What to do if you are being impersonated on social media

Social media has become a pillar of many people’s daily lives, with 59 percent of the global population (4.65 billion) using at least one platform. In the U.S., the numbers are even more staggering, with 84 percent of Americans using at least one social media network. 

There are a number of pros and cons associated with social media. Advantages include: educational purposes, building your brand, reaching a large audience, staying up to date with local and national events, targeting audiences based on their interests, getting connected to new people, creating your audiences, building relationships, getting new visitors to your website, and free usage. Disadvantages include: it’s addicting and time consuming, decrease in communication skills, fake news stories, sleeplessness, inappropriate content, cyber-attacks, lack of confidence, fear of missing out, no privacy, and getting close to depression. 

Another downside to using social media is the growing problem of impersonation. Impersonation in social networks refers to accounts that use the name, image, or other identifying elements of a person, company, or organization for fraudulent purposes. It is the act of when a person pretends to be someone else on social media platforms. Although similar, identity theft and impersonation are not exactly the same. Identity theft involves the theft of personal information or a business’s private data in order to gain access to financial details. Impersonation is more simply the act of someone pretending to be an individual or business. 

Incidents of cloned accounts are on the rise. Before 2021, less than one percent of cases brought to the attention of one resource center were related to social media account takeovers. In 2021, the number of reported cases climbed 1,000 percent, and in 2022 it rose by another 157 percent. 

There are several different types of impersonation, including phishing scams, counterfeiting, fake news, and scans or frauds. With phishing, scammers seek to obtain sensitive customer information or data, such as social security numbers, passwords, or bank details. The financial sector is one of the most impacted by these practices. Counterfeiters try to deceive customers by selling them inauthentic products. They often operated through aggressive advertising campaigns and redirect consumers to a website outside of the social network the transaction takes place. This practice is particularly relevant in the luxury and fashion industries. Fake news accounts impersonate politicians, celebrities, or public institutions with the aim of disclosing false information and news. Scams include coupon fraud, romance fraud, or account takeovers that originate through social networks. 

If you find your social media account has been compromised or cloned, the first thing to do is to try and recover the account. Thieves will typically try to change the recovery e-mail and phone number to their own so the account’s original owner can’t recover it. Alert your friends and contacts that the account has been infiltrated or copied. Report the issue as soon as possible to the social media company. Tips for people who are being impersonated can be found here for FacebookInstagramLinkedInTikTok, and Twitter (now known as X). Other reporting tips can be found at each social media company’s main site. 

Other types of impersonations include personal account impersonation, social media account hijacking, fake accounts or bots, executive impersonation, and brand impersonation. One of the most frequently encountered methods that expose social network accounts is credential stuffing. Data breaches include information such as usernames and passwords, and with those credentials, cybercriminals can attempt to log in to different services. If users have reused those leaked passwords, cybercriminals can find a matching identity on a social network that accepts those credentials and take over the account. From there, attackers are just clicks away from conning other people into installing malware, donating money, or other privacy invasions. 

A fake social media account on a website such as Twitter (X) or Facebook could result in legal action against the impersonator in terms of either civil or criminal law. However, this presumes that the true identity of the impersonator can be verified, and that is not easy.