Since Elizabeth, who requested that Global News not use her last name, lost her son in October 2021 following an alleged assault in Winnipeg, she has turned to his Facebook profile for comfort.
“I’m still mourning the loss and I do enjoy reading the posts or listening to the music that he sent me,” she said.
Recently however, friends of her deceased son reached out to advise her that they’ve been receiving messages from his Facebook account.
“They were receiving messages from my son that had passed away on Oct. 22. He had been a victim of a crime … So I sent messages to Facebook to try and memorialize his Facebook page and tried to get them to do something,” she explained.
“The account email had been changed, the name had been changed, the birthdate had been changed,” she added.
As Elizabeth waits for an update from police about the alleged assault that claimed her son’s life, she is now also fighting to take back his Facebook profile.
“It’s been devastating to me … if I want to look at posts from my son that my son may have sent me, I have to go under somebody else’s name,” she said.
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Reclaiming hacked or locked social media accounts can be time consuming and frustrating, said Cybersecurity and Technology Analyst Ritesh Kotak.
“The second something goes wrong and you try to get a hold of somebody at Facebook or any of these major social media companies, you get stonewalled. You end up finding out that there is an antiquated form to request some sort of assistance but there is no name of an individual, there is no phone number, there is no email address and you’re contacting these platforms when you’re in a time of grief,” said Kotak.
Regaining access to a social media account is very different from a bank account, he pointed out.
“If you were to deal with a breach in the physical world, let’s say your bank account … you can actually go to a branch, you can identify yourself, there’s mechanisms in place to get your account back and get your money back but when this essentially goes from the physical to the virtual world, there is nobody you can call, there is no branch you can walk into, there is no physical location,” he said.
Elizabeth has sent two copies of her son’s death certificate to Facebook in an attempt to get access to his compromised account.
“I’ve had either no response or a response saying there’s nothing wrong with it … it’s just made it a nightmare,” she said.
Hacks can have a major effect on a social media user so tech expert Marc Saltzman pointed out a list of ways people can reduce the odds of falling victim.
“We’ve heard of these grandma scams, the newest one is obituary scams, we’ve seen these impersonation accounts so you just have to be aware of it … and to share this with your friends and family, maybe relatives who are a little bit more trusting,” he said.
For starters, Saltzman said never use the same password for all your online activity.
“I know it’s more convenient but you can trust these password manager apps or sign up for what’s called multi-factor authentication, where not only do you need your password to get into Facebook and Instagram but a code sent to your mobile device once and then that proves it’s really you,” he said.
Saltzman also said to be aware that direct messages from friends may seem innocent, but if they’re asking you to click on a link or an attachment and it feels suspicious, reach out to your friend via other means to ensure it is indeed coming from them, and not a hacker who took control of the account.
“I would not click on it at all, to be honest, but reach out through phone or email or another platform,” he said.
Saltzman also noted it is not impossible to regain control of a hijacked account but acknowledged it takes time and effort.
“It’s incredibly frustrating if someone is impersonating you — it’s happened to me — but just know that you’re going to require some sort of documentation, a separate email, and you’ll be able to find how to reach out to the proper channels in order to to rectify this,” he added.
For Elizabeth, her son’s Facebook profile is one of the few things she said she has left of him, making it that much more important that she get it out of the wrong hands.
“My son never regained consciousness. He had severe brain damage. So that was the worst day. He was assaulted. I don’t know the story or anything. There’s been one arrest of a juvenile, and it hasn’t gone to court yet, so I don’t know anything … I’m still trying to process this and the big thing to me is I want to know the story and I don’t want somebody else to have my son’s account,” she said.
Facebook has confirmed to Global News that it is working to address the issue and Elizabeth is hopeful for a positive outcome.
“My son would send me things like, ‘Hey, mom, you got to listen to this song,’ ‘Hey, Mom, this song’s for you,’ ‘Mom, this song has a lot of meaning to me,’ sort of thing. It’s a connection to him … It’s pictures of him and his son, the pets that he’s had, his life, it’s what I got left of his life.”