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rants & resources from an open educator



Updated: 2016-06-30T23:09:22Z

 



Are you being catfished?

2016-06-30T23:09:22Z

This post was written jointly with Katia Hildebrandt and also appears on her blog. Catfishing schemes, or romance scams, continue to plague social networking services. In fact, the issue has become so common that there’s a good chance that one … Continue reading → Related posts: Facebook Is About To Make Catfishing Problems Even Worse The Future of Identity Theft Romance Scams Continue And I Really Need Your Help This post was written jointly with Katia Hildebrandt and also appears on her blog. Catfishing schemes, or romance scams, continue to plague social networking services. In fact, the issue has become so common that there’s a good chance that one of your recent “friend” requests actually came from a scammer versus someone who is actually interesting in pursuing a genuine friendship. Unfortunately, social networks on the whole seem content to turn a blind eye on the problem, despite the fact that people lose thousands of dollars to these types of scams every day. So, due to this alarming issue and utter lack of response from social networking sites, we’ve compiled a few tips, techniques and questions to ask yourself when evaluating an online profile. We hope that this information might prove be useful for both personal use and as an instructional tool. Step 1: Assess the authenticity of the profile picture This is really the easiest place to start. Drop the picture into Google’s reverse image search to see where else the image appears. TinEye, a dedicated reverse-image search engine, is also a great tool that can be used for to perform this search. If the picture is associated with many different names or profiles, it’s likely that you’re dealing with a scam account. Step 2: Critique the bio Catfishing accounts often use similar biographical components. Some red flags include: A relationship status of “widowed” or “divorced” (obviously not all widowed or divorced people are catfishers, but this status in combination with other red flags might be an indication of a fake account) A job that is of exceptional status and that may require a great deal of travel and/or periods without communication (e.g., military, engineer, oil worker, self-employed, shipping), making it easy for the scammer to make excuses for being absent, unavailable, or out of the country. An “about” section that includes clichéd, romantic statements such as “looking for love” or statements that may stereotypically reinforce one’s integrity (as in this scammer profile below; also note that he describes himself as “God-fearing” and that there are obvious spelling mistakes in the name of the supposed alma mater – which we discuss more later): Step 3: Investigate the profile name The name on the account can also be a clue about the legitimacy of the account: Many catfishers seem to pull from a list of popular names. If you search for the profile name on Facebook and lots of other profiles with the same name and similar occupations pop up, you may want to look more closely. At the time of writing, numerous “Nelson Colbert” profiles appear on Facebook and all seem to be fake profiles made up similar components discussed so far (e.g., stolen profile photo, suspect occupation, etc.). Check to make sure that the name on the profile matches the name in the URL. Otherwise, it might be a sign that the scammer has had to change their profile name when a victim found them out. Google the profile name. Most people have at least some sort of digital footprint these days. Can you find the person? Does what you find match up with what they are telling you? Step 4: Investigate the profile page Some other elements of the profile to watch out for include: Number of friends: Does the person have few friends? Do their friends interact authentically with them on their page, or do you only see the same people commenting/liking over and over again? Types of friends: Often, if you are able to see the scammer’s friend list, it will consist overwhelmingly of people of the opposite gender (the target [...]



Facebook Is Still Broken …

2016-04-18T17:49:05Z

I received this email a few minutes ago (and a few hours after I noticed that my Facebook account was down). For the fourth time, Facebook has disabled my account because the company doesn’t believe I am who I say … Continue reading → Related posts: Facebook’s Identity Authentication Is Broken Facebook Is About To Make Catfishing Problems Even Worse How To Opt Out Of Facebook Beacon I received this email a few minutes ago (and a few hours after I noticed that my Facebook account was down). For the fourth time, Facebook has disabled my account because the company doesn’t believe I am who I say I am. Yes, apparently I’m the one with the fake account. Not “Obrien Gary Neil” or “Michael Walter” or “Nelson Colbert” or “Trofimov Sergei” or “Anne Landman” or “Dounas Mounir” or “Kyle W. Norman” or one of the hundreds of other fake accounts that I have reported to Facebook for using my images to scam vulnerable women across the globe. No. Once again, Facebook has decided to disable my account for using a fake name. Despite the fact that I’ve already had to submit my government-issued ID to Facebook in each previous case. Despite the fact that my account is nearly a decade old and linked to 2000+ Facebook friends. Despite the fact that I’ve had countless media interviews about the problem. If it can happen to me, it could certainly happen to you. I’m starting to feel like a broken record, but I really need your help. Please share so that we can get Facebook’s attention. The reporting system is badly flawed, and as I’ve written previously, Facebook really needs to get it fixed. Related posts: Facebook’s Identity Authentication Is Broken Facebook Is About To Make Catfishing Problems Even Worse How To Opt Out Of Facebook Beacon [...]



Facebook Is About To Make Catfishing Problems Even Worse

2016-03-25T21:31:21Z

Image via Careful Parents Over the past week, I’ve had a number of people share articles with me related to Facebook’s testing of a new feature that is purported to alert Facebook users when it finds that someone is impersonating your account. Once … Continue reading → Related posts: Continued Catfishing Woes Catfishing Tricks Become More Complex Facebook’s Identity Authentication Is Broken Image via Careful Parents Over the past week, I’ve had a number of people share articles with me related to Facebook’s testing of a new feature that is purported to alert Facebook users when it finds that someone is impersonating your account. Once the user is alerted, that user is then able to report the fraudulent account and pray that Facebook will take it down. However, given my 8 years of experience with this problem, I feel that I am qualified to say that this approach will simply not work for a number of reasons. Facebook often fails to take down fraudulent profiles: While I have successfully had Facebook take down hundreds of fake profiles (I find several new ones each day), there are certain profiles that it simply does not take down. For instance, I’ve been trying to get Facebook to take down the account of “Trofimov Sergei” (a user who is clearly using a profile photo of me and my son) for over a year now. Yet, no matter how many times I report the account, the profile remains. More disturbing is the fact that if you search for “Trofimov Sergei” on Facebook, you will see dozens of fake accounts by the same name using stolen photos of other men. Most of the deception is done in private communication with the (potential) victims, but every once in a while, you will find a public post where the fraudsters are asking for money for a feigned illness. Luckily, there are many people (often former victims) who do uncover and share their knowledge of these fraudulent accounts in order to contain some of the damage. Scammers may use photos of your children as their profile photo: After hundreds of reports, Facebook still refuses to take down the account of “Nelson Colbert,” a scammer who is using photos of my children as a profile photo. When you report an impersonation in Facebook’s current reporting tool, you ultimately have to choose one of the following: A) “This timeline is pretending to be me or someone that I know”, or B) “This timeline is using a fake name.” I have been completely unsuccessful when using Option B, and I have had only limited success with Option A: when you choose this option, you are asked to identify the user who is being impersonated, but when I identify myself, Facebook quickly rejects the report as it is clear that I am not the person in the profile photo. I have attempted to use Facebook’s “Report An Underage Child” tool (which is only available in Canada after you logout, apparently), but this has also been completely unsuccessful. The most unnerving part of this particular profile is that I receive more reports about it from victims than I do about any other. In fact, there are literally dozens of pages of search results that relate to “Nelson Colbert” and this scammer’s involvement in fraudulent activities. Yet, it appears that Facebook has made this account untouchable. I suspect that the scammer behind it may have created falsified documentation to get the account validated internally. Scammers may use your elderly mother’s photo as their profile picture: These criminals often create sophisticated networks of friends and family in their schemes. For instance, the scammers created a fake profile using my mother’s photos and named her Maria Gallart. I cannot report this profile directly to Facebook; instead I am only able to report it to my mother to deal with it. I did so, and as you would imagine, the distress, anxiety, and uncertainty that this caused my ne[...]



The Future of Identity Theft

2016-03-19T19:40:10Z

I’ve written and spoken extensively about my problems with romance scammers, criminals who have used my photos (and the photos of many others) to create fake profiles and trick victims into sending them significant amounts of money. In my research, … Continue reading → Related posts: Continued Catfishing Woes Facebook Is About To Make Catfishing Problems Even Worse How Romance Scammers Port Video Files Over Skype I’ve written and spoken extensively about my problems with romance scammers, criminals who have used my photos (and the photos of many others) to create fake profiles and trick victims into sending them significant amounts of money. In my research, I’ve learned that many potential victims ask for a video chat with scammers as a way for them to prove their identities. In fact, participating in a video chat and then asking supposed suitors to perform particular actions on request (e.g., hold up two fingers on your left hand) is often touted on anti-scammer sites as a way to ensure that the person that you are talking to is in fact who they say they are and not a scammer who may be using recorded video as their video source (a common and frightening possibility). Well, verifying identity online has just become even more complex. As you have already likely discovered, there are a number of freely available apps (e.g., Snapchat, FaceSwap Live, MSQRD) that allow for live face-swapping. In fact, MSQRD was recently purchased by Facebook, and there have been suggestions that face-swapping could become more directly integrated into the social network. If you have used one of these apps, you’ll likely agree that face-swapping can be a lot of fun, but these are fairly touchy/glitchy apps and their use could be easily detected. However, this may not be the case for long. Researchers from Stanford University recently released a project that works to “animate the facial expressions of the target video by a source actor and re-renders the manipulated output video in a photo-realistic fashion.” The results are incredible, but the implications for identity theft are incredibly frightening, in effect allowing scammers to become puppet masters who manipulate the faces and bodies of their fake profile avatars. Takes the idea of “authentic identity” to a whole new level, doesn’t it? class='youtube-player' type='text/html' width='584' height='359' src='http://www.youtube.com/embed/ohmajJTcpNk?version=3&rel=1&fs=1&autohide=2&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&wmode=transparent' allowfullscreen='true' style='border:0;'> Related posts: Continued Catfishing Woes Facebook Is About To Make Catfishing Problems Even Worse How Romance Scammers Port Video Files Over Skype [...]



r/NextSpace (Reddit)

2016-03-12T18:25:05Z

For a number of years, I’ve enjoyed using Reddit as a source for my daily reading. Reddit, often known as “the front page of the Internet,” is often where one can find stories and trends before they go viral in … Continue reading

For a number of years, I’ve enjoyed using Reddit as a source for my daily reading. Reddit, often known as “the front page of the Internet,” is often where one can find stories and trends before they go viral in the mainstream. As well, because of the networking and conversational properties of the spaces, I’ve often mused about the potential of Reddit as a space where educational conversations might be hosted and shared. There are several education-related subreddits (specifically-themed topics or communities) such as r/education and r/edtech, but these spaces tend to be a bit stagnant.

Just recently, my friend @j0hnburns (and colleagues) took on the idea of developing a new subreddit at r/NextSpace with the goal of creating a space where deeper conversations around edtech related topics could be hosted and shared. He’s written about the launch and has included the overall rationale, how to get to started with Reddit, and how to contribute to r/NextSpace.

To help with this launch, I’ve agreed to do an AMA (Ask Me Anything) starting on Monday March 14th, 8pm EST (or see your time conversion here). To participate, check out this AMA thread, ask questions (you can post them early if you like), upvote or downvote the questions or comments of others, and I will do my best to respond to whatever gets asked. I know I’m nowhere near as big of a draw as those who have led some of the most popular AMAs, but hey, I’d like to help in any way to get this started. Plus, I think I have a lot to share regarding my thoughts on edtech, digital citizenship, digital identity, or other related topics. And of course, an AMA is about what you contribute as well!

So I hope that you will give Reddit and r/NextSpace a try, and hopefully I’ll hear from you at the AMA next week!




Catfishing Tricks Become More Complex

2016-03-09T23:37:49Z

Yesterday, I received the following Facebook message: I posted this to my Facebook wall when I received it, and it was interesting to hear from several people who felt they might have been fooled had they received the same message. After … Continue reading → Related posts: Facebook Is About To Make Catfishing Problems Even Worse Continued Catfishing Woes Facebook’s Identity Authentication Is Broken Yesterday, I received the following Facebook message: I posted this to my Facebook wall when I received it, and it was interesting to hear from several people who felt they might have been fooled had they received the same message. After nearly a decade of becoming familiar with the tricks of these scammers, I question just about every angle. While this was the first time that I have received a message like this, the motive for the message seemed obvious to me. A photo of me that verifies the date would make it possible for a scammer to “prove” they were really me (rather than just using old photos). As well, if I had Googled the name of the sender (like my colleague Katia did), I might have wondered how this famous Nigerian business woman had the time to message me personally (and perhaps even why she cared about a mere 150K). Today, I was contacted by another person on Facebook who had heard from her friends that a profile with her name, photos, and identifying information was trying to friend many of them. Several reported this to be suspicious so she immediately warned her friends with a status update. I asked her where the fake profile was and she found it for me. What we noticed was really sneaky (and horrible). See below, the real person’s profile: Now, look at the fake profile: Do you see the important difference? The profile and header photos are the same in each. The friend count is certainly different. But the big thing is the spelling of the name. The authentic profile is “Joy Brennan” (two ‘n’s) and the fake profile photo is “Joy Brenan” (one ‘n’). The especially sneaky part is that if you were to try and search for fake Facebook profiles with your photos and name, this would make these much more difficult to find. So why would the scammers do something like this? My guess is that they were hoping to perform a scam such as the common “email hijack,” where members of an existing friends/family network could eventually be tricked into sending money due to a contrived distress call (e.g., I was robbed while traveling, please wire me money). So there you have it – a couple more scams to be concerned about. Oh, and Facebook still isn’t doing anything about these problems. Related posts: Facebook Is About To Make Catfishing Problems Even Worse Continued Catfishing Woes Facebook’s Identity Authentication Is Broken [...]



Continued Catfishing Woes

2016-03-03T06:56:09Z

Landing in Regina tonight, I checked my phone to find the following tweets directed at me. From what I was able to understand, it appears that this tweeter has been chatting with a person by the name of James Vardy … Continue reading → Related posts: Facebook Is About To Make Catfishing Problems Even Worse Catfishing Tricks Become More Complex The Future of Identity Theft Landing in Regina tonight, I checked my phone to find the following tweets directed at me. From what I was able to understand, it appears that this tweeter has been chatting with a person by the name of James Vardy who is using my photos (as seen in the screenshots). However, she believes that I’m the guy she is actually talking to and that I’m “sick” and a “pervert.” A quick search in Facebook brought up this fake profile that I have now reported. Below is a screenshot in case it actually gets taken down by Facebook (which is rarely ever the case). James Vardy Fake FB Profile It was difficult to make out exactly what happened between this tweeter and the scammer. It sounds like the scammer didn’t want to use video during chat, but this tweeter did and it broke his “rules.” The scammers obviously would much rather communicate via audio or text because video can give up their identity (unless they are exploiting the videos of those they impersonate such as in the manner that I describe in this clip). Even so, this fake video approach only works in small doses and scammers only use it to strengthen their deception and then continue on via text and voice. You’ll also notice that the tweeter opens up with accusations that I was showing her my “privates.” Sigh. I’m not sure if this tweeter actually saw someone’s privates on her screen, but I know that this sort of explicit interaction is commonly sought out by scammers to provoke their victims to share the same. Once the scammers have captured explicit photos of their victims, the scammers can then blackmail victims for money or in rare cases, the victims can become scammers themselves. After reading these tweets, I quickly alerted the tweeter that she was speaking to a scammer. I also sent her this resource that I prepared to help victims understand their situation. She didn’t seem to believe me. Fun, hey? I didn’t bother replying after that. While her tweets are public, my replies only bring publicity to the situation and I assume that most people who read my tweets don’t actually know about my long-term catfishing predicament. It’s honestly exhausting dealing with this. And, I’m not the only one who is having to do so. Check out Alan’s latest post on his efforts in trying to get Facebook to take down a scammer account that is using his photos. This overall situation is only going to get worse, and social networking services continue to look the other way. And hey, just wait until face swap technology gets a bit better … then we’re pretty much all doomed. Related posts: Facebook Is About To Make Catfishing Problems Even Worse Catfishing Tricks Become More Complex The Future of Identity Theft [...]



Update Your RSS Subscription for Open Thinking?

2016-02-12T13:48:39Z

Hey there, I’ve been using Feedburner to handle my RSS feed for many years now. Unfortunately, the tool hasn’t been updated for many years and it causes problems when people want to use my content with (relatively) newer services. So, … Continue reading

Hey there,

I’ve been using Feedburner to handle my RSS feed for many years now. Unfortunately, the tool hasn’t been updated for many years and it causes problems when people want to use my content with (relatively) newer services.

So, if you are still subscribed to my old Feedburner feed, please consider updating your RSS subscription to the standard WordPress feed found at http://educationaltechnology.ca/couros/feed.

Alec




Romance Scams Continue And I Really Need Your Help

2015-12-23T23:29:22Z

If you follow me closely, you know that I’ve been discussing romance scams (also known as “catfishing”) for several years now. In short, a romance scam is where criminals will harvest photos from social media and dating site profiles and … Continue reading → Related posts: Facebook Is About To Make Catfishing Problems Even Worse The Future of Identity Theft Facebook’s Identity Authentication Is Broken If you follow me closely, you know that I’ve been discussing romance scams (also known as “catfishing”) for several years now. In short, a romance scam is where criminals will harvest photos from social media and dating site profiles and then use these photos to set up fake profiles on these same sites to enter into online relationships with individuals for the purpose of defrauding victims out of money. A more technical definition of the term romance scam is provided below. A romance scam is a confidence trick involving feigned romantic intentions towards a victim, gaining their affection, and then using that goodwill to commit fraud. Fraudulent acts may involve access to the victims’ money, bank accounts,credit cards, passports, e-mail accounts, or national identification numbers or by getting the victims to commit financial fraud on their behalf. (Wikipedia) For at least eight years, scammers have been using my photos, and the photos of my family, to commit these crimes. I hear from new victims on a daily basis as they frequently find the “real” me through my previous writings on the topic. Unfortunately, many victims find out too late, often after they have already sent significant amounts of money to these scammers and/or have developed a significant emotional attachment. These are deeply complex crimes that rely on a victim’s capacity for love, trust, and good will for the execution of fraud. Today, I read a victim’s report on a Facebook group that is dedicated to raising awareness of these scammers. The post is worth the read in itself as it highlights some of the tactics used in these cases. Relevant in this case is that the victim pointed to several social media profiles that were created with my photos and the photos of my family. I’ve included screenshots of these fake profiles below with some added context. First, there is the fake profile using my photos and the name Alex Gallart. The use of a similar first name is notable as past victims have told me that once they found my real identity they would approach the scammers with evidence of me actually being “Alec Couros”. In turn, the scammers would simply say that they use slightly different names or surnames for whatever purpose (e.g., mother’s name, professional name, etc.). In many cases, this additional lie seems to be taken up as plausible. Then there’s photos of my real brother George whose fake name is John Williams in this case. Scammers will set up networks of fake profiles and communicate to victims from each of these to validate the key profile’s identity. Then, why not throw in photos of my real daughter as well? In this case, the scammers use the fake name of Clara Gallant to set up yet another profile. Alec Gallart seems to be more authentic with each additional connection. Wait. Not real enough for you? How about we add photos of my real mother in yet another fake profile. As we know, grandmas will never lie to you. But I guess that wasn’t enough. A family’s set of fake profiles is pretty convincing, but the scammers felt that they needed to go the extra mile to make Alec Gallart even more convincing. The scamers thought it would be great to exploit my father’s death (he passed away in 2013) by including this photo of my children at his burial mound. And they also included this phot[...]



(Digital) Identity in a World that No Longer Forgets

2015-12-24T00:02:53Z

[This post was written jointly with Katia Hildebrandt and also appears on her blog.] In recent weeks, the topic of digital identity has been at the forefront of our minds. With election campaigns running in both Canada and the United States, … Continue reading → Related posts: Developing Upstanders in a Digital World An Open Letter to a Digital World: Time to Switch to Linux Facebook’s Identity Authentication Is Broken [This post was written jointly with Katia Hildebrandt and also appears on her blog.] In recent weeks, the topic of digital identity has been at the forefront of our minds. With election campaigns running in both Canada and the United States, we see candidate after candidate’s social media presence being picked apart, with past transgressions dragged into the spotlight for the purposes of public judgement and shaming. The rise of cybervigilantism has led to a rebirth of mob justice: what began with individual situations like the shaming of Justine Sacco has snowballed into entire sites intended to publicize bad online behaviour with the aim of getting people fired. Meanwhile, as the school year kicks into high gear, we are seeing evidence of the growing focus on digital identity among young people, including requests for our interning pre-service teachers to teach lessons about digital citizenship. All this focus on digital identity raises big questions around the societal expectations about digital identity (i.e. that it’s sanitized and mistake-free) and the strategies that are typically used to meet those expectations. When talking to young people about digital identity, a typical approach is to discuss the importance of deleting negative artefacts and replacing them with a trail of positive artefacts that will outweigh these seemingly inevitable liabilities. Thus, digital identity has, in effect, become about gaming search results by flooding the Internet with the desired, palatable “self” so that this performance of identity overtakes all of the others. But our current strategies for dealing with the idea of digital identity are far from ideal. From a purely practical perspective, it is basically impossible to erase all “negatives” from a digital footprint: the Internet has the memory of an elephant, in a sense, with cached pages, offline archives, and non-compliant international service providers. What’s more, anyone with Internet access can contribute (positively or negatively) to the story that is told about someone online (and while Europe has successfully lobbied Google for the “right to be forgotten” and to have certain results hidden in search, that system only scratches the surface of the larger problem and initiates other troubling matters). In most instances, our digital footprints remain in the control of our greater society, and particularly large corporations, to be (re)interpreted, (re)appropriated, and potentially misused by any personal or public interest. And beyond the practical, there are ethical and philosophical concerns as well. For one thing, if we feel the need to perform a “perfect” identity, we risk silencing non-dominant ideas. A pre-service teacher might be hesitant to discuss “touchy” subjects like racism online, fearing future repercussions from principals or parents. A depressed teenager might fear that discussing her mental health will make her seem weak or “crazy” to potential friends or teachers or employers and thus not get the support she needs. If we become mired in the collapsed context of the Internet and worry that our every digital act might someday be scrutinized by someone, somewhere, the scope of what we can “safely” discuss online is incredibly narrow and limited to the mainstream and inoffensive. And this view of digital identity also has implications for[...]