Bogus Facebook profiles used to spread malware are overwhelmingly created to appear female, have an unusually high number of ‘friends’ and often claim to be bisexual, a study of the phenomenon has found.

Barracuda Networks’ random sampling of 2,884 active Facebook accounts using its Profile Protector tool set out to discover the ways in which bogus identities vary from the norm for the social media site.

The company found that although no one characteristic could be used to identify fake from real accounts, a combination of elements made them stand out more clearly.

Perhaps the least surprising one was that 97 percent of bogus profiles identified themselves as female, against 40 percent for the sample Facebook group as a whole. Each of these had an average of 726 friends, considerably more than the average of 130.

More than two thirds also claimed to have attended college as against only 40 percent of genuine accounts.

The biggest giveaways were that fake accounts added an astonishing 136 tags for every four photographs added to their accounts compared with the Facebook average of only 1.

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Fifty-eight percent of the bogus profiles said they were sexually interested in men and women, many times the declared rate for real accounts of 6 percent.

Conclusion: claiming to be female, bisexual, friends with hundreds of people and having a tendency to grossly over-tag photographs does not guarantee that a profile is bogus but does appear to greatly increase its likelihood.

The biggest giveaway for fake accounts, however, is surely their tendency to contact total strangers on the service touting suspicious embedded links.

“These fake profiles and apps give attackers a long-lived path to continuously present malicious links to innocent users,” said Barracuda’s chief research officer, Dr. Paul Judge.

“Also, researchers have shown how friending malicious accounts can lead to account takeover using Facebook's trusted friend account recovery.”

Barracuda’s report on social media security last October found that up to 13 percent claimed to have had their accounts hijacked on one of the services.