Voice Platform and Support Network for Families of Missing and Victims of Crime
Facebook is an awesome tool and I think we'd all agree a great resource for missing persons and causes in need of justice awareness.
However, that said - as I'm sure many of us sadly also personally know, Facebook is at times also a source of deception and scams.
So what do we do? I guess just like with everything in life: use our best common sense and wisely look into our gut instincts.
With that said - please read and share out the below ....
Every form of communication, from snail-mail to e-mail, chat and others, is subject to fraud and scams. But social networks like Facebook are subject to new, more dangerous opportunities for fraud.
With e-mail and IM spam and Internet scams, the whole social-engineering game is to get you to trust a stranger. But social networks are different. The goal there is to get you to believe the fraudster is a friend whom you already trust.
If you're on Facebook, you've no doubt got a bunch of friends. And if you're like most Facebook users, you're certain those friends are exactly who they say they are. And you might be right. Or you could be wrong. They could be scammers posing as your friends.
How hard is that, exactly? It turns out to be hideously easy to do.
If this kind of false-identity fraud hasn't been attempted against you in the past, I can assure you it will be in the future. Scammers are quickly realizing that posing as another person is a foolproof way to get around the age-old trust issue that can ruin a good con.
How to steal friends and influence people
I'm going to tell you exactly how someone can trick you into thinking they're your friend. Now, before you send me hate mail for revealing this deep, dark secret, let me assure you that the scammers, crooks, predators, stalkers and identity thieves are already aware of this trick. It works only because the public is not aware of it. If you're scamming someone, here's what you'd do:
Step 1: Request to be "friends" with a dozen strangers on MySpace . Let's say half of them accept. Collect a list of all their friends.
Step 2: Go to Facebook and search for those six people. Let's say you find four of them also on Facebook. Request to be their friends on Facebook. All accept because you're already an established friend.
Step 3: Now compare the MySpace friends against the Facebook friends. Generate a list of people that are on MySpace but are not on Facebook. Grab the photos and profile data on those people from MySpace and use it to create false but convincing profiles on Facebook. Send "friend" requests to your victims on Facebook.
As a bonus, others who are friends of both your victims and your fake self will contact you to be friends and, of course, you'll accept. In fact, Facebook itself will suggest you as a friend to those people.
(Think about the trust factor here. For these secondary victims, they not only feel they know you, but actually request "friend" status. They sought you out.)
Step 4: Now, you're in business. You can ask things of these people that only friends dare ask.
"Let's meet for drinks -- bring your new car!"
"I'm in Nigeria on vacation, got robbed and need $500 to get home!"
"I see you'll be away for the holidays, but I want to send you a Christmas card anyway. What's your home address again?"
Facebook represents a perfect storm of fraud factors. The whole "friend" system creates trust, but the reality of social networks prevents verification that people are who they say they are.
How to meet new people and rob them blind
While some Facebook fraud involves strangers posing as existing "friends," other types involve making new "friends."
I'm being "scammed" right now by someone on Facebook (I won't give you names or other details because, truth be told, I'm only 95% sure it's a scam). Here's how it's going so far.
Some pretty young woman in Indonesia sent me a friend request two weeks ago. I've been researching Facebook scams for this article, so I assumed it was a setup, played along and added her as a friend. Checking her profile, I found exactly what I expected to find: All her friends were male and most closer to my age than hers; her profile was brand-new; photos showed her only with a bunch of other women. (After a fellow male dupe posted on her wall that it was strange she had only male friends, suddenly a couple of female friends emerged -- probably from other fraudulent profiles set up by the scammer.) Every few days, I get a wall post or a chat session.
This profile was almost certainly set up by someone out to steal something, and who has probably set up dozens of such scam profiles all over Facebook. He's (statistically speaking, it's most likely a "he") using flattery to make friends and generate interest, and innocuous chit-chat to establish trust, which will be cashed in later when the real scam hits. The "girl" will eventually need to borrow money or something like that. Or it could just be a way to establish and maintain a "friend" connection so the scammer can target my friends. Who knows? I'm not planning to find out. I've now reported my new "friend" to Facebook, and will unfriend "her" as soon as I submit this column.
While pretty women can be dangled in front of thirtysomething and fortysomething men in order to separate them from their money, Dateline NBC 's Chris Hansen can tell you that men target girls for crimes far worse. A growing number of police investigations are targeting men with fake Facebook profiles and fake photos, which always show the perp to be closer to the age of the victim. They strike up "friendships" with underage girls. One 32-year-old Canadian man is currently being investigated for targeting 146 girls (most between the ages of 11 and 15), and trying to get them to agree to an in-person meeting.
Similar to this is stalkers of all stripes who use fake profiles to keep tabs on their victims. There's even a tongue-in-cheek "Stalkers" application on Facebook.
How to wreck Facebook
One reason people enjoy Facebook is that e-mail has become polluted with spam, and it's more pleasant to converse without unsolicited garbage. That's why purveyors of unsolicited garbage find Facebook so appealing as well.
This week, Facebook won an $873 million judgment (filed under the CAN-SPAM Act) against a spammer. Hooray for Facebook! But this high-profile legal victory points to the sudden attention being paid to Facebook by spammers large and small. For every big fish caught, a thousand little fish get away. Of course, the spam on Facebook comes in the form of "groups" and "gifts" and "applications," as well as wall posts and other such communication.
Facebook is also becoming a focus point for hate speech. After a South Park episode where a character claims all redheads are evil, some Canadian teenager created a group on Facebook called "National Kick a Ginger Day." Which led, of course, to actual kids getting kicked at school. This passes for a hate crime in Canada.
In Italy, someone or some group posted a series of "neo-Nazi" Facebook pages that reportedly called for violence against gypsies.
All of these malicious activities, from fake friends to spam to hate speech, are aggressively dealt with by Facebook once people complain. But the Internet is always Darwinian. As Facebook's defenses evolve, the spammers will find a way to deceive. And deception is oh so easy on Facebook.
Eventually, I predict that fraud will become so widespread that signing up for Facebook will require a verified cell phone number. But in the meantime, difficult-to-detect fraud is exploding on Facebook, and you would be well-advised to verify every friend.
Mike Elgan writes about technology and global tech culture. He blogs about the technology needs, desires and successes of mobile warriors in his Computerworld blog, The World Is My Office . Contact Mike at firstname.lastname@example.org , follow him on Twitter or his blog, The Raw Feed .
Posted on Peace4 the Missing
Peace4's Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Peace4-the-Missing/114101641947
My co-author and I try to address this and many other safety issues online and offline. We do emphasize trusting your gut, educating yourself and others and using your common sense, among other skills to stay safe and still enjoy the possibilities of modern technology.
Its fun and filled with possibilities! I have found friends that I otherwise may never have and developed relationships with some wonderful people too! Just proceed with caution and know what you are dealing with!
Thank you for this article!
I just want to add a few things on behalf of my Peace4 The Missing Family.
This can be especially risky for those of us with pending criminal investigations around the disappearance of our loved ones. I know people have contacted me on behalf of the person of interest in my sister and nieces disappearance/murder. So I have all of the security settings to keep people from viewing anything unless they are friends, and they must know something about me in order to become my friend, and I have to accept them. I make sure we know at the very least a half dozen people, check out thier facebook page, and if its limited or bare, I dont accept without asking a friend about them first. Many times people come from the Face book Cause page for Tina and Bethany, which I am even more careful about because that is an 'open' page.
Applications are tempting but they will steal your friends list and can steal other info as well, so its best not to use them. I reset my passwords on my computer every few months too. I never open attachments to emails from senders I dont know, I send them right to spam. Im careful...because I have watched this computer thing evolve from one way to hack people to another. These preditors are very creative...Its better safe than sorry.
Good article .... too bad they aren't familiar with the world of the missing. Families of the missing are preyed on so many times more than regular folks on Facebook or MySpace. Mostly because they are vulnerable and have had to reach out to multiple strangers in their search for their loved one. They are afraid of pissing anyone off by not talking to them! We have people out there throwing up pages for missing people that the families are not even aware of and don't even know the person. Many of those will link off to some site that, you guessed it, will ask for money. We have people setting up psychic scams on the families, setting up fraudulent causes using the missing as a hook to get people to "donate" money; setting up seemingly professional orgs and don't have the qualifications to do so. There was even a pyramid scheme at one point using the missing as a hook. People causing drama trying to look like the good people to further endear themselves to the families. People who act all nice, as if they want to help the families, when all they are after is the reward money. DONATE, DONATE, DONATE!!!!
Families of the missing please know that NO ONE should be asking you for money/donations/help! The truly good hearted, educated (ongoing training) and professional orgs, like Project Jason, will never ever take a penny from the families of the missing, EVER!
Discernment is the key to not being preyed on. Look into people, orgs, search groups, psychics, whatever they are or claim to be before you give up much information and get too chummy with them. Since the families are in turmoil, experiencing ongoing trauma, "gut" will only get you so far. Your whole belief system has been tested or turned upside down, it's hard to even trust your "gut"......so instead of gut rely on discernment through research. Is this person who they claim to be? Are they known by their local law enforcement? What do the professional orgs say about them? If they are a so called "advocate" how did they earn that title? Does their local media know of them? (Mine know me!) How is it they came to be connected to the world of the missing? (That one right there will give you much insight as long as it is verifiable!) Do they go by many names, many email addresses, list different hometowns all over the Internet? Do they know more about you than you know about them?
Don't feel bad if you have been duped, God knows I have been and probably will be again!
If you think you've been out and out scammed let me know. I can shrug off a lot that goes on but I will not stand for the families being scammed or preyed upon.
If you have been mistreated by a professional organization then there are steps you can take against an org like that, open a file against them at the Better Business Bureau, contact their state attorney, etc. I don't advise an Internet smear campaign because that will only hurt you. You chose that org even if it was a mistake. Fight professional with professional!
For so called organizations that do not have their IRS non profit standing who are fraudently making you believe they are a professional non profit or who are charging you a fee or are collecting money in your missing loved one's name without your permission.....turn them into your local law enforcement, their local law enforcement and the FBI. Normally this type of group you didn't choose; they targeted you!
The only way to lessen all of this is to educate yourself. The more knowledge you have in dealing with anyone the safer you will be on the Internet.
I know Sharon....it shouldn't be that way. But until law enforcement is educated in dealing with the families of the missing they will continue to throw families out to the wolves. Most law enforcement give the families absolutely no resources, and in particular families of adults missing, get absolutely no resources given to them .... they are more often than not told to go find a PI...that's the only advice they are given. And, even in that they are not told how to find a good PI!
Until we can get all law enforcement educated then the families will have scum prey on them. That's why I stay in the world of the missing...to protect the families.