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Facebook accounts use an email address as the identifier and they often collect email addresses from friends. That can lead to fake accounts and unwanted invitations.

I avoid Facebook. There are too many problems associated with it plus it's just not my thing. However, I have received email invitations (whatever that is) and I've deleted them. One person sent several over a few months. Do they get paid to recruit accounts? The invitations were from people that rarely if ever email me that have somehow retained my email address. But I digress. Can someone create a Facebook account in my name without my permission or knowledge? How do I check for any? What unique identifier does Facebook use? An email address? If found, how do I delete an erroneous account in my name? Obviously, if I didn't create an account, I have no idea what the password is (assuming Facebook requires accounts to have passwords).

In this excerpt from Answercast #43, I look at a situation where a Facebook-free computer user keeps receiving friend invitations.

Avoiding Facebook

So there's a lot bundled up in this question. I want to actually address it in reverse order.

Facebook accounts

Absolutely, Facebook requires that accounts have passwords. The unique identifier that you refer to is an email address. When you create a Facebook account, a message is sent to the email address that is used to confirm that the person who owns that email address is in fact the person who wants the Facebook account to be created.

So, there would not be a Facebook account with your email address without your knowledge and without in fact... without your having approved such a thing.

So, in that sense, no, people cannot go out and create Facebook accounts using your identity – your identifier, your email address.

Facebook impersonation

However, what they can do (and what I've seen done) is they certainly can go out and create Facebook accounts in your name using some other email address. This kind of impersonation is unfortunately relatively common – and in reality, there's almost nothing that you can really do about it.

You can certainly try to contact Facebook. You can certainly try to contact law enforcement, if it actually starts to cross the line into illegal activity, or legal definitions of defamation, or whatever.

The point is that it's very easy to do.

Somebody could just grab an email address, make up an email address at Hotmail or Gmail or some other random email service, and then, when they create the Facebook account, use your name; use your information.

If they know your birthday, they can use that. If they know where you live, they can use that information. They can make that part of the account, even though it is not your account – and that's important.

When Facebook looks at an account, like I said, the unique identifier is the email address. If it's not your email address, it is not your account and you do not have control over it, even if everything else in that account looks to be like you.

  • If somebody else's email address was used to create that account, the account actually belongs to them.

Like I said, when you start getting into the realm of impersonation or defamation, that's when you start needing to try and contact Facebook (which as I understand it, is hugely, largely ineffective) or potentially law enforcement, or some other form of legal aid.

Facebook invitations

Now, as far as the invitations are concerned:

  • Facebook may very well have your email address.

Facebook invitations tend to come in several different ways from several different people; sometimes even without those individuals' knowledge. No, nobody's getting paid a bounty for recruiting Facebook members, but Facebook is definitively encouraging members to recruit other members.

One of the ways they do this – I'll go through this as a scenario with say one of your friends.

  • Let's say you have a friend, someone whom you email regularly who has your email address in their address book or contact list.

  • One of the things that Facebook encourages people to do is essentially give Facebook their address book or their contact list so that

  • Facebook can then go out and see if any of those people already have Facebook accounts, and suggest them as friends;

  • And for all of them that don't have accounts, potentially Facebook can then go out and email an invitation to encourage them to Join Facebook.

So, like I said, there's nothing really nefarious here. There's nothing really underhanded going on here with all of these Facebook invitations that you may be receiving.

It is Facebook simply being aggressive about trying to recruit new members – in a way that many people who are already using Facebook may not realize that they are enabling when they allow Facebook to have access to their address books.

As long as you're not facing a situation where somebody is truly trying to impersonate you, the best thing you can do if you never want to have a Facebook account is simply ignore every one of those invitation that you get. Delete it.

Set a filter

If you want to go so far as to set up a filter in your email program that automatically deletes things that look like invitations, that's up to you. But the safest thing to do is simply:

  • Ignore them all;

  • And get on with your Facebook-free life.

Article C5684 - August 12, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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2 Comments
James
August 14, 2012 12:56 PM

I NEVER let Facebook have my address book. I just don't trust them. Besides, even if they don't do anything other than send invites, why do I need to send invites to everyone in my address book? Some are work related.

Even if you don't plan on using Facebook, I suggest that you set up a Facebook account. While it doesn't necessarily prevent impersonation, it might make it more difficult to impersonate you.

Besides that, I believe that once you have an account, if you get an invite that you are not interested in, you can tell Facebook to block the person sending the invite from sending any more invites.

sVen
August 16, 2012 10:09 AM

Thanx for another excellent article, Leo.

Another small note is that there are lots of people with same names. There could be 597 facebook accounts with the name 'Jane Madison'. Twelve of them might live in Anchorage, AK. A few might have other interests in common, like fishing, reading sci-fi, and watching the 'Red Green' show. Only the email address is unique. And even that can be similar.
If someone has a facebook account under the email Jane123 @ TMail.net, there's nothing to prevent someone from opening an email called Jane1234 @ TMail.net, and then opening a facebook account, or any other type of account, with that email.

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