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Let’s Talk About Fake Profiles
The internet has made everyone’s life a lot easier, and that includes criminals.
While a lot of cybercriminals are quick and direct in their methods, others take their time creating fake profiles and interacting with their targets before committing their deeds.
While it’s not uncommon for internet users to use an alias, what separates these people from the more dangerous fake profiles we will be discussing is intent.
A person may use a fake name for privacy and safety but will provide real photos and information when necessary.
On the other hand, catfish, scammers, hackers, human traffickers, and other cybercriminals will hide everything about themselves and lie whenever convenient as the profile was made to lure, trick, scam, or get private information from others.
Fake profiles are not at all uncommon. Statistics say that 1 in 10 online profiles are fake. Whether it is a bot on a dating site, an anonymous person on a forum, or a friend request from a stranger, one should know what to look out for. Crimes that involve fake profiles are known to have the biggest effects on their victims.
Aside from the financial loss, one could be violated by a catfish, harassed by a cyberstalker, kidnapped by a trafficker, among many other scenarios. Victims of these crimes may also face psychological trauma as their trust has been broken and their emotions were played with.
In the field of cybersecurity, education is your best defense. Basic safety advice should always be followed online, especially when interacting with strangers.
What Are Some Common Signs Of A Fake Profile?
While an honest person will use their older personal account to connect with you, someone who is up to no good may create a profile just to talk to you. Creating a new profile only requires an email and a password on many social media platforms, so they will create accounts when convenient and abandon those profiles once they are done with them. The older the profile, the more trustworthy it could be.
Perfect or Pretty Name
While creating their new profile, many catfish will choose a basic name or a name they personally like. Think “John McDonald” or “Jessica Moon”. If the spelling is more unique, such as “Moneque Abebe”, or the name isn’t that attractive, such as “Dick Wagner”, it is more likely the person’s real name.
Cybercriminals will avoid using any personal content as they want to keep their identity hidden; however, they know that people are less likely to respond to a profile with no picture.
Therefore, stealing someone else’s pictures is the only solution. While they could use anyone’s photos, they will want to appear attractive so more people talk to them.
They may also steal photos from someone who fits their narrative, for example, a soldier or businessman. If the account only has professionally taken photos, or the person in the picture looks like a model or celebrity, chances are, they are stolen.
Although many influencers and online celebrities have high-quality photos, they will more likely have a good blend of everyday photos, such as selfies, or casual photos with friends, as well.
Lack of Content/History
Since the profile is new and more likely made for the sole purpose of communicating with targets, the person may not have put much effort into completing their profile and creating posts. If their profile lacks any substance or personality, be cautious.
Did they tell you their name is “Steve”, but their username includes the name “Jack”, and people are referring to them as “Mark”? Whether the person is using different names between people, or a romance scammer recycles their accounts between victims, this is a big red flag that the person isn’t upfront about who they really are.
What Are Some Red Flags While Conversing?
Poor Grammar & Speech
If someone claims to be 20 years old but doesn’t understand common terms and slang for that age group, they are probably older than they say they are.
If the person claims to be born and raised in Canada, but regularly make basic grammar and spelling mistakes, they are probably from overseas. If you feel that you have to explain a lot of basic terms to someone who claims to be a local, be cautious.
If someone is open and honest, what they tell you should make sense most of the time. Whereas someone who is creating stories and telling you what they think you want to hear may find it harder to keep their stories straight. Maybe one day they’re an only child, but a month later, they are visiting their sister in the next province.
Maybe they introduced themselves as a doctor who makes more than $100K a year, but later, they are struggling to pay the bills and need help. While their inconsistencies may not be that extreme, it is much harder for a liar to keep track of everything they have told you previously, and are thus more bound to slip up.
Rushing or Pushing You
A very common sign of criminal activity is a sense of urgency. For romance scams, a very regular trick scammers use is to confess their feelings for you within a couple of days and proceed to shower you with compliments and admiration.
For someone who is more lonely or desperate, this attention is very appealing. They will start focusing on the scammer thinking that they’ve finally found ‘the one’, but true love never happens that fast.
Other criminals may try to set up a date as soon as possible or request that you do something right away. If you feel that things are moving too fast, or that you don’t have time to think, they are more likely a scammer.
Asking For Money or Gift Cards
This is the biggest red flag. While many people now know to never send money to a stranger online, people feel more compelled to send it if they have gotten to know that person and want to help them in their time of need.
However, there is absolutely no reason for someone you have never met before to request money from you.
If they need money, they could ask their family or friends or get a loan.
Even if the person claims that they need money to help buy a plane ticket to see you, just know that the majority of the time, that trip will never happen. For more information on how romance scammers operate, check out this article from the Federal Trade Commission.
Sending You Links
Cyber Security 101 always warns you not to click on links from strangers or in suspicious emails. These links can include trackers, viruses, spyware, malware, and other malicious content that can be downloaded to your computer without your knowledge.
The link may also appear to be a real site, but it will actually send your log-in credentials straight to the criminal. Unless the person is sending their own social media pages to you, be very cautious of any links someone sends to you.
Especially if it is shortened or doesn’t contain a site you are familiar with in the URL.
If they keep sending you links and requesting you click on it without much information beforehand, stop talking to this person.
For anyone that is up to no good, they will often request that you keep your relationship or the conversation a secret. The fewer people who know, the better for them.
Many people may agree to secrecy as they feel embarrassed for having an online partner or friend, but one should always feel free to talk about their personal matters with whomever they chose.
While secrecy may seem innocent, the cybercriminal is aware that outsiders may inform the target of their plan and get in the way. If the target doesn’t have someone whom they could talk to or get a second opinion from, they are more likely to fall victim.
Many people go missing because they agreed to meet a stranger online without telling anyone who they’re meeting and where.
Therefore, if the person is asking you to keep everything private, be warned. This section is especially important for parents who aren’t aware of what their children are doing online. For more information on how to avoid any unpleasantries, read our e-safety guide for children.
Threats & Manipulation
The longer you talk to someone, the more they are bound to know about you.
This information can then be used against you.
Personal information can be used to hack you. Private pictures can be used as blackmail. Secrets can be used to make you do whatever the criminal asks.
You may also be afraid to inform anyone because of how much they know. If it gets to a point where you feel like you don’t have a choice, don’t follow the criminal’s orders. Call the authorities.
Someone who does not want to be discovered would avoid showing their face at all costs. If you request to do a video chat and they always find a way to avoid it, or if you want to finally meet up but they always seem to be busy or on a trip, it’s time to let them go.
Someone who is serious about creating and maintaining a relationship with you shouldn’t have a problem with you seeing their face or meeting with them in person.
What Else Can You Do To Screen A Profile:
Reverse Image Search
The most popular way to quickly screen a profile is to do a reverse image search.
You can download or copy the URL for their picture and input it into Google Images or TinEye.com.
These sites will then show you anywhere else the same picture appears online. By doing so, you may discover that the pictures belong to someone else or are taken from a website.
Even if the picture is cropped or has a filter applied, these tools can still find where these pictures appear so definitely use it. If the picture doesn’t appear elsewhere, that is a good sign! However, they may have received the pictures from a private profile or a friend, so don’t stop there.
Google Their Name/Username
Almost everyone has a digital footprint, and thus, if you look up their name or username, you should be able to find other accounts or content on them. If you can’t find anything, or if you come across other individuals, that is a big red flag.
If the person is impersonating a real individual, information on their profile, such as their current city and relationship status, may not match the person you are talking to.
Ask Deeper Questions About Their Life & Interests
Scammers, catfish, and human traffickers will say whatever they need to lure you in. If they are targeting you, they will create a profile that matches your interests and likes so they seem more appealing. But if this is the case, they will not be able to converse about those topics deeper.
This is best done on the phone where they won’t have time to do research, but it can also be done via chat if you ask the right questions that can’t be found online easily. Someone who is honest and passionate could respond quickly and in detail about things they care about or their tasks at work.
Question Their Inconsistencies
This isn’t always recommended, but if you are really interested in building a relationship with this person, definitely confront them about their contradictory statements. If the person is honest, they will be able to correct themselves and make sense. After all, not everyone has the best memory, and some may have just made a small error.
However, someone who has only lied to you will continue to make more lies, and eventually, nothing will make sense. Someone with questionable intent may also get defensive and accuse you of not trusting them, which is another big red flag.
Request A Video Chat
Skype, Zoom, Facetime, Messenger, there are so many ways to talk to someone via video.
Although not everyone likes to be on camera, most wouldn’t have a problem if you wanted to have a more personal interaction or just wanted to confirm their identity.
If they are against it, or always have an excuse why now is not a good time, be very cautious.
If they aren’t the person in the pictures they have on their profile, they know that a video chat would expose them, and thus they will do all they can to maintain your relationship while avoiding that.
Related: Most Secure Messaging Apps
If They Are Against That, Ask For A Unique Picture
If video really isn’t a possibility, ask them for a picture of themselves doing something weird or unique. For example, you can request that they send you a picture of them holding a can opener, or pinching their own cheek. Someone who only has stolen pictures would not be able to produce new unique pictures on the spot.
Trust Your Gut
Lastly, if you are reading this article due to suspicions on someone you are talking to, there is probably a good reason for that. We humans have a strong intuition that keeps us away from dangerous people and out of threatening scenarios.
If things aren’t adding up, if the person sounds too good to be true, or if they are quite secretive about their lives, you have every right to doubt this person and their intentions. Never dismiss your feelings, and don’t be afraid to investigate or interrogate the person on the other side. It is always better to be safe than sorry.
Related: Online Privacy Guide
If you realize that the person you have been talking to probably isn’t who they say they are, or if they suddenly make requests of you, immediately stop talking to them and report them. If the situation becomes more serious, be sure to keep all records of profiles and interactions. Let’s work together to build a safer online world for everyone.