How to spot fake social media profiles like a pro

A person just received a friend request ans they’re checking if it came from a fake profile.

Not all social media requests come from real people. Learn how to detect a real profile from a fake.

Oh, you got a new friend request. Who could it be? When you open the notification, you notice it came from a person named Brian Michales (yes, spelled that way). Just in case you don’t remember that person, you check their profile picture to find a random man smiling and posing like he’s modeling for an ad at the dentist’s office.

Whenever we connect to a social media site, we expect to interact with real people. However, there’s always the risk of running into fake profiles. These digital doppelgängers can range from a small annoyance to serious threats, making it crucial for us to sharpen our detective skills and avoid interactions with them. 

Clues to spot fake profiles

It can be pretty easy to spot a fake account. However, if you have a sneaking suspicion and aren’t totally sure if it’s a fake profile—or if you’ve never met the person you’re talking to—these tips will help you spot the fake ones.

  • Profile photos: That picture-perfect profile? Run a reverse image search. If it pops up in an ad for hair loss treatment, something's fishy.
  • Activity and interaction: A real person’s social media is usually alive with interactions. If the account feels more like a social wasteland or if you notice posts that seem off, trust your gut.
  • Friend lists and connections: Genuine accounts have connections that make sense, not a random list of profiles that look like they were created by bots.
  • Language and communication style: Misspellings and generic comments are red flags. If "they" can't keep their story straight, you might be dealing with a fake one. 

How to report suspicious profiles

Spot a fake account? It’s time to act. Reporting mechanisms vary by platform, but they share a common goal: kicking the fake profiles out and keeping people’s information safe.

  • Instagram and Facebook: Dive into the profile, tap the three dots on the upper right-hand corner, and let the reporting wizard guide you.
  • YouTube: Click the flag icon on their video or their profile and choose the reason that best describes what you see.
  • TikTok & X (formerly Twitter): Go to the profile or a post from the fake profile, hit report, and follow the instructions to flag it for review.
  • LinkedIn: Click the “More” button on their profile and select “Report/Block.” Choose “Report this profile” and select the reason. Hit “Submit” to send your report to LinkedIn’s safety team.

By actively reporting fake profiles, you contribute to a safer and more trustworthy digital environment.

How to protect yourself against fake profiles 

Beyond your own detective work, there are things you can do to keep yourself safer. Here are a few tips that will help you keep fake profiles at arm's length:

  • Tighten your privacy settings. Make sure you’re sharing what you want with who you want. If there’s a post you want to be public, change the settings for that specific post. 
  • Check if you have friends in common. When a new friend request comes in, go to the person’s profile and see who else they’re friends with. 
  • Look at their posts. Even if the fake profile isn’t spanking new (which is a red flag), there may be some tell-tale signs. Things to look out for include random posts of conspiracies or sales pages, comments misspelled or written in other languages, pictures of places outside their supposed region without them in frame.

Keeping fake profiles away

In our quest for digital safety, identifying fake profiles isn't just smart; it’s a must. Fake profiles are not disappearing anytime soon, so the main goal is to avoid interacting with them. If you don’t “talk with” a fake account and report it, you and others will be safer for it.

Discussing digital literacy and cybersecurity with your tribe keeps everyone savvy and secure. Sharpen your knowledge and keep your eyes open. After all, in the vast sea of social media, it's better to be the shark than the bait.

  • Nyrmah J. Reina
  • Managing Editor
Nyrmah J. Reina is a writer and managing editor for the company’s lifestyle blogs. She covers online safety and cybersecurity topics.

Editorial note: Our articles provide educational information for you. Our offerings may not cover or protect against every type of crime, fraud, or threat we write about. Our goal is to increase awareness about Cyber Safety. Please review complete Terms during enrollment or setup. Remember that no one can prevent all identity theft or cybercrime, and that LifeLock does not monitor all transactions at all businesses. The Norton and LifeLock brands are part of Gen Digital Inc. 


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