Ten Ways to Spot Fake and Catfish Accounts on Twitter

Bob Leggitt | Wednesday, 15 January 2014 |

Fake Twitter accounts, also commonly known as ‘catfish’, can be dangerous entities. Before you even examine the motives, the desire to fake or steal an identity in itself shows gross dishonesty. Regardless of whether or not you're fooled by them, the people who run these accounts are definitely not the kind of characters you want to be messing about with.

WHAT IS A FAKE TWITTER ACCOUNT?

Many people don’t use their own real name on their Twitter account(s). But that alone doesn’t categorise them as fake. The word ‘fake’ or ‘catfish’ really alludes to accounts which deliberately set out to portray themselves as something they’re not, for a specific, self-serving purpose which most people would recognise as morally, if not legally unacceptable. Some may steal well known identities, pretend to be celebrities and what have you, for attention, control or sabotage. Others may pose as random professionals with a view to scamming other users or perpetrating some warped emotional charade. But whatever the goal, it’ll be damaging, abusive (if only of trust), and highly unsavoury.

In this piece, I’ve compiled ten signs which very frequently point to a fake Twitter account. Here’s what you should look at, and look out for…

1. MOTIVATION

Everyone’s on Twitter for a reason, and people’s reasons (or motivations) for being there normally add up. They might be promoting a product, or a website, they might be following their idols, they might be aiming to build a follower-base of their own… But with fake accounts, the motivations very often make no sense, and they don’t correspond with those of a real account holder. For example, whereas a real fashion designer would primarily be looking to promote his or her products and cement commercially beneficial relationships with influential people in the industry, a fake designer might primarily be doing something totally unrelated, like asking random women for their contact details or pictures of themselves. When people do things you wouldn’t expect them to do, whilst (in particular) NOT doing the things you WOULD expect them to do, there’s something wrong.

2. OBVIOUS OMISSIONS IN TWEETS AND BIO

Fakes frequently forget to allude to their supposed commercial interests not only in tweets, but also in their main bio. Genuine account holders will inevitably place their own needs, prosperity and self-image at the forefront of what they do. An up and coming singer, for instance, will have her website address in her Twitter bio, and will probably tweet gig promos or links to her music on a regular basis. But fakes don’t care about stuff like that. They’re only using the identity to open doors for their real motivation, which is typically something else entirely. More often than not, either control, financial scamming, or sexual gratification. So look for omissions of the obvious self-interests in a user's tweets and bio. If a commercially-focused user isn’t making any effort to promote themselves or their work, it probably isn’t them.

3. FOLLOWING THE WRONG PEOPLE

Look closely at who the account holder is following. This is often a glaring giveaway when it comes to Twitter fakes. People who matter follow people who matter. Sometimes they’ll also follow fans, of course, but they’ll almost definitely be following their colleagues, friends, and those they’re known to admire. Fakes, on the other hand, will generally AVOID following the genuine person’s friends and colleagues for fear of being found out, and they won’t care about following people the genuine person admires. So if you find an account purporting to be that of a famous person, and it’s not following the people you’d expect it to follow, but following lots of people you wouldn’t expect it to follow, it’s almost inevitably fake. Equally, if you find a 'professional' account that isn't following anyone from its own profession, or a 'charity' account that isn't following anyone related to charity, set those suspicions into motion! Also, pay close attention to follower stats. Important people tend to have many more followers than friends. If it's the other way round, and they're following many more people than are following them, be very wary.

4. FAKE BLUE TICK

Quite a common ploy in some circles of Twitter account fakery is that of adding an image of the blue Twitter ‘verified’ tick to the header photo, so it looks when you visit a profile page like the account is verified. Anytime you see a blue tick on Twitter, hover over it with your mouse. A pop-up title should appear saying “Verified account”. Click on the blue tick and you’ll go to Twitter’s Verified Accounts FAQ page. If a blue tick on Twitter doesn’t do either of these things, it’s not real, and someone’s been playing games.

5. NOT REPLYING TO ACCUSATIONS

Use Twitter’s Advanced Search to root out any accusations of fakery. Enter the word “fake” (without quotes) into the Any of these words box, and enter the @username of the account you’re checking out into the To these accounts box, as below, then click Search (there's more on this technique in my Unearthing Bad Businesses piece)…



You MUST click the little All link at the top of the search results timeline in order to see the full results, and in some cases if you don’t do this you’ll see no results at all.

If the results show accusations that the account is fake (and if you’re suspicious enough to be doing this, they probably will), check whether the account holder has replied. If the account was real, the account holder would inevitably respond, clearly stating that they’re genuine. It’s in every real account holder’s interests to assert their account’s integrity, because if they don’t, they can lose vast numbers of followers and end up being suspended. You just wouldn’t risk that if you were genuine, so by and large, the only holders of active accounts who don’t reply to accusations of fakery, are fakes.

You can find the second and final part of this article, culminating in the most obvious fake indicator of all, via the link below...

Ten Ways to Spot Fake and Catfish Accounts on Twitter (Part 2)

Planet Botch is contactable only via Twitter.