AGAWAM, MA (WGGB/WSHM) -- Do you think you could spot all the ways fake Facebook profiles are used to steal personal information?
Could you spot a profile spreading fake news? Researchers have said there's now a black market for hacked and fake profiles.
This comes as we are one year out from the next presidential election.
Western Mass News dug deeper to get you answers about how all the ways to fake Facebook profiles are created, stolen and used to cause harm.
There's a reason Bob MaGovern couldn't believe his eyes when his sister sent him a friend request on Facebook recently.
"She passed away a year ago," MaGovern said
He knows his sister wasn't behind the request, but MaGovern does want to know who was behind the computer screen commandeering the late Marjorie's profile.
"They just think that you're suckers to fall into this kind of situation. This is what goes on when they don't police Facebook the way they should," MaGovern explained.
Western Mass News spoke with Stan Prager of GoGeeks about the different reasons why someone might hack a deceased person's profile.
"To direct someone to download malware. Another motive is to simply set themselves up for legitimacy on various other sites so they can look real so that they can then clone other peoples' accounts," Prager noted.
Prager said accepting a request from a profile similar to the one you're already friends with gives that profile access to all the information you let your "friends", but not strangers see.
"Your deceased aunt has 250 friends on Facebook. If I'm a criminal I can use her account now to harvest information from 250 other people," Prager explained.
Prager said a possibly fake account can look like a duplicate friend request from someone like your mom, your best friend.
But he said it's also common for a fake-looking profile to be sparse few friends they live in an unfamiliar city have a seemingly bizarre array of unrelated likes.
And there's one thing Prager said could be a red flag for a fake account a collection of professional model quality photos featuring different people as the profile picture.
"Almost none of these are the actual person who exists. They're just pictures that they took either off the net. They're not paying any attention when they put these together, they're just randomly grabbing photos," Prager noted.
Looking at some of the likes from Western Mass News reporters Facebook page, Prager found a few profiles that pinged his radar like this one,
"She's not your typical data harvest person she's trying to get you to click on that so that you can then spend money on porn," Prager said.
Jonathan Ong is a Communications Professor at UMass Amherst.
He said certain types of fake profiles are more valuable than others.
"Hacking a real person's account and using like an established profile is more expensive because it circumvents some of the platform's security mechanisms," Ong said.
Ong's research has shown fake profiles are used by political strategists in elections worldwide to manufacture support for a candidate or spread disinformation about an opponent.
"They would hire intelligence firms or boutique pr firms. It's up to the political strategist to come up with new ways to kind of impress their clients and the clients don't need to know all the dirty details," Ong noted.
Messages posted from a fake profile Ong said in the hopes of getting real ones to see them and hit share.
"They're designed to spread things organically and look more innocent than those fake news websites from 2016.," Ong explained.
For MaGovern Facebook started as a way to keep track of family and friends.
"Whenever I need to know something I just call my grandson and ask him what to do," MaGovern noted.
Now knowing what it's like to see his family's profiles used against him.
"They are going after your personal information," MaGovern said.
He's wary the online connection to his community could make him a wide-open target for fraud.
"It's an open door to somebody trying to sneak into your identity," MaGovern said.
Western Mass News has reached out to Facebook twice for a response but still, have yet to hear back.