Last year an independent movie by the name of Catfish hit select theaters across the country. While I will keep my opinions of the movie to myself the basic premise of the movie gave a new buzzword to the internet community: “Catfish.” Catfish is defined by UrbanDictionary.com as being “someone who pretends to be someone they’re not using Facebook or other social media to create false identities, particularly to pursue deceptive online romances.”
The internet is now faced with an entirely new breed of “Catfish” — those who create false identities particularly to pursue deceptive online transactions. That’s right, scammers are hitting social media sites.
To many of you, you may be reading this thinking, “no duh, Miller!” scammers have always been on social media sites! However, what many do not know is that some scammers are going as far as to impersonate your own friends and family to gain trust from you before asking for money.
John C. Dvorak of PCmag.com reported yesterday in his article The Nigerian Scammers Invade Facebook that through third parties he has heard of a new scam in which Nigerian scammers have impersonated Facebook users’ family members to try and get them to send them money.
So many users of social media websites “follow”, “friend” and “circle” people they don’t know. But what do they do when they “follow”, “friend” and “circle” someone they think is a longtime, legitimate friend or family member and they turn out to try and scam them?
You’re a loyal Facebook user. All your privacy settings are as secure as possible. You’re connected with all your friends and your whole family, except for a couple of laggards like Aunt Susie and Uncle Bob, whom you have encouraged to join over the years.
Finally, Uncle Bob joins, but his wife Susie still refuses to join. You chat about this for a couple of months online until Uncle Bob gives up on her, saying she is just not interested. A few weeks later, Uncle Bob is telling you that he met someone, or knows someone who just died. And guess what? The guy is worth $35 million. His wife, Uncle Bob’s friend, needs to move his money out of …3…2…1…. Nigeria! – Source.
I know this sounds like such a stretch. When I first read this article I thought, “who wouldn’t know this isn’t their family member?” “How could someone be so easily duped?” But when I sat down to really think about my Facebook family members I realized I do have some that do not update, that I do not speak to for years at a time and some that I have never even met. It actually wouldn’t be hard if a scammer got hold of one of my family member’s names and pictures to create an account and friend my large family on Facebook. Surely with a family my size they might be able to get someone to send them some money. Although, you can be sure that if I had one of these “distant” relatives ask me for money I’d go complaining to mommy and daddy about why their relative is asking me for money. The nerve!
Dvorak advises social media users “to find a way to verify your friends, if that is even possible. At least confirm your close friends or relatives. The victim seemed more humiliated by the fact that he was spilling his guts to a dear relative who in reality was some felonious Nigerian creep.” – Source.
Personally, I don’t see any feasible way to actually confirm or verify your relatives on your social networking sites unless when they first join you pick up the phone and call them to ask how they are enjoying Facebook…???
I would extend the warning to the ever-growing Google+ network as it does parallel in many aspects to Facebook. Twitter poses as a threat too since it’s a leading social media network – however I’m uncertain how much money one can con out of you in 140 characters or less.
So now not only to I have to worry about Mom seeing me “planking” in various public places, Grandma having a heart attack if I drop the word “crap” in a status update but now Nigerian scammers?! Hey, remember when Facebook was only for college kids? ::sigh:: Those were the days…
Footnote: The reference to planking was strictly for comedic purposes. Planking is stupid. Don’t do it.
If you have been scammed and would like to file a scam report, please click here.