Text By C. Scott Wyatt

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“I’ve been hacked! Don’t accept any friend requests from me!” 

You’ve probably received such a message from one of your social media connections. Usually, the victim hasn’t been hacked. Instead, the account has been cloned by a scam artist known as an identity scraper. 

Scraping involves copying enough information from a website to create a convincing duplicate, which is known as a clone. The more information you post without audience security restrictions, the easier it is for scammers to scrape your online profiles.

The scraper copies all your public images and as much personal data as possible. Once the scraper has a good photo of you and the basic data, creating the clone takes a few minutes. Scammers know that the more information on the clone profile, the more likely your friends and colleagues will accept friend requests. 

People mistakenly believe that clones are mere annoyances on social media. However, scrapers commit serious crimes. 

The primary scam used by scrapers is to ask your connections for money. Are you a Scout troop leader? A volunteer for a nonprofit? The scraper seeks donations for your favorite causes via a convincing link that phishes for credit card and banking information. Phishing sites are also websites that look genuine and trick users into entering data.

The second most common crime linked to cloning is identity theft. Your profile gives away a lot, often enough for someone to fill out online credit applications. Locating addresses is simple. Social Security numbers are easily faked or purchased online. Many online credit applications only ask for the last four digits of the number. 

And then, there are the high-end scrapers who use profiles to hack anything and everything, including your bank accounts. Most people have a local bank account, so knowing your location is enough to determine which banks to target. Profiles and posts contain more than enough information to guess security question answers. 

Facebook offers an easier target for scraping. Profiles are always organized in one way on Facebook. This makes automated scraping possible. Like Facebook, LinkedIn profiles have a standard organization. 

A colleague was recently the victim of cloning on LinkedIn. As a business networking platform, LinkedIn encourages users to include a lot of valuable information. Because of its purpose, people rarely verify identities before accepting new connections. 

The pandemic experience made us more reliant on social media for personal and business connections. That has made us vulnerable to scammers. 

Check your social media privacy settings. “Friends only” is the best setting for most social media profile data. Remove information that might appeal to scammers just in case you accept a connection to one of the clones among us.