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Beware of 'cloned' Facebook friends

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Better Business Bureau warns of scammers copying social media profiles, then tricking people into fraudulent federal grant scheme.

A Southwest Virginia resident logged on to Facebook and saw a new friend request from an old friend. Normally she would be excited for the invite, but there was one small problem.
Her friend was blind and no longer owned a computer. Someone was using her account.
The Better Business Bureau Serving Western Virginia warns consumers about a new Facebook scam that uses clones of profiles to gain personal information.
Scammers are copying every last detail of active Facebook profiles and then adding that user’s friends. Next the scammers initiate a conversation, make small talk, and then tell their “friend” about federal grant funds everyone is eligible to receive.
They then send a link to the Facebook profile of the lawyer handling the federal grant offer — lawyer Robert Bob Bauer, who happens to be former White House counsel to President Obama.
Scammers are creating phony profile Facebook pages of the former White House aide to gain personal information of Facebook users in order to steal their identities.
The phony profile pages feature a photograph of Mr. Bauer and list “lawyer” as occupation.
“Once I started talking to him I realized something was off. He was asking for too much personal information, so I logged off,” the Facebook consumer told the BBB.
“I suspected something was wrong because my friend has gone blind, but I listened simply because she is my friend. It’s scary that these people are pretending to be people we know well.”
The Better Business Bureau said a June 24 report by w3bsecurity.com claims hundreds of cloned profile pages had emerged within the week of South Africa.
Some scammers using this process have even made attempts to block the real profile using the cloned one. Simply by clicking on “report/block” the scammers can hide from the real Facebook user and continue the masquerade.
“It is vitally important for anyone using social media sites to put into place privacy measures,” said Julie Wheeler, president of the BBB Serving Western Virginia.
“Sites like Facebook offer several privacy settings that only allow certain groups of people to view your profile. Never list personal information on your Facebook page you wouldn’t be comfortable putting on a business card and handing to a stranger.”
Some tips from the Better Business Bureau:
• Review your security settings. Check your privacy setting on all your social media accounts to ensure you aren’t sharing personal information with strangers.
• Be cautious of friend requests from strangers or from people you thought already were friends. This could be a scammer’s attempt to gain access to your personal information. Asking questions only the real friend would know can help prove their identity.
• Don’t over-share information. Limit the personal information that is shared on your social media profiles. Avoid posting any personal information that could potentially be used fraudulently, such as a phone number, email address, or physical address.
• Be cautious of the “online friend in need.” Scammers who have cloned social media profiles will often ask friends for money, claiming they are in trouble.
• Report scam profiles. Social sites like Facebook allow you to report fake accounts or accounts that violate terms of the site.
• Consider enabling login notifications. This security feature will send you an alert every time your account is accessed from a new device.
• Consider one-time passwords when using public Wi-Fi. Before using public Wi-Fi to access your Facebook account, text “otp” to 32665 to receive a temporary password to log in to your account.

If you need more information, contact the BBB at (540) 342-3455 or (800) 533-5501 or www.bbb.org. Or, follow twitter.com/BBB_WesternVA