This is a dangerous time of year if you’re an avid sports fan on Twitter.
With the NBA trade deadline on Thursday at 3 p.m., and the NHL trade deadline coming up Feb. 29, fans will be glued to their news feeds.
But you can’t always believe what you read at first glance. Every year, false accounts are set up to look real — and sometimes legitimate accounts are hacked.
Starting a fake Twitter account takes about 45 seconds, and little imagination to make up a believable trade to briefly fool fans.
On Monday night, it looked like ESPN’s SportsCenter had news of a blockbuster deal in the NBA:
“BREAKING: The Cleveland Cavaliers have traded Kyrie Irving & Iman Shumpert for Chris Paul.”
The tweet, which used the ESPN logo as its avatar, mentioned that the news was via @WindhorstESPN to make it look authentic from basketball writer Brian Windhorst. It was retweeted more than 400 times.
But a closer look showed that the Twitter handle was @KevinLamendola and it was fake. The unverified account has only 757 followers, a telltale sign of a fake.
Pranksters often use the same avatar image, and a very similar user name to sports journalists or outlets, to fool some fans. Sometimes, just a letter in the name of a prominent journalist’s Twitter handle is changed.
The most famous of all news breakers on the NBA beat is Yahoo writer Adrian Wojnarowski. His verified Twitter account is @WojVerticalNBA, and he has 1.19 million followers.
Yet, Wojnarowski is expected to be a prime target of nuisance-makers. In the past, at least 40 fake “Woj” accounts have been set up. While imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, these Twitter frauds do him a disservice.
One way to tell the real thing is by looking up the number of followers the journalist has. If it’s only a couple of hundred, it’s likely fake.
Twitter Canada spokesman Cameron Gordon recommends some early detection methods. Gordon suggests that for trade deadline day you should have your favourite verified accounts lined up in advance.
“Knowing what the key verified accounts on Twitter are is the best way to avoid false information,” he said.
Twitter Canada has verified hundreds of media accounts in recent years, including news outlets, sports reporters, players, sports leagues and teams.
“We want to ensure that information users are getting from Twitter is not only timely but also 100 per cent accurate. Verification is our best way to ensure this happens.”