The recent spate of Facebook cloning attacks in South Africa has left many users looking at friend requests in a new light. The scam, which involves duplicating existing Facebook accounts and then sending the victim’s friends requests to connect, has left users wondering why their ‘friends’ are sending them new requests and then asking for money. But deciding on whether it is a request from a ‘real’ imposter account or not could be complicated by the fact that Facebook’s mobile app for BlackBerry phones seems to be sending users ‘ghost’ friend requests.
Facebook’s community help forums are littered with questions from BlackBerry users, who say that they receive requests from friends they have already added on the platform. When accepting these requests, they are met with an error stating that Facebook could not process the action, but many have continued receiving repeated notifications that their current friends would like to connect on Facebook. The requests do not appear on the desktop version of Facebook and there is no evidence of any duplicate accounts, suggesting that it is an issue with the BlackBerry app.
The issue has also been included in unfavourable reviews of the app on BlackBerry World and in BlackBerry support forums, with smartphone users internationally questioning why they are getting “ghost friend requests from current friends” and saying that the notifications will not “go away,” whether they confirm or ignore the request. A number of South Africans have also reported experiencing the issue. In one case, Facebook user Matthew Lynch said that his sister and cousin have ‘received’ friend requests from him, even though they are already connected on Facebook. He changed his profile photo as a test, and the image on the friend request notification changed too, suggesting it was not a cloned profile but a technical issue. If it was a duplicate profile, he theorises, “that profile photo wouldn’t update” so instantaneously.
This isn’t to say that scammers using the Facebook cloning technique aren’t also active in the country, as the social media site has removed numerous imposter accounts over the past few years. But South Africa is also one of BlackBerry’s strongest markets, with some research suggesting that it holds as much as 18% of total cellphone marketshare, and that as 48% of the smartphones sold in the country were designed by the Canadian manufacturer. The high level of BlackBerry usage, coupled with the spread of the scam, may have made identifying duplicate profiles more difficult.