By Adewole Kehinde
The first step in conducting online propaganda efforts and misinformation campaigns is almost always a fake social media profile. Phony profiles for nonexistent people worm their way into the social networks of real people, where they can spread their falsehoods. But neither social media companies nor technological innovations offer reliable ways to identify and remove social media profiles that don’t represent actual authentic people.
On the 3rd of September 2020, a notification pop up on my phone with a message from the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Mele Kyari warning Nigerians to be aware of a fake Facebook Account bearing the name and picture of Mele Kyari.
The message read “Beware of anyone posing as Mele Kyari on Facebook. A simple Google search reveals over 25 Facebook account bearing Mele Kyari. I do not have an active Facebook account since 2015 and communicate with the public only on this verified twitter account. Beware of fraudsters.”
With the warning, my thought was that Nigerians will take note and even report such accounts to the Facebook Management for sanctioning.
Around 12noon on 3rd of May, 2021, I got another notification on my phone coming from the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Mele Kyari warning Nigerians to be aware of a fake Facebook Account bearing the name and picture of Mele Kyari again. This time, the fraudsters are telling Nigerians to apply for an “agricultural loan opportunities.”
The message read, “My attention was drawn to a fake Facebook account purporting to be mine offering agricultural loan opportunities. I do not have any active Facebook account. Several Facebook accounts exist in my name, none belongs to me. Beware of fraudsters.”
We all know that a fake profile is the representation of a person, organization or company that does not truly exist, on social media. Often these accounts use names and identities that not only look real but are designed to get closer access to specific people and their target audience.
The appearance of these fake profiles can range from an attractive woman, who is trying to gain access to a man’s Facebook, or a business such as a bank, reaching out to you for updated account information. They usually are recently opened accounts that have few friends, anywhere from just a dozen to several hundred. The pictures they use are usually altered versions of images stolen from actual people or organizations.
The good thing about the latest fraudulent Facebook Account is that they left a clue to track them by telling those interested in the so called “Federal Government Agricultural Empowerment Fund” to call one “Dr Ahmed on 07048688894” who is the “Director in charge of the empowerment fund to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture Abuja.”
It should not take the security agencies less than 24 hours to track this fraudster either by tracking the number or playing along to the point of arresting the person.
I am still thinking the connection of the Group Managing Director of the NNPC with Agricultural Loan! The fraudster didn’t even think of why a man who is an expert in Oil and Gas will be involved in “Agricultural Loan Scheme.”
Unfortunately, so many people, especially the desperate ones would have fell into the trap by calling the “Dr Ahmed” to get the fake loan.
The social media owners have made it easy now to detect that a profile is Fake.
The signs to look for include;
Fake profiles usually have very few pictures or no actual picture of a person at all.
It is usually created recently – in the past year or two. Unless the person is very young, most of us opened our Facebook accounts in 2006-2007. Look for signs of long-term use of the account.
When the profile has nothing in common with you such as friends or even a professional interest, and they are trying to add you, it is likely for malicious reasons.
When a profile adds you but once you accept them, there is no more interaction with that user. This is a classic sign that the profile is fake.
The person behind the fake identity just got what he/she wanted and will avoid talking to you in the hopes you forget about it.
The good news is that all social media websites now have the option of reporting a profile. Once you spot a fake profile, be sure to report it and remove it from your friend’s list.
Whenever possible, be safe and block the account to revoke its access to seeing your account.
I recommend checking your profile settings often and clean your contact list regularly from anyone you don’t know or that you are not quite sure if they are real or not.
Not only can fake identities endanger your personal privacy, fake profiles can also put companies in danger.
Social media companies need to do more to help users identify and report potentially fake profiles, augmenting their own staff and automated efforts.
Social media sites also need to communicate with each other. Many fake profiles are reused across different social networks. But if Facebook blocks a faker, Twitter may not.
When one site blocks a profile, it should send key information, such as the profile’s name and email address; to other platforms so they can investigate and potentially block the fraud there too.
Adewole Kehinde is the Publisher of Swift Reporters and can be reached via 08166240846, 08123608662