Many people are unaware that social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn provide a virtual playground for online predators who are continually on the prowl for new victims.
“Both men and women are being targeted on social media by these predators who attempt to assert dominance and humiliate their victims,” says Terry Evans, president of Cybersleuth Investigations, Inc.
“These predators are motivated by sex, money, or simply the thrill of exploiting a victim to satisfy their own narcissistic desires.”
Evans launched Cybersleuth Investigations, Inc in April to provide a much-needed service to victims of sextortion and other online scams including revenge pornography, catfishing, and cyberbullying.
While the term “catfish” is often associated with the popular television show of the same name, Evans has found the term goes beyond simply creating a fake personal profile on social media and pretending to be someone else.
“While individuals may expect to find catfish on dating sites, they don’t anticipate someone striking up a conversation with them on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook that ultimately leads to them being exploited for money or sex,” Evans says.
Unlike the Nigerian scams where predators often speak in broken English and use implausible premises to collect money, this new breed of online predator is far savvier and more dangerous.
“They typically present as a handsome man or woman, who are self-employed and charismatic,” Evans says.
“They often research their targets in advance so they know a lot about them and can engage them by sharing similar interests and views.”
Once a target has been identified, the predator begins the grooming process where they use overt attention, flattery, charm, gaslighting and secrecy to win their target’s trust.
The conversation typically moves to a direct message format, and as the relationship progresses, the predator may ask for nude photos.
These images are then used for sextortion, a form of blackmail in which a predator threatens to reveal sexual images in order to gain money or sexual favors from the victim.
Although Evans helps many catfishing victims find resolution and resolve their cases confidentially, he would like to prevent more individuals from being catfished in the first place.
Cybersleuth Investigations offers the following timely tips to help consumers stay safe:
- Delay engagement with new contacts that seem to have an excessive amount of similar interests and backgrounds.
- Scammers generally research their victims prior to contact and are well prepared to groom and establish relationships.
- Scammers who target women commonly present themselves as slightly younger, widowed, and successful entrepreneurs.
- Scammers targeting men will typically offer pictures early on and will present as much younger than their targets.
- Scammers often use multiple identities to overcome victim resistance.
- For example, perpetrators may establish a female presence in order to befriend a female target.
- Avoid discussion about income and money.
- Bad players will seek to confirm income and assets early in the game.
- A typical ploy involves the scammer scheduling travel to meet the victim.
- Some unforeseen emergency will invariably occur which puts the visit in jeopardy.
- The scammer will then request for money.
- Never send money to an online dating partner.
- Picture exchanges should be limited to face shots only.
- Never send risqué photos to others online.
- This particular scam is progressive, escalating from increasing levels of acceptance until the scammer is armed with a supply of photos that he can then use to threaten the victim into providing money or engaging in other activities.
- Be wary of those who attempt to date on non-dating sites such as Twitter and LinkedIn.
- Phone numbers can be spoofed.
- A “local” number could actually originate from anywhere, even outside the country.
- Always keep in mind that online identities are not real until you confirm they are real.
As a cybersecurity consultant with over 20 years of experience, Evans hopes to help more individuals to avoid scams and determine whether the person they are talking with online is legitimate.
“The stories I hear of broken hearts and exhausted bank accounts are sickening,” Evans says.
“In addition, the emotional stress of being catfished often leaves victims depressed and blaming themselves.”
Cybersleuth Investigations, serving the U.S. and Canada, provides investigative services involving all types of online scams.
Cybersleuth investigators are master level educated cybersecurity professionals with years of governmental investigative experience.