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Identity Fraud on Twitter, Facebook and the Cyber world: What to look out for.
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Social Media and Identity Fraud
Today’s virtual world has caused an explosion of new methods of communicating. When I was a child being able to phone somebody up and immediately see their image as well as speak to them was considered to be the stuff of Science Fiction TV shows such as Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.
Now though that’s old news and with the advent of Skype, Instant messaging, Facebook, Twitter and emailing to name but a few methods we now take for granted for communicating with friends, family and business associates. There is no denying that instant ongoing communication is now very much a common part of our modern lives.
It is now also hard to imagine that the internet and e-commerce have only really been with us for two decades. In fact my own daughter looks at me in sheer horror when I recount my own childhood memories which are all completely devoid of a computer, without internet access and we did not even have even one of those brick like mobile phones until I reached 20. In fact it was considered to be a momentous occasion for our whole family when the first VHS Videotape player and recorder landed in our home. It was huge, expensive and completely archaic by today’s standards but to us it was a major revolution in technology.
Like everything in life though this explosion of Social Media has also meant that we are now more exposed than ever before. The internet is also now an established global web of potential fraudsters as well as communication and e-commerce. Many people on-line are not who they claim to be. It is now also well reported that many individuals and groups today are now using Social Media Networking methods of communication to make a quick financial killing at others expense. We have also had the arrival of an endless stream of businesses, charities and others who are putting forward pristine on-line PR packages that can sometimes have more sinister undertones that many unsuspecting surfers, clients or well meaning third parties are often totally oblivious to.
Facebook, Twitter and sites like My Space have all now been infiltrated by fraudsters who often use false identities to prey upon unsuspecting victims. Over the last few years I have noticed a pattern when studying the profiles and avatars of people on-line who may be suspect. Sometimes I am wrong and it might just be a bad photo (they might just be a bad photographer like me). Other people just like to display a more individual avatar image but if you are uneasy about a new encounter or may be considering parting with some of your hard earned cash then I have found it useful to first check the following points that may be helpful in discovering that the person you are studying may not be who they claim to be.
The pictures I have used to illustrate the observations for my article are all from the website listed on my accompanying images. As it would appear many fraudsters are taking their identity tips from specific photo faux pas i.e. strategies that are now noted as being unacceptable by most passport office authorities.
Fake on-line Images:
I myself have fallen prey to fraudsters on a few occasions some of whom had actually created an entire new virtual on-line identity for themselves. With hindsight there were many signs there that the more experienced web user probably would have spotted a lot sooner. Blurred, obscured or incomplete photographs are a red light warning that you may be dealing with a fake person.
Also having previously worked as an on-line content writer for various websites I know that it is also common to be asked to do work writing a list of so called 'endorsements,' for a product. So it is probable to assume that sometimes these fictitious 'positive comments,' about a product will later be uploaded onto a website and fake images of these fictitious people are then often added for effect. It is really not possible to know just by looking at a website whether these so called testimonials are likely to be written by authentic people or not.
As a research exercise for writing this article i also looked up the guidelines for verifying a person's photographic image used by various passport offices. When I did I was very surprised to realize that I had in fact come across many such images myself in the virtual world I inhabit a lot of my time especially in relation to people I may have already been suspicious of or had been conned out of my money by.
So the following are the main tactics often employed by people who create false identities. The following types of images are ones to watch out for if you have any reason to be suspicious of a persons identity.
Cut and pasting to create a new identity:
Often if a person is creating a new identity they will cut and paste from their folder of existing images. With the right software and experience in using various techniques a person's image can be altered quite effectively with just s few alterations. Sometimes it can even seem like a different person completely by the time the image is finished with. That is the biggest problem with having your images available freely on-line. It is just never possible to know who might be using them in a way that you had never intended.
But even common techniques such as those used in the images displayed in this article are often used. It may not make the person look all that different but sometimes the images can just be altered enough to make you look twice and wonder is it or isn't the person you believe it to be. Obviously the more tactics that are used on the one image the harder it may become to then conclusively identify that person.
The most simple and quickest image alteration techniques include:
- Covering a portion of the face with long hair. In many cases somebody else's hair is also cut and pasted from another existing image to alter the persons appearance even more.
- Hats, baseball caps, sun glasses, scarves over the head or face, a person with a glass or cup obscuring some of their face, a person hiding some of their face with their hands, only half a person's face in the photo. The list is endless really.
- Glasses are sometimes used in an number of different ways. The photo may be altered to may it appear that there is a light shining on the lens of the glasses. The person may be wearing very large frames or the frames may be very dominant in the photo. Also sunglasses are often a good way of disguising an identity especially if they are combined with head gear as described above. Glasses resting low down on the bridge of the nose are often quite effective at disguising the persons face too.
- Another method to alter the identity of a photo is to make the image overtly light or dark so it is hard to make out the person's features correctly. Or the image may also be pixelated.
- Pictures of people not looking directly at the camera also make it difficult to clearly identify a person especially if they are also laughing, frowning or have their mouth open.
- Again beards, mustaches or watermarks may often be cut and pasted to disguise the persons appearance also.
Groups on Facebook:
Another area of growing concern for Social Media Networking is where you are asked to join a Group who may share an interest that you have, e.g. You may want to join a Dieting group to help get support and ongoing tips as well as encouragement for your weight loss plan.
The thing about joining a group is that you must give your details to the administrator before you can then be added as a member of the group. If the group is genuine then this need not be a problem as your details will then be used to add you to this group.
However if the group is not genuine then your details are now known to somebody else in the group and it could you leave you vulnerable to having your details used in the future in ways you would never have authorized if you had only known.
If for example the diet group you have joined is endorsing a certain line of dieting products then your identity could now be duplicated and used again to tell others that you thought the dieting products worked fantastically and you can't recommend them highly enough.
In reality you may have joined the group months before and only ever checked it out a couple of times and then moved on but your details still remain with this group for an unscrupulous administrator to continue using to endorse their less than good products over and over again.
There is also a facility on Facebook where you can categorize certain people in a group into different categories i.e. you can have some people in the group seeing certain posts while you can exclude others from seeing these posts. So possibly your copied identity could be used to say vile things about somebody else in the group without you having any knowledge of it in reality.You may find other group members becoming hostile towards you and you have absolutely no idea why this is happening.
Undoubtedly Social Media Networking is here to stay and at this stage all we can do is educate ourselves to the many pitfalls and try to keep our identities and our personal information as safe as possible if we want to continue to surf the net freely.