I had just sat down to have my first cup of coffee for the day when my cell phone rang. Normally I'd think twice before answering the phone before office hours, but the caller ID showed it was a close friend. She told me she had heard that Facebook had been hacked, and the hackers were taking over people's accounts.
I told her that what she was describing sounded a lot like what happened to one of my relatives, when I suddenly got a friend request from a cousin with whom I'd been Facebook friends for years. My friend who had called said she would forward the email she'd received so I could check it out. "It might be a good story," she said.
Later in the morning, after I'd taken care of the dogs and elevated my blood-caffeine level into the triple digits, I opened her email. The warning in the forwarded email was clear, "Almost all Facebook accounts are being hacked," the message said. It then went on to explain that hackers were using a Facebook user's photo and profile to create another version of them, and then are using it for nefarious purposes.
I promised my friend that I'd check it out, and I fired off a message to Facebook public relations. Then I started looking for any evidence that my Facebook profile had been hacked. While there are multiple people on Facebook with the same name as me, I know all of them, and none of them are trying to impersonate me.
A spokesperson who does security communications at Facebook got back to me: The warning my friend had received was a hoax, and had been making the rounds for a while.
I should have thought of that when I saw the warning my friend had sent, since it was nearly word for word what I'd received when my cousin had the same thing happen. In this case, had anyone found that their Facebook account was being impersonated, Facebook would take action.
The spokesperson also explained that Facebook had already put systems in place to prevent this sort of thing. "Regarding impersonation accounts, these are against our Community Standards and people can report them for removal. We have a dedicated team for detecting and removing these scams," she said.
The spokesperson noted Facebook had developed software to detect exactly this sort of activity. "For example," she said, "at the time someone receives a friend request, our systems are designed to check whether the recipient already has a friend with the same name, along with a variety of other factors that help us determine if an interaction is legitimate.
"We're developing an alert to send to people when we discover multiple accounts with the same profile photo and name," she said. "The person receiving the alert has the option to report the account as a fake impersonating account and our team will investigate."
The spokesperson added Facebook is encountering several other activities that are causing consternation among users. One was a rumor that went viral when someone reported Facebook was going to start charging a fee for using the service.