By Tim Hernandez
Preying on emotion and ignorance is the modus operandi of social media catphishers.
Cris Maxson, a Fort Worth woman, was fooled by a false Facebook profile into depositing fake money orders to her bank account and then wired the money overseas.
A few days after the transaction was completed, she was arrested for grand theft of $900 and is incarcerated at the Tarrant County Jail awaiting extradition to California to stand trial.
According to the report, Maxson was heartbroken to discover that it was all a scam. The story as reported by WFAA8 confirms that Maxson’s suitor had been involved in other scams using the same name.
WFAA8 provides a link to a Facebook page named ‘Military Romance Scams’ dedicated to collecting these scams in one place on Facebook.
At iacpcybercenter.org, the website for the Law Enforcement Cyber Center, catphishing is defined as “exploiting individuals by targeting them through dating websites.” The term “catphish” signifies a person who presents false information online. Catphishing can be used to gain money, personal details or even notoriety.
The website includes an example of this form of online deception that is in line with the one used to deceive Maxson: “A Colorado mother and daughter pair swindled thousands of dollars from victims while presenting themselves as soldiers in Afghanistan needing money. This scam was harder to detect, as are situations where victims are lured into a fake relationship with someone who has presented a false profile to glean information from the victim.”
Usha Venkat, director of information technology at this college, said, “It’s called social engineering.”
“Education is important in combating these sorts of issues.”
Venkat recommends taking steps to protect themselves from these attempts at deception. “Educate yourself by using YouTube videos and other sources that inform about phishing scams,” Venkat said. “Be careful about information you are releasing, especially through social media, such as Social Security numbers, bank information, passwords, location and address, and other personal information.
“Keep your technology protected by keeping software updated, especially security software,” she said. “Unless you really know a person, don’t share information.”
She described other ways the online scammers operate. “They try to ask you for passwords by pretending they are maintaining system data,” Venkat said. “This is usually information they should already have.”
The scam is intended to gather sensitive information that provides access to personal data such as individual’s bank, credit card or even school accounts. “They may offer free software that has malware embedded. When you download it, the malware will scan your computer and then transmits information to a remote place.”
The intent of this scam is to phish your computer’s memory data for information that could provide access to your personal accounts or allow them to steal your identity without your knowledge.
So why do people fall prey to scams?
Professor Thomas E. Billimek, chair of psychology and sociology, said, “Part of that is that the person would have been lonely and looking for a relationship. Whether it’s over the Internet or in person, the progression is going to be similar. We are so used to communicating via Facebook, texting or email that it wouldn’t be so out of the ordinary now to develop a relationship in that context. You meet a person, spend time with that person, you build trust and become comfortable with that person. As the trust increases, you become more susceptible to being taken advantage of.”
Venkat provided a final word of advice to students and employees. “Always be suspicious. Don’t trust unknown email sources or links. Ask yourself if this is a legitimate email. Unless you really know the person, don’t share information. ACCD will never ask that sensitive information be shared through email.”
To report suspicious activity, call 210-486-0777 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.