barking up the wrong tree if he is looking for money. Long story short – our mom gave him up for adoption when she was very young. He had been looking for us for years. We like him a lot and his story had a happy ending. That doesn’t happen too often. I’m glad he found us.

    A friend received a friend request from a good looking doctor. His page looked fake to me and I warned her. She laughed – she said she thought it was fake and her husband wouldn’t approve anyway.

  22. Oh my goodness. I get these ALL of the time! Sometimes even using the names and photos from accounts of people you know. I recently had someone message me who’d made a false account in the name of my stepson in England…same profile photo, same photos from his profile…except they had the middle initial wrong. That and direct messages, usually wanting to engage in such an inappropriate way. Great topic to bring up, Susan. A lot of people just don’t know.

  23. I so hear you and totally agree. Thanks for your clear explanations. I will come back to read about the bots. Your practises are mine as well. Some I have adopted only after being ‘burned’.

  24. Thanks for re-posting this piece. Perhaps another post-pandemic change we’ll all consider making is to reduce or eliminate our use of social media. I recently quit FB and IG, and while I missed seeing a few folks, the reality is, a blog post or a personal email is far more satisfying and real to me, anyway.

  25. Thank you for rerunning this post. I had a notice last week that someone whose name I didn’t recognize was following me on Goodreads. Since I rarely use that app, follow no one and have never written anything on it , I was curious. There was a picture of this bodacious babe with her breasts tumbling out of her blouse…..on a site used by readers! I quickly blocked the name so “she” couldn’t couldn’t follow me. Weird and creepy.

  26. Hello Susan,

    I haven’t had many problems with your site, but there is the constant meme of horribly baggy, oversized clothing that flatters nobody.

  27. There is a style blogger in my country who lifts photos without crediting them. Photos that are on other people’s websites, taken by them, belong to them. Give credit where credit is due, and best of all, ask permission. It’s very easy to do a Google image search, so I don’t know why these people think they won’t be caught. What an incredible sense of entitlement. I’m pretty sure this one is a case of pure narcissism rather than an intent to scam, but still.

    You’re on there, too, by way of a couple of links. What I have a problem with is outright use of copyright images sans permission.

  28. For the most part I don’t mind, and understand the necessity of ads. After all, every fashion or decorating magazine in print has ads all through it. I enjoy them there, and find good sources for things I’m interested in. But they aren’t moving banners or flashing at me, which is so annoying. Also, many of the ads on line seem to be suspect, I’m wary of clicking on them even if it is something I find very appealing, therefore opening myself up to bots. There are many things I enjoy about the new technology, but I sometimes long for “the good old days”, Lol!

  29. Oh my, this is definitely timely! Thank you so much! Personally,I donot have an Instagram account yet, but this information is so helpful, especially since I am of the baby boomer bunch and not compute literate at all! This is l e
    OST that I will save for my personal reference.
    Again,thank you so much.

  30. Thank you for this very useful information, Susan. For those who don’t wish to see ads, just use reader view. On an iPad or iPhone, tap the small and large As at top left.

  31. Great information, Susan. Glad you reposted. I rarely get on social media, but maintain a Facebook account because most of our local downtown businesses only have a presence on FB, and if I want to know what is going on, I need to check their Facebook pages. Unfortunately, too many people rely on social media for all their information, and he people who really need to see this probably never will. My 83 year old mother is a case in point. She never reads a newspaper and rarely watches the news, but scrolls her FB account every day to see what is going on with her friends and the world. She is frequently regaling me with “news” her friends have forwarded to her, most of which involves highly biased and partisan content (completely unverifiable) meant to trigger outrage. Fact-checking usually reveals these posts to be patently false or, at best, unsupported with facts. Despite numerous conversations about the unreliability of FB as a news source, it hasn’t really changed her behavior, or her ability to be influenced by what she is reading. Sadly, too many Americans are not critical thinkers and don’t think to question things they see in print. Older Americans are particularly vulnerable, because they aren’t as cynical about social media as younger folks are. And often, like my mother, they rate sites like FB on the same level as more reputable news sources.

  32. Susan, this was very useful thanks for reminding us. I had my email hacked last year when I opened an email saying they were doing an upgrade They stole all my contacts, sent them emails asking for money within minutes. I had most of my contacts tell me what was going on. I had to set up a new email with a different provider bit still haunts me to this day. I’m sure you see a lot of this with your blog and many followers. But thankfully you are there to provide us with your blog.

  33. I get “hello dear” messages on Twitter quite often. I just block them. Back in the dark ages of the first blogs, this wasn’t a problem. It was hard enough trying to figure out how to get a pic on your blog and write that strange new language. But no hackers or scammers.

  34. A very helpful article! One tangential point not referenced above is to beware of ads for garments particularly on FB that look too adorable and well priced to be true. They usually are a cheaply made facsimile of the photo which has probably been stolen in the first place. One indicator of such sites is that they do not show the model’s face. Such ads can sometimes be legitimate but are often not. Google the company names and online reviews if in doubt. I prefer to order from only true and trusted retailers.

  35. Yet another reason I don’t do Facebook, etc. I think internet dating is the most dangerous activity possible, yet lonely people continue to do it. Sad.

    1. If you go to their profile, you’ll see 3 small dots in the upper right corner. Tap on the dots and a popup will appear; one of the options will be Block.

  36. Very good article. As far as I know, nobody has stolen my photos or blog content to create a fake account, but what do I know?
    The ‘romantic men’ on Instagram… I delete about three a day.
    I did see a lot of photos taken by men from my Pinterest account and saved on their boards, filled with women with all sorts of body parts dangling out of skimpy underwear. I don’t want to be among them so I try and block them as fast as I can. It is getting better.

  37. Eyes frequently line up right in the center of the profile picture circle. Lists star sign in profile. Also, caption is a series of hearts. Same travel pictures, quotes, music themes (records, instruments). I try to immediately block. So creepy.

  38. Those exactly describe of fake profile man are trying to follow me, more than 9 accounts. And one flirt message. All old man profile pictures, the same as started to follow me on vk. I don’t know why started to happen with me on instagram, I am not famous and don’t have not even 200 followers.