FaceBragging and Fake Profiles on Facebook and Social Media

friends on facebookI have been reading an amazing report from Legal General – the Digital Criminal 2012 – CyberSafety Report which alerted me to the term FaceBragging.


Almost a third (29%) of social media users only update their Facebook status or tweet when they want their friends to know what they are up to. Over half have discussed an event, holiday plans or evening out on Facebook or Twitter. Facebraggers will post photographs of their latest acquisitions or check in to luxury establishments without actually having been there.

Some say it does no harm and is helping to portray a more positive picture of that person’s life but, for burglars, it can be very interesting information, especially if they then know when you are out so they can go take a look. As Michael Fraser, the reformed burglar who stars in the BBC’s Beat the Burglar’ “they are putting their homes seriously at risk because burglars can see from their profile what they have purchased recently, what possessions they have in their home, and when they will next be out of the house in order to pay their home a timely visit.

Over nine out of ten social media users (91%) have received a request to connect online with someone they have never met in person, and over half (51%) have accepted – on Facebook that figure is 42% and users there say that only 59% of their friends are people they actually know well. So, if you think that the average Facebook user has 160 friends, that’s actually 66 strangers who are viewing their daily doings.

In fact, a quarter of social media users generally said they wouldn’t be surprised if a Facebook friend was not who they said they were and a third thinking that some of their connections might have a criminal record. 73% said they wouldn’t trust all their friends with a secret – and yet they persist in putting up all sorts of personal information. 21% wouldn’t recognise all their friends in the street and 25% wouldn’t know them in a criminal line up!

Back to Michael Fraser again, who warns “While people are becoming savvier about privacy settings on social networks, they can also develop a false sense of security with their online connections, wrongly believing they can trust all those so-called ‘friends’. By turning a blind eye, people can unwittingly expose a wealth of personal information – a real goldmine for burglars. Digital criminals know how to spot easy targets – for example, someone with over 500 friends on Facebook is very unlikely to know all those people personally and will therefore be much more likely to accept a stranger’s friend request. By befriending a number of the target user’s other friends beforehand, the victim is even more likely to accept the fake friend, inadvertently giving the burglar access to all their personal information.

Connections On LinkedIn

On LinkedIn, it’s even worse with almost two thirds (62%) of their total connections being people they have never met. But the problem here is that the more people you are connected to, the more likely it is that you will be seen in any search for keywords related to your business on that platform, so people are encouraged to connect with people that their other connections know. Another issue is that you might be tempted to do business with someone purely on the basis that a connection ‘knows’ them, whereas in truth, they probably actually only ‘know of them’ – which is not the same as a personal recommendation at all.

The Mutual Friends Problem

And, what most social media users don’t realise is that digital criminals have developed a new technique where they use fake profiles to befriend our friends and, with the knowledge that we are more likely to accept a friendship request from someone who is also the friend of a friend, they then ask to be our friends.

It’s called the Triadic Closure Principle and looks at the likelihood of people with mutual friends becoming friends themselves. Mark Johnson of The Risk Management Group (TRMG) said that if John was friends with Mary and Mary was also friends with Omar, then it was more likely that John would accept a friend request from Omar too.

So, digital criminals create fake personal profiles who look exciting and they start befriending people with the prime objective of zoning in on a vulnerable victim.

63% of those surveyed had a mutual friend in common even though they had never met that person in reality. But why would people do that?

Well, 34% had accepted because they were members of the same group, 25% liked the content or image on the person’s profile, 11% thought that it would be rude not to accept since, if they were asking to be friends, they must know them and have forgotten. A straw poll of my own friends revealed that many had accepted people they didn’t know for some of these reasons.

Although no one admitted to being one of the very sad 17% just wanted to increase the number of friends they had on Facebook.

Online gaming is another area where this technique is being used to good effect. The Digital Criminal Survey set up three fake Facebook and Twitter accounts and an average of 60% of users accepted a friend request, rising to 87% if they were playing the same online game.

Facebook and Twitter do have measures in place to try to keep people safe but only one of the three fake profiles was actually caught and that was because, four days into the experiment, someone reported that they didn’t know them in response to the friend request. Facebook took action by blocking the fake profile for seven days so that it could not make any further friend requests.

Staying safe on Social Media

Legal General advise that, for personal safety on Facebook and other social media platforms, you should

  • check your privacy settings so that friends of friends cannot see your updates and check which applications you have accepted can access your private data.
  • Don’t accept friend requests on Facebook or connection requests on LinkedIn and Twitter from people you have never met.
  • Limit what you publish when it comes to personal info like date of birth, gender, address, telephone number and don’t talk about your holiday or weekend plans or highlight new purchases.
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