When a scammer has the right information, they can easily impersonate you on social media by cloning your account. It’s pretty simple to do when much of the information that scammers need is publicly available on the real person’s profile. Criminals can use cloned social accounts to scam your friends, commit identity theft and even get your existing accounts shut down. Here’s how social media account cloning works and how you can help prevent it from happening to you.

What is Social Media Account Cloning?

Cloned accounts use a real person’s name, picture and other information to duplicate that person’s social media profile. You don’t need to have your account taken over for someone to create a fake account under your name. Unfortunately, most social media websites do little to ensure the new user is real and only require an email address to get started.

If your name and profile picture are publicly available, often that’s all a scammer needs to get started cloning your account. Once they do, they can attempt to connect to your friends, family and other contacts to start impersonating you.

What Can Cloned Accounts Do?

Once someone creates a cloned account, they can try to reach out to your existing online contacts and start running scams, including:

  • Sending malicious links or attachments to your friends and family.
  • Asking your friends and family for money.
  • Extracting personal data about yourself or your friends. They can use this information to make your social media account appear more legitimate or try to commit identity theft on you or your friends.
  • Compromising your reputation by posting inappropriate or illegal content.
  • Trying to have your legitimate account shut down by reporting you as the impostor.

Tips for Fighting Account Clones

Here are some ways to help protect your social media accounts from getting cloned.

  • Search for your name on the social media websites you use. There may be plenty of people who share the same name, but you can start here to find impersonators.
  • Tweak your privacy settings to make your name, profile picture and other personal information private and visible only to your friends.
  • Hide your friends list. This is important to prevent scammers from seeing who you’re connected with, making it more difficult for them to find your friends and family.
  • Report any fraudulent accounts you find to the social media website.

Cloned social media accounts are more than just an online prank. They can be used to run scams on you, your friends or your family. While locking down your privacy settings won’t completely protect you (a so-called friend who knows you on social media could always create a fake account), it can help protect you from anonymous scammers trolling the web for victims.