Help With Fake Facebook Profile Pages Cyberbullying Research Center

facebookImagine you receive an email from a friend that includes a link to a Facebook profile.  You click on the link and see your name and picture on the profile.  But you didn’t create it.  And some of the information included isn’t exactly flattering. In fact, it’s embarrassing, and malicious, and ruining your reputation.  Now what do you do? We regularly receive requests from people who find themselves, their kids, or their friends in this situation. The key in responding is to move quickly to gather information and to inform the proper authorities.

If you know who created the profile, ask them to remove it. Facebook has a social reporting tool that allows you to convey your disapproval, and ask that the content be removed, in a respectful way.  (You can read Larry Magid’s recent interview with Facebook’s Arturo Bejar where they discuss these options.)

If you don’t feel comfortable with that, or do not know who created it, you can report it to Facebook and it will be disabled while they investigate. If you do not have a Facebook account, you can report imposter profiles here. If the creator of the fake profile attempts to log into the account after it has been reported, Facebook will require the user to prove their identity and display a map that shows where they are at (thereby removing the veil of complete anonymity).  I think that is pretty cool! Facebook also educates the user about the consequences of identity theft. The company has developed numerous other tools to help you protect your information and reputation, including a form that allows you to request the records of an account that was impersonating you. Learn about and take advantage of all of these resources.

It is important that you collect as much information about the profile as you can before reporting it to Facebook.  Take screenshots (see our fact sheet here) or simply print out the profile and any related information.  Note the URL (web address) of the page because it includes the user ID (http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1000000XXXXXXXX) or username (http://www.facebook.com/username).  Try to identify all of the people who are connected to the profile (friends or followers).  Collect as much information about them as you can.  It might help in determining who was behind the creation of the profile.

Overall, the more information you can gather, the more easily it will be to identify who is responsible, and hold them accountable, if necessary. Once the account has been disabled by Facebook, it will be more difficult for you to get the evidence you need.  And if the account creator deletes the account before you have a chance to report it to Facebook or collect the evidence, it can be impossible to obtain information about who created it. So move quickly to capture what you can.

If you believe that what was said or posted about you on the fake profile is of a criminal nature (e.g., a threat or a hate crime) or violates your civil rights (e.g., defamation of character or libel), contact local law enforcement so that they can investigate.  This is particularly important if you feel that your safety (or the safety of someone else) is in jeopardy.  The police are trained to determine whether information contained on the site could be viewed as a “true threat,” or if it violates the law in any other ways.  The first thing the investigating officer should do is complete a formal request to Facebook to preserve the page details and accompanying account information before they are deleted by the user who created the page.  Officers can do this even before a formal investigation has begun.  The sooner this is done, the better. There are more guidelines for law enforcement officers here.

Law enforcement can also assist you in obtaining a subpoena, which is a legal order that requires a person or entity named to show up at court or to produce documents or other information specified (that could be used as evidence in a trial).  While the specific procedures can vary by state, law enforcement officers can obtain a subpoena from a judge, county or state prosecutor, or other qualified attorney, once an investigation has begun.  Facebook regularly assists law enforcement in responding to subpoenas by providing information about the creator of the account, including their name, email address, date of birth, and some other account identifiers provided by the user when they signed up. Lawyers can also obtain a subpoena for the purposes of obtaining evidence to be used in a civil case.

With a court order (which can only be issued by a judge), law enforcement officers can get additional information from Facebook, including transactional logs such as intra-session IP addresses.  The IP address is the unique identifier that every online device is given.  With the IP address, law enforcement will be able to determine the Internet Service Provider (ISP).  Again using a court order, the officer will be able to obtain from the ISP the billing address and other subscriber information of the person involved.

If during the course of the investigation the officer determines that criminal charges are appropriate, they may obtain a warrant from a judge for the purpose of collecting even more information from Facebook, including the content of the pages (e.g., photos and comments). A warrant is another court order issued by a judge, but it must be accompanied by probable cause that the information requested is necessary for the purposes of investigating a crime. According to the Stored Communications Act: “A governmental entity may require the disclosure by a provider of electronic communication service of the contents of a wire or electronic communication…only pursuant to a warrant issued using the procedures described in the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure…” So without a warrant, Facebook has no obligation to provide the content of the pages. This is a good thing for those of us who use Facebook and other online environments appropriately and legally: Only when we are implicated in a crime should the content of our profiles be turned over to the government.

The differences described above between what information can be obtained through a request, a subpoena, a court order, or a warrant is determined somewhat by the company (Facebook in this case) but mostly by federal and state law. It largely depends on whether the information requested is the property of the company, the Internet Service Provider, or the customer. Technically, everything you post on Facebook is your property, though you give Facebook permission to use that information for certain purposes as a condition of using the site.

Some states include electronic communications in their impersonation or identity theft laws.  For example, it is a class A misdemeanor in New York if someone “Impersonates  another  by communication  by  Internet  website  or electronic  means  with  intent to obtain a benefit or injure or defraud another, or by such communication pretends to be  a  public  servant  in order to  induce another to submit to such authority or act in reliance on such pretense.” Consult with law enforcement or a local attorney to learn more about the specific laws in your state.

In many cases, however, fake profiles are created for a laugh and the persons responsible perhaps do not fully understand the consequences of their behavior.  This is especially true in incidents involving adolescents.  So if there is no clear threat or other evidence of criminal behavior, resist contacting the police and try to work through the problem informally, involving parents, schools, and other adults as appropriate.

That said, there have been many incidents where students have created profiles about educators or their classmates that have ended up in court.  Try to avoid this by proactively educating your children and students about these issues, and by creating a positive climate at school.  In that way, hopefully they will not participate in these behaviors and if someone else does create a fake profile about them, they will know what to do and will feel comfortable turning to an adult for help.

20 Comments
  1. Alissa Sklar

    Excellent blog post! I occasionally get questions about this from the students, parents and teachers in my digital safety and bullying workshops, and I will be sure to refer them to this post. I think the point about resisting involving police if there is no evidence of criminal behavior is an important one – a youth safety officer told me her unit is deluged with these kinds of complaints and there is little they can do most of the time.

  2. Andrea Jacoby

    Thanks so much for the information about how to respond to a fake Facebook profile. It was very informative and included a lot of information I would not have thought about. I was impressed by Facebook’s role in shutting down the profile but then requiring the user to prove their identity if they try to log onto the account again. I was also glad to see that Facebook educates the user about identity theft. As was stated, it is important for the victim to get as much evidence as they can, and to make sure any authorities involved send the formal request to Facebook to preserve page details. As a parent and an educator, I will definitely refer back to this information if I am faced with this situation.

  3. The Truth They Hide

    Fantastic information. Thank you for gathering and sharing.

  4. beforethedance

    The problem is a very bad law called the Communications Decency Act Section 230 allows these companies to basically do nothing about cyberbullying. If these companies could be held liable in some cases (if a company knows it is occurring and does nothing they are at least partially responsible) then some things would change.

  5. Annoyed303

    some girl claiming to have went to my school knows alot about it, but is very vague on everything, she cant tell me who her friends were or what teachers she knew, and whenever I message her she responds quicklly like a bot. shes always trying to get me on my cam, and appearently she went to my school for 3 weeks

  6. deppresed

    Nothing can help me I’ve reported it I called facebook customer service they said they charge $ 50 just to take down the page

    • patchinj

      Facebook definitely does not charge to remove pages. Please send us the contact information for who gave you that information and if you are still having trouble getting it taken down, you can send us a link to the page and we can see what we can do.

  7. HelpMeProve

    EMAIL proof of the fake account to yourefake-proof@hotmail.com OR POST on the wall ofhttp://www.facebook.com/pages/Proof-Of-Fake-Accounts/499643673399882

    I’m trying to help with “weeding out” the fakes. Help me prove the fakes of all social sites.

    • HelpMeProve

      I originally made this account due to my account being faked, I’m trying to save other people of this trend. All profiles will be reported by me and the proof will be anonymous.

  8. william tunnell

    ive reported a fake profile of me several times!..as my friends have reported the same profile too…nothing gets done…i guess my next step will be the local sheriffs dept for help…not happy at all!

  9. Zoe thomson

    My bestfriend just started getting bullied over facebook for nothing shes such a lovely girl not cheeky or anything always smiling now she wants to give it all up which is sad thanks to those bullies

  10. disqus_B25sKDbvtu

    i reported cyberbully and harrassment on facebook nothing been done i also reported to law enforcement i currently go to school for law

  11. meohmymy

    I’ve reported a fake page someone setup about my wife and facebook will not answer me or remove it. It is obviously a fake page that even uses her real profile picture, but facebook just chooses to ignore us.

  12. Tim

    I’ve reported a fake of myself 3 times nothing’s been done by Facebook !!!

  13. PM

    Take it from someone who has been harassment for two years. DO NOT USE FACEBOOK’S SOCIAL REPORTING TOOL
    AND DO NOT VISIT THE PROFILE. Visiting the profile will only expose you to further harassment and facebook does ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about it. My advice? QUIT FACEBOOK.

    • PM

      harassed*

      • PM

        Yes, it is important to collect as much information as possible, but do so knowing that when you visit the fake profile THEY will have your information too, and facebook – always eageer to connect to anyone, including the ones you do not wish to be connected with – will create and ETERNAL bond between you. Take it from someone who has made that mistake… If you can, write down the web address for the page WITHOUT VISITING THE PAGE/PROFILE (you can do that by setting the cursor on top of the profile/page if it’s showing on your search list) and leave the rest to the police or a professional investigator. These are criminals.

        • PM

          *** the web address will show at the bottom left corner on facebook when you place the cursor on top of any page/profile showing on your search results.

          In the fight against cybercriminals.
          Good day to all 🙂

  14. can we do ?

    hi a guy poising as a girl on Facebook invited me, i did most of the things listed above but i made a mistake by believing and giving my number away. me and this person have been talking for months now through SMS and Whatsapp.I’ve recently recently discovered that this person gave off alot of signs that “it’s to good to be true” . this person has been putting pressure to send pictures of my private parts and one of my friends sent his . after a day or two this person had deleted the Facebook Account and had block me from whatsapp . We’ve recently contacted this person through SMS and call and he says that he doesn’t want to talk or stay in contact. my friend is worried that his picture is out there and this person is getting away with it, what can we do ?

  15. Chris

    So if someone creates a "fake" facebook profile and then messages people telling lies about another person and THEN deletes it… There is no way of finding out who created the fake profile? How is this protecting the public from cyber bullying or harassment?
    In the past year someone has set up 8 fake profiles in different names to target me and spread lies… But I cannot find out who is doing this or protect myself? Maybe Facebook and other social media sites should close the hell down if they cant protect people!

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