False friends: What was behind the latest Facebook hoax?

WASHINGTON — It wasn’t the first, and probably won’t be the last, social media hoax you ever came across, but the most recent hoax involving Facebook accounts had many people worried about being hacked, and readers have all seen those bizarre friend requests from people we thought we were already friends with.

In all likelihood, you weren’t hacked over the last week. But social media impersonations are and continue to be a problem.

“Impersonators are accounts that you find across social media websites that look like you, that use the same name or look like a brand that you trust,” said Zack Allen, director of threat operations at Zero Fox, a Baltimore-based firm that specializes in social media cybersecurity.

“But it has nothing to do with that company or that person you know.”

“A lot of these impersonators are actually coming from accounts that have been hacked or taken over … and use that as a stepping stone into somewhere else,” Allen said.

The people behind those impersonations are usually cybercriminals hoping to take advantage of the trust you have in your friends and certain businesses.

“Social media presents this opportunity for cyber criminals to take advantage of that vulnerability in the human condition,” said Allen. “They want people to connect to them so they create something familiar for them to connect to.”

That can mean attacking personal pages, but it’s also often used to go after corporations too.

His advice? “Each social network you log on to has pages dedicated to account security,” said Allen. “They give really good steps necessary to protect your account.”

“When it comes to impersonators, I’d always advise you to be careful what you click on, especially if you get a message from somebody you haven’t talked to in years out of nowhere. If it’s a celebrity account especially, or if it’s a brand or anything like that, go and look up the verified pages,” he said.

And in all other cases, just look at social media with what he calls “professional paranoia.”

“Anyone you connect with, they have that ability to message you,” said Allen. “Make sure you think twice about who you connect with.”

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