PhotoIf you're familiar with Facebook and the various types of scams there, then you already know to be suspicious of messages or “friend” requests from people you don't know. But it's very easy for scammers to steal your friends' Facebook identities, so even if you can trust your friends in real life, you still shouldn't trust them on Facebook.

Elizabeth Holtan, a blogger for the Better Business Bureau, made that discovery this week, and wrote about what she called “the Facebook Friend request scam.”

It's quite simple, really: scammers choose a given Facebook account and copy as much as they can from it, including names and photographs. The scammers then make a duplicate account in the same name. Here's what happened to Holtan:

I received a request from “Linda” (name changed), a relative I was already friends with on Facebook. Odd, I thought. Perhaps her account was shut down, and she had to start a new profile?

I clicked on Linda’s photo, which showed her with her kids. We had one mutual friend, and her latest Facebook activity read “34 new friends.” It seemed like she did have to start a new account after all. I accepted.

Minutes later, I received a message. “Hello,” it said. “How are you doing?” Interesting. I hadn’t heard personally from Linda in quite some time. Perhaps she wanted to explain the new account. I replied that I was fine, and looking forward to an upcoming event. Right away, she responded: “okay.”

Now the red flags were popping up....

Check scam

Of course, the real Linda had absolutely nothing to do with that account. The scammer went on to send a badly misspelled message claiming to have received $200,000 via a too-good-to-be-true offer.

Holtan stopped communicating with the scammer after receiving that message, but if she had continued responding under the erroneous belief that she was actually talking to her relative, she almost certainly would've received a come-on for some form of check scam: “Hey, remember that $200K I said I had? I'll share it with you if you just give me your bank account number and password ....”

Only after accepting that scammy friend request from the fake “Linda” did Holtan think to contact the authentic one, via her authentic Facebook account, and confirmed that the new request came from a scammer hiding behind the real Linda's online identity.

Fortunately, protecting yourself from this particular form of Facebook scam is pretty easy. Anytime you receive a new “friend” request from someone who's already on your Facebook friends list, the simplest thing to do is send your real friend a message asking if they know about their apparent double. Or, as Holtan said:

Always double check friend requests: Don’t just automatically click “accept” for new requests. Take a few moments to look over the profile and verify that account is a real person, not a scam. Scan your list of current Friends to see if any show up twice (the newer account is going to be the scam one).

If you discover such a scam account pretending to be from a real friend of yours, this link explains how to report it to Facebook. However, your impersonated friend will have to file the actual report; as Facebook says, “Please keep in mind that we can only act on reports from the person who's being impersonated.”

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