While users worldwide are recovering from a recent Google Docs phishing scam, another widespread, prevalent scam is still affecting Facebook users: personal profile cloning. Facebook is littered with tens of millions of fake profiles and counting, and cloners have recently been using fake Facebook profiles to extort money from and send identity theft links to real users’ families and friends. These activities pose a serious problem for nearly 2 billion active Facebook users.

Characteristics and Consequences of Facebook Cloning

While the Facebook profile cloning scam can involve complicated, nefarious tactics, personal profile cloning itself doesn’t require advanced hacking knowledge to achieve. All that a cloner needs is publicly-available photos and profile information.

Facebook cloning occurs when a cloner “friends” a victim on Facebook under the guise of a profile seemingly belonging to a friend or family member. Once the friend request is accepted, the cloner starts saving the victim’s photos, comments and other data from their profile, and creates a new profile with the victim’s content under a newly-registered email address. The cloner then blocks the victim’s original profile and starts sending friend requests to individuals on their “friends” list while pretending to be that person.

Since Facebook is a big draw for users looking to keep up with their friends and family connections online, these cloners often take Facebook’s most appealing feature and turn it into a liability. What often results is criminal and tortious conduct against the real user’s friends and family, usually in the form of identity theft, harassment, libel or extortion.

If someone is unsure whether they’re a victim, one good technique to use from Google is to save a photo and upload it to Google Image Search to see where it’s being used on Facebook and elsewhere.

What Evidence Legal Professionals Should Document for Cloned Facebook Profiles

It can be cumbersome to unmask a fake user. Although Facebook is developing new features such as an alert system to combat profile cloning, the best advice to give clients before they accept friend requests is to double check they’re not already friends with the person who they receive a request from.

However, if the damage has already been done, it’s important for any legal professional conducting social media content collection related to profile cloning to document as much evidence as early as possible. This should include:

  • A capture of the real profile and the cloned profile to help compare similarities.
  • The “friends” lists of both profiles to help identify the identities of other victims involved in the scam.
  • Individual posts, comments, images or videos related to the case that could help support the investigation.

Page Vault provides the tools and services needed to document real or fake Facebook profiles in a way that’s admissible in court. For more tips on how to approach capturing Facebook pages, profiles and posts, check out 4 Ways to Conduct an Effective Social Media Investigation on Facebook.

This blog post was written by Eric Pesale, who contributes regularly to Page Vault content. Eric is the founder and chief legal contributor of Write For Law, and writes regularly about eDiscovery, cybersecurity, and other legal topics for law firms, publications, and companies in the legal industry. He is a graduate of New York Law School and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and he recently passed the New York bar exam. He has also gained firsthand experience in legal & technology issues while interning at BBC Worldwide Americas, Inc., and various law firms in the New York City area. He can be reached at eric@writeforlaw.com and on Twitter at @writeforlaw.