Don’t assume everyone you talk to on Facebook is real: there’s an entire marketplace of fake accounts for sale.
Charlie Warzel, writing for Buzzfeed, looked into this by actually buying a fake account. It was surprisingly easy.
…it took me just a few clicks and one painless $13 bitcoin transaction on a Russian website to buy Audrey Mitchell and her believably constructed digital footprint. After the transaction, an emailed link offered up a downloadable file containing the unique phone number Audrey’s account was registered under, a password, and a registered birthdate — all the necessary credentials to gain access to the account.
Within 30 minutes I was behind the wheel of Audrey’s page, liking pictures, posting status updates, and warding off creepy messages. There was little to suggest that the page was inauthentic — or that its operator was a 30-year-old journalist in Montana.
The article goes on to outline an entire marketplace of fake accounts that’s way easier to get involved with than I’d imagined.
These accounts are frustrating to deal with. I’ve had conversations with a few of these, and it can be surreal.
holy crap fake this fake commenter keeps doubling down pic.twitter.com/KyKDxbfnEp
— Justin Pot (@jhpot) September 22, 2016
The lengths the people who set them up go through—adding a bunch of photos, friending other fake sites, and posting a stream of generic content—is surprising, until you figure out that there’s money in it.
The simplest way to identify fake accounts, in my experience, is reverse image searches like Google Images or TinEye. Grab the profile picture, run it through the site, and generally you’ll find it’s a stock photo or something scraped from an old blog. When you identify a fake account go ahead and block them.