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Are your online friends who they say they are?

Revised: January 2020

That friend may not be a friend at all. It’s not unheard of for someone to create a social media account and attempt to fill out his or her personal profile, only to discover that someone else already has. In other words, online impersonation is one way fraudsters are using the Internet for hurtful purposes.

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Bring the online into real life

If you get an online friend request from someone you know in real life, the simplest way to make sure that online friend is your real-life friend is to ask them in person. The next time you see that person, and before you “seal the deal”, make a point of mentioning his or her profile. Chances are, your real-life friend is your online friend. But it never hurts to ask – you never know, you could be doing your friend a favour.

Your online friend request may come from someone you don’t know all that well in the real world – like your best friend’s cousin from Chicago who you met only once. If you decide to accept the request, find and use real-life connections to make sure that person is who they say they are – in this case, mention the friend request the next time you talk to your best friend.

Be selective

Online, you really can’t be 100% sure of who you’re talking to, so you really shouldn’t accept friend requests from people you don’t know in real life. Online friends can end up accessing online photo albums, reading personal comments, copying and pasting information, knowing what you’re doing, where you are and who your friends and family are. Remember – a “friend” of a “friend” of a real-life friend is really just a stranger.

Be cautious

You should always use caution – especially if your online friends have little or no connection to you in the real world. The more real-world connections you have with an online friend, the more confident you can be in sharing information with that person. So, while you may feel confident in sharing your vacation photos online with your real-life best friend, you might want to think twice about sending those photos to that friend you made at tennis camp last summer.

Be a sleuth

You’ve probably heard the expression “The devil’s in the details”. Look at your friend’s profile closely. Take note of anything you see that doesn’t fit with what you already know about your friend, and ask about it. For instance, if you know a friend has two older brothers, but online she mentions having only one, you may have stumbled onto a fake profile.

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