In this photo illustration the Social networking site Facebook is displayed on a laptop screen on March 25, 2009 in London, England / Getty

It's not just dead people's accounts that could be compromised

It's horrifying enough to have to deal with a person's social media accounts after their death. That's without the added stress of having that same account appear to be active.

Facebook users have reported receiving friend requests from accounts associated with dead friends and family members. And aside from the obvious distress such a request can cause, it also points to a worrying scam that affects people on Facebook.

Such requests appear to be the result of cloning or hacking scams that see criminals try and add people on the site, and then use that friendship as a way of stealing money from them or running other cons.

Such scams work either by cloning an account — stealing the information from someone's profile and then using it all to set up a new account that is actually controlled by someone else — or by hacking into and taking control of an old one.

Both techniques give scammers the ability to send messages, posing as someone's friend. Once that happens, a range of different hoaxes, cons and scams are possible.

Those might include tricks such as the "friend in crisis" scam, where a person claims they are stuck somewhere and need money to get out of a problem. Or they might be as simple as using the account to send a link in a message, which appears genuine but in fact forces a user to download problem malware. Or the fake account might never get in touch at all, instead using the account to look at a person's statuses and other information to impersonate them or steal from them.

There's nothing special about dead people's accounts that makes them more susceptible to cloning or hacking. The same tricks can happen with people who are still alive, and so it is worth rejecting and reporting any friend request that seems suspect or not genuine.

But because of the sensitive nature of the account, and the fact that it is obviously shocking to receive such a request, it can be more obvious that an account has been cloned if such a message is received. And because the person is no longer around to log n to their account, the chance that it will be hacked and not discovered is increased.

Facebook's help forums are filled with people reporting that they have received friend requests from the accounts of dead people. Some of them appear to be newly created, cloned accounts, while others appear to be requests from people's real — but now hacked and taken over — accounts.

"Someone has stolen the account of a friend of mine who died several years ago," wrote one user. "They asked me to friend them and, obviously, this person can't be contacting me unless they have Facebook in heaven."

On one of those posts, a member of Facebook's help team encourages a user to submit a request to have the account memorialised — Facebook's special tool to have a profile turned into a place to remember its owner, rather than an active account— or to have it deactivated entirely, so that it can no longer be used.