Fake social media accounts are an ongoing problem for both social media platforms and for brands. As new platforms emerge, fraudsters shift their strategies and move to new markets. While the number of fake accounts on Facebook has been slowly falling over the last couple of years, the problem on TikTok has started to spike.
Impostors on social media present a real challenge for all major brands. For those who deal with personal or sensitive information — like healthcare or financial services — the stakes are even higher.
Here’s what you can do to help protect your brand and your customers.
Bonus: Get a free, customizable social media policy template to quickly and easily create guidelines for your company and employees.
Fake social media accounts are social profiles that imitate your brand to confuse potential followers and the public. They may copy your profile picture, use a variation of your brand name or product name, and otherwise try to duplicate your social media profiles to fool people into thinking they have found your official social channels.
Fake social profiles that look like they belong to popular brands and important organizations can quickly start to amass followers.
These followers don’t realize the fake account is fake. They think they have found and followed your brand or organization. Since they know and trust your brand, they think they know and trust the people behind the fake account.
But who is creating fake accounts on social media? Often, it’s scammers.
Your customers, clients, staff, partners, and, in some cases, even family members are all vulnerable to these scammers. After all, they have no reason to be suspicious. Remember: They think the information, messages, and offers coming from those fake accounts are actually coming from you. Fake accounts take advantage of the brand reputation you’ve built – and can significantly damage it in the process.
For example, it may be obvious this account doesn’t really belong to the brand Shein. But they’re using the brand’s name and logo to try to scam Instagram users by tagging them in posts and saying they’ve won a gift card.
For the record – yes, we reported this account right after we grabbed this screencap.
A more serious scam involving fake accounts occurred recently in Australia. Fake accounts on social media posed as Australian Tax Office (ATO) workers and responded to conversations where people were asking questions about the ATO. They gained social users’ trust, then asked for personal details or instructed users to click a phishing link.
Here’s another insidious scam to watch out for. Social media scammers are posing as ATO workers to steal your personal details and money – via ABC News https://t.co/qmcVuukWW5
— Stephen Jones MP (@StephenJonesMP) January 22, 2023
Information spreads fast online. Unfortunately, misinformation can sometimes travel even faster than real facts, simply because it’s intriguing and therefore gets people sharing.
Savvy internet users understand they can’t believe everything they read online. They’re aware that it’s important to know the source of information before giving it much credence. Again, fake social accounts take advantage of your brand reputation to gain a false level of credibility, allowing their misinformation to spread as fact.
For example, during anti-vaccine trucker protests in Canada last year, Facebook groups promoting similar convoys in the U.S. were run by fake Facebook accounts in countries like Vietnam, Bangladesh, and Romania, as reported by NBC News.
In combination with content mills, the fake accounts on social media are able to produce large quantities of misinformation and disinformation that spreads rapidly through groups where people think they are communicating with a community that shares their values.
Affect your stock prices
Public companies understand that any major announcement has the potential to impact stock prices, either positively or negatively. But what happens when that major announcement comes from a fake social account?
Unfortunately, the effects of fake social media accounts on your stock prices can be very real indeed. Consider what happened to Eli Lilly in the brief period in the fall of 2022 when anyone could buy a Twitter verified checkmark, without any verification at all.
Someone created a fake Twitter account with the handle @EliLillyandCo, and the company’s logo as the profile photo. (Eli Lilly’s real account on Twitter is @LillyPad.) The fake account looked real enough – and had a blue badge to boot.
Then, the fake account holder went to work. They tweeted:
“We are excited to announce insulin is free now.”
That tweet, not surprisingly, went viral. Eli Lilly tried to counter the information on their official channels, but the damage was already done.
We apologize to those who have been served a misleading message from a fake Lilly account. Our official Twitter account is @LillyPad.
— Eli Lilly and Company (@LillyPad) November 10, 2022
The original tweet was quickly identified as a fake. But it still became a talking point for politicians focused on the high cost of drugs in the United States. Eli Lilly’s stock price fell 4.37 percent.
1. Set up a social monitoring system
Detecting fake social media accounts requires constant vigilance. It requires searching every social media network – even (or perhaps especially) – the ones you don’t use. After all, a platform where you have no presence at all is ripe for those wanting to pretend you do.
Fortunately, you don’t have to put in the manual labor to search out these accounts on every platform. Instead, you can set up an automated social monitoring system. It will check social platforms automatically for your brand and product names, as well as the names of company executives, including possible misspellings — we go into more detail on how to get started in the next section.
2. Report the fakers
Once you identify a fake social media account impersonating your brand, you need to report the account to the relevant social platform so they can take it down.
In most cases, you can report the fake account directly from the fake profile page. There’s usually an option to report a problem, and reporting an account falls under this category.
Here are the details for each of the major social platforms:
- Facebook: Click the three dots below the cover photo on the fake account, then click Find support or report Page. If you don’t have a Facebook account, you can use this form. If someone has created a fake account that violates your trademarks, you might want to use the trademark report form.
- Instagram: Click the three dots on the fake profile, click Report, then Report Account. You can also fill out this form. If someone has created a fake account that violates your trademarks, you might want to use the trademark report form.
- Twitter: File an impersonation report using this form. If someone has created a fake account that violates your trademarks, you might want to use the intellectual property issues report form.
- LinkedIn: From the fake page, click More, then Report abuse. If someone has created a fake account that violates your trademarks, you might want to use the trademark infringement form.
- TikTok: Click the three dots on the fake account’s profile, then click Report. You can also file an impersonation report using this form.
- Pinterest: Head to this form and click Report a policy violation. If someone has created a fake account that violates your trademarks, you can also file a trademark infringement report.
For Meta properties, you can also set up Brand Rights Protection in Business Manager. You can then file impersonation takedown requests directly within the Brand Rights Protection tool.
If you have an advertising contact at the relevant social platform, it may be worth getting them involved. While they won’t necessarily be able to help directly, they may be able to apply internal pressure to get your report the attention it requires.
1. Monitor social media on an ongoing basis
As we mentioned above, a social media monitoring program is a critical way to protect your brand from fake social media accounts. That’s because it operates consistently in the background, monitoring for keywords that indicate fake accounts impersonating your brand.
Be sure to monitor for impersonation of your executives as well as impersonation of your brand itself. Agari PhishLabs found that while impersonation of brands declined 7% in Q2 2022, impersonation of executives increased for the fourth straight quarter.
Hootsuite has partnered with social listening platform Brandwatch to create Hootsuite Insights, an advanced social media monitoring solution for brands. The tool gives you an instant overview of millions of online conversations in real time — right in your Hootsuite dashboard.
With Hootsuite Insights, you can search for any topic or keyword and filter by date, demographics, location, and more. You’ll be able to identify thought leaders or brand advocates, understand the perception of your brand in the market, and get immediate alerts if and when your mentions spike (for good or for bad.)
2. Set up Google alerts
A robust collection of Google alerts for the same terms you’re using in your social media monitoring plan can help you spot new web content that mentions terms relevant to your brand. This content can alert you to fake blogs, websites, or other digital content that may be linked from fake social accounts.
New social accounts and individual posts may also appear in Google alerts.
3. Develop a recognizable brand voice and aesthetic
There’s much more to your brand than your logo and your name. The more recognizable your brand voice and your brand aesthetic are, the harder it is to create a fake account that mimics yours.
When followers know your look and your voice, it’s easier for them to spot when something’s not quite right.
In the movies, impostors are often called out when they use the wrong nickname, or get some other detail wrong that’s a red flag to those in the know. It’s the same here. Communicate consistently on social media and any inconsistencies in impostors’ accounts will become the red flags they should be.
4. Reserve your brand name handles
The Eli Lilly example above was made easier for the trickster because Eli Lilly’s full brand name was available as a Twitter handle. The company itself used a play on words (@LillyPad) as its own handle.
We generally suggest using your brand name as your handle to prevent this type of situation. If you choose not to use your brand name, it’s a good idea to create placeholder accounts to reserve your brand name so no one else can use it opportunistically.
5. Get verified on all major platforms
The Twitter pay-for-verification free-for-all was short-lived. While more platforms (hello, Meta) are opening up verification to the masses using a paid subscription plan, they learned from Twitter’s example. Verification will now involve actual, well, verification.
It’s a good idea to get verified on all platforms, even those you don’t use – unless regulations prevent your brands in your industry from using a certain platform.
First, it’s wise to have a verified presence for your brand on each channel ready to go in case you decide to expand your social presence. And even if you never extend to new platforms, that verified account limits the potential for others to set up a fake account in the absence of your brand.
6. Have a crisis management plan in place
The truth is that despite your best efforts, you may fall victim to an impersonation social account. If things start to snowball, you’ll be thankful to have a crisis management plan in place.
First things first: Put any scheduled social content on pause to focus on dealing with the impostor account. Then, as you work with the relevant social platform to have the fake account shut down, everyone on your team will know what their role is in protecting the brand’s reputation from further damage while alerting followers to the potential for misinformation and scams.
For more ways to protect your brand on social media, check out our post on mitigating social media risks.
Is it illegal to have a fake social media account?
Creating fake social media accounts violates the policies of all major social platforms. If you are caught, your account will be removed, and you may face consequences that affect your other accounts on those platforms.
If you create a fake social account that infringes on someone else’s trademarks, you may be subject to legal action.
How to find fake social media accounts?
The best way to find fake social media accounts as they emerge is to put a social media monitoring system in place to keep an eye out for accounts that incorporate any of the following:
- Your brand name
- Your product name
- Your slogan
- Any of your trademarks
- Your executives’ names
- Common or possible misspellings of all of the above.
Which social media platform has the most fake accounts?
There’s no real way to know which social platform has the most fake accounts at any one time. But we do have the different platforms’ enforcement reports to get a sense of how many fake accounts are being caught.
Here are the most recent quarterly numbers actioned by each platform:
- Facebook: 1.3 billion fake accounts (Q4 2022)
- Twitter: 90,822 fake accounts (Q4 2021 – note that this data is older than the other platforms provide. It’s also an estimate since Twitter reports biannually. Also, this figure is specifically the number of accounts actioned for impersonation, which may not capture all fake accounts.)
- TikTok: 50,963,108 fake accounts (Q4 2022)
- LinkedIn: 10,995,000 fake accounts (Q2 2022 – this is an estimate since LinkedIn reports biannually)
Instagram does not report the number of fake accounts actioned.
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