Spotting Fake Online Profiles

Fake online profiles are about as old as the internet itself. Over the past several years, with the rising popularity of social media and online dating sites, fake profiles seem more prevalent than ever. High profile events such as the Manti Te'o girlfriend hoax and Catfish: The TV Show only highlight how common fake profiles have become. Today we'll take a look at some ways to spot a fake profile.

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So have you been talking to someone online but you’re still not sure if that person is real or not? Maybe you’ve received a friend request and want to check them out first? Below are several ways to spot fake profiles online, whether it’s dating sites, personal ads, or Facebook.

Who are their friends?
Taking a look at the person’s online friends will give you a few tidbits of information about them. A fake profile often has its friends list padded by many other fake profiles, and sometimes fake profiles only have a very small number of online friends. Does the profile seem to have nothing but super models for friends? Is there much interaction with other people on the profile? Has anyone commented about seeing them in person recently? If a person tries to add you and you have mutual friends, try asking those mutual friends if they actually know this person.

New profile?
Facebook’s new timeline will show when a person joined the social network, and someone who joined very recently could indicate a fake profile. Some dating sites also reveal when a person joined. The newer the profile, the more likely it is fake – especially if they are suddenly reaching out to you and appear too good to be true.

Their Photos
Has the profile in question only posted a few images? The average profile should have photos of them engaging in everyday events and at gatherings with friends. Are their photos tagged with other people in them? A real person is usually tagged at some point by a real life friend.

Reverse Image Search
If the profile is fake, a reverse search of the profile’s images will often reveal their true source. Read our full article on reverse image searches here.

Reverse Phone Number Search
If you’ve been talking to or texting the person in question, you can try doing a reverse search for their phone number. Sometimes a person’s number will appear online via Craigslist or other such websites. We’ve written a complete article on reverse phone number searches on Google here.

Bio text
If the profile has a bio, copy a snippet and do a search on Google. Put the entire search in quotes so Google will search for the exact phrase. Sometimes fake profiles steal their bios from other profiles, which we’ve found especially true of dating sites. Does their bio give any specifics as to the area they live or where they work? Fake profiles and personal ads often give only generic details.

No Skype or webcam?
Have you offered to do a video chat with this person via Skype or webcam but they keep finding reasons not to do it? This would be the easiest way for them to prove their identity, so avoiding it is a huge red flag! Saying “I’ve been busy” is not a good excuse.

Other Proof
Asking this online friend to send a photo of them doing something specific is another good test. It can be something simple, such as holding a spoon or a piece of paper with your name on it. If they are using fake pictures, they will not be able to honor this simple request. If they are real, they should have no problem doing it.

Odd name spelling
This may not be obvious, but it has been my experience that fake profiles sometimes use strange spellings for the names they choose. Names such as Alyx, Jescy, or Krystyl are all fake profile names I’ve seen in the past. In each case, the person ended up having a “regular” name in real life.

Getting defensive?
Have you attempted to prove a person’s identity, only to have that person get upset or threaten to end your friendship? This is also a red flag. If this person is who he or she claims, then proving their identity should be no problem. And the “proof” they offer should be on your terms, not theirs. Don’t believe offers to have a friend of theirs contact you to tell you they are real life friends. Many people with fake profiles also create fake friends for their profiles to cover their bases. I knew one person who had almost 20 fake profiles, all of them “friends” with each other.

Bottom Line
Don’t feel bad for covering your bases and verifying that a stranger online is real, because real people should have nothing to hide. Perhaps if Manti Te’o or some of those poor souls on Catfish:The TV Show had followed some of the guidelines above, they may not have been fooled into online relationships fake profiles.

Your Turn
Have you had experiences with fake online profiles? Let us hear from you in the comments below!  Tell us what happened, and what you look for when trying to spot a fake profile now.

You may also be interested in this article:
Rumor: Are Hackers Stealing Facebook Identities?

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