Exposed: Twitter Scam Pays To Create Fake Accounts

This is a guest post written by Fernando Fonseca.

How many of Twitter's 500 million users are fake accounts paid for by scams? Nobody knows.

Someone may be using your name and picture to create fake Twitter accounts–at 5c each.

The same day that major news outlets were announcing that Twitter had reached 500 million users, I had a surprise waiting for me in my mailbox.

“Fernando, I am following up on the post that I made to the SocialMediaMarketing group on LinkedIn requesting someone to create email and Twitter accounts for me. I am interested initially in having someone create 100 email/Twitter accounts. If all goes well, we would create more. Here is a description of what we want:  Specs for Creating Yahoo Email & Twitter Accounts – downloaded from Google Docs (PDF, originally posted as a Google Doc here)

Here is the spreadsheet into which all of the information would be recorded:  Yahoo Email & Twitter Accounts Data Entry Template (PDF, originally posted as a Google Doc here)

Please let me know if you are interested in doing the project. We are interested in paying per successfully completed account (obviously, we will verify the accounts; we wouldn’t pay for those which are not valid or are suspended). Please let us know how much you would charge. We would be excited to work with you.”

Looking at the description document I immediately realized that this person, representing SNSAnalytics,  wanted to fill Twitter with even more fake users. For what? I don’t know, but I have my suspicions.

What surprised me the most was the level of detail that was being requested:

  • full names, taken from the website,
  • postal codes,
  • geographical distribution,
  • age group and
  • the use of a “real human face” as a profile picture for the Twitter account.

The legal concerns–“No copyright pictures should be used to avoid possible legal consequences”–made me laugh. When I accessed the documents at least 10 other users were reading them and that is also worrying.

I followed up on the mail in order to know what the payment would be for creating 100 fake Yahoo accounts and 100 fake Twitter accounts. I didn’t have to wait long to receive a reply: 5c – 10c for each confirmed fake account.

What does this mean?

For a long time I had suspected that there were US-based agencies out there that resorted to these crowdturfing practices to boost campaign numbers for their clients, but I had never had the documented proof of this until now.

These practices hurt everyone in the industry: They hurt the reputation of digital agencies as a whole, they hurt all professionals in the digital space, they hurt the clients that are presented with fake results.  Above all, they hurt the users and the platform.

Five Hundred Million Twitter Users? Think Again

I am always very skeptical about the number of users that every social network claims to have, and this specific case shows beyond any doubt that Twitter’s 500 million users milestone is not real. Until there are better ways to prevent scams like this—IP monitoring when creating a new account would be a simple solution that Twitter’s could implement—we will continue to see these practices where a company may use our names and our pictures for their own shady purposes.

About the author: Fernando Fonseca is the founder of SoMeOps, an agency that works in the digital space, based in Seattle.  Fernando doesn’t have a Klout score, likes craft beer and is a Google+ enthusiast.