Even before the dust could settle, Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg, admitted before congress that his own personal data had been harvested by a third party in one of the world’s most unethical data abuse investigations.
These new revelations have kept many Facebook users on the edge of their seats. But allow me to point this story to another direction, and even as we recover from reeling, it wouldn’t hurt to ask, do you personally know your Facebook friend?
A friend in need is a friend indeed. This English saying has been recorded hundreds of million times in books, audio, video and one on one communication. It describes the original intention of friendships way before Internet technology was developed. Today with the proliferation of social sites and applications, the world has been shrunk to a global village, making it easy to find old contacts as well as create new connections in an instant.
Many people may not know this, but social media platforms including Facebook, Snap Chat, Instagram etc. are infested with crawling scammers, pedophiles, fraudsters and all sorts of criminals, a vice that developers may not have foreseen.
Once you accept a friend request from such, they automatically gain access to your photos, profile information or any other posts that you share publically within your network circles. In essence they become part of your daily life, reviewing your posts, movements and sometimes keep a record of this information. These days, criminal elements can dig further than before, into our private lives, our homes and work offices. And there is probably nothing we can do about it.
Through access to different sites, they steal images across the web, and create attractive and interesting new fake profiles. They will update photos and status and will keep these accounts running as normal, making it hard to detect foul play. Some of these criminals will localize and blend their profile to make the victims believe that the ‘user’ knows them. The easiest bait that these people use to attract victims is through love; lonely hearts, which we call, cat fishing.
Catfishing is the act of luring someone into a relationship by adopting a fictional online identity. While writing this report, I got lucky to interact with a few people who admitted to having fell victim of Cat fishers online once in their lifetime.
Claire* (not her real name), sent money and private photos to a man he met online. Having been promised marriage and a good life together, all about this man seemed to true, not until she saw her trending photos and chat screenshots on a Facebook Group called ‘Kilimani Mums and Dads Uncensored’. “Before I could confront him on this, he asked me to send money so that he pulls down the post,” Claire laments. “There is nothing I could do, as my photos were downloaded and shared hundreds of time”, she adds.
Cat fishers often assume some else’s identity and prowl the internet for easy targets. They will be part of your friend list and will mostly react to your posts, images and comment. Over time, the Facebook user will lower down their guard and see this person as a genuine, caring and sympathetic ‘friend’.
They will direct conversations to your inbox and occasionally send you photos of ‘themselves’. The conversations will last for quite sometime and may at times turn sexual. This is the bait that they will use to keep you glued to them.
After securing your trust, cat fishers will ask for favours including money for transport, to visit you so that you can have a good time together.
So if someone you haven’t met before is asking for money for whatever purpose, then know you are most probably being scammed. They will also come with all manner of excuses to avoid speaking on phone as they are obviously not who they claim to be.
How do you stay safe?
If everything is sounding fishy with your online friend, most probably you are being cat fished. Watch out if everything is getting too serious within a short period.
Cat fishers won’t snap chat, Skype or video chat. Ask for their true identity and if they fail to provide it, let them go, report their account and block instantly.
Do not send money, gifts or anything to people you are unfamiliar with, remember, you may be a target.
Go through your friend list and drop people you do not have any connections with, you will thank me later.
Remember the Internet is a great place to meet new people but don’t let naivety cloud your judgment.