Who is the person behind the profile?

Written by guest blogger, Lexie Maitland

Is the random person that just followed you on Instagram really a teenage girl? Or, are they actually a creepy fifty something year old man? It’s a scary thought when you think about it. In today’s society, this question is one that can’t afford to be overlooked. There are more and more people each day that lie about their identity online, particularly on online dating sites, but it happens on social media sites such as Twitter and Instagram more than you could imagine.

What do we do as responsible social media users? We need to be educated and cautious, so that we don’t become victims of ill intentions.

Recently, I ran across an article entitled, “Online Dating Scams: How to Tell if You Are Being Baited by a Catfish”, on http://drphil.com/articles/article/726.  While the purpose of the article was to educate about scammers who prey on people in the online dating world, I thought there were a lot of parallels to social media in general.  Some of Dr. Phil’s tips are very relevant advice when it comes to your followers and “friends” on any of your social media accounts.

How to Avoid Fake Followers… 

Steering clear of these ‘fake’ accounts can be tricky because simply, you don’t know who don’t know. When you see the profile of an innocent looking teenage girl, the thought of the account being phony doesn’t really cross your mind. Instead, you think that maybe they are someone who knows you through a friend or family member. You don’t want to believe that such an innocent looking person could actually be a criminal. So, here are some tips that I have come across to help avoid ‘fake’ accounts:

1.) Look at the profile picture.  Is the picture taken by a professional? If so, this may be a red flag. A lot of people (teens, specifically) don’t have professional pictures taken of themselves for their social media profile. It’s helpful to look for amateur photos that look like they weren’t taken professionally.

2.) Check for proper grammar and spelling. Typically people have locally correct grammar and spelling on their accounts- for the most part.  (Of course that isn’t always the case.)  However, if someone lives in a different country and/or speaks a foreign language but is trying to pose as someone local, they may have some errors in their grammar which should lead you to question the account’s authenticity.

3.) Make sure they don’t try to communicate with you off the site. If someone you don’t know wants to communicate on another website or via email, this is a huge red flag and could indicate a ‘fake’ profile. You don’t want to allow someone to take you off the original site you were on. There is nothing good or positive or productive that could come from allowing someone you don’t know to steer you to a different place to communicate than where they found you.

Be safe, not sorry.

It’s alarming to realize how common ‘fake’ profiles are and how easily kids can become victims.  That’s why it’s critically important to take the initiative to learn what to look for in these ‘fake’ accounts.  It’s also important to be the example for your peers and for those younger kids who are learning how to navigate social media safely.