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Identity thieves behind the screen

by Emily Sun Adams - Copy Editor
Tue, Feb 6th 2018 05:00 pm

If you use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, tumblr, Twitch, Tinder, or any of the latter, then you have probably had someone you didn’t know try to add you at one point or another. What if that user was someone you knew, using a pseudonym, or what if it was a random person adding unknown people, and what if they actually knew you and you just didn't remember? If it’s that easy to fool social media, how easy is it to deceive larger corporations with higher-risk profile generating databases? Cyber security can play a crucial role in ensuring safe financial institutions and operations. 

Avoiding these questions is usually easy because you might think, “if I don’t know them, I don’t want to add them.” Taking a closer look at profiles that randomly add you can reveal a few things, including mutual friends, photos and sometimes location. If there is a long list of mutual friends or followers, you can usually see if someone knows you. Often the photos available can tell a lot as well. Profile pictures are usually generic, well-taken portrait shots. This is partially because many accounts take photos from other people’s real profiles in order to portray a profile that can easily be perceived as real. 

Then there is location, which can narrow down if a person is from somewhere close or if they are just adding people sporadically. Many signs point to an obviously fabricated account, but sometimes fake profiles are not apparent because they have a lot of supporting attributes. One theory is that one entire account is part of a chain of synthesized profiles working together to make the single account seem more real. 

Nev Schulman is well known for his work with fake social media profiles. He was in an online relationship and his crush claiming to be named Megan, ended up being someone named Angela. He documented his experience and was soon bombarded with messages detailing similar experiences. 

“It feel like everyone on the internet wanted to tell me about their bizzare online romance,” he said. “If I would just pursue every single one of these leads, we could make a show of it.”

And so he did when MTV released the T.V. show “Catfish”, co-hosted by Schulman himself and Max Joseph. The series is dedicated to helping people deal with online profiles that seem like a fake account. They respond to complaints and record the steps to uncovering a real person portraying themselves as someone else. The show also makes sure to try and help both people in the situation. Often a person behind a fake profile is struggling with personal issues that they need to address as well.                              

When the internet is being influenced, there are several issues that can be addressed when deciding to share: why is this account being targeted, does the information accurately represent the person sitting behind the screen, and what kind of information is going to be shared through the connection. The safest thing to do is to not add or follow account you don’t know. 

However, there are accounts for many people, as well as corporations. Social media in itself is just someone form of online database accounts people use everyday. Many businesses use online operation profiles. Hospitals, banks and schools, along with many other institutions, rely on the internet for documentation. The combination of profiles one has are all a part of their digital fingerprint. This includes social media, banking and personal documentation, so the need for security is crucial. 

According to USA Today if you have been victimized by someone attempting identity theft, acting quickly can help minimize any damage done. In their article “4 types of identity theft and how to avoid them” by author Wendy Connick, differnt types of theft and prevention methods are highlighted and discussed.

“Start by filing a report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC); they'll give you paperwork which you can take to your local police department,” the article reads. “Victims of medical identity theft should report it to their health insurance provider's fraud department, and victims of tax or employment identity theft should report it to both federal and state tax authorities. Next, you'll need to inform all three credit reporting agencies and anyone holding an account in your name. Finally, it is a good idea to reach out to   your  state's  consumer    protection   office   or   attorney   general   for help   straightening   out   your official records.”

In order to protect yourself from identity theft, it’s encouraged to take several precautionary steps. Complete your taxes early and shred any documents not used; keep your social security number to yourself; change your settings on social media accounts to private or friends-only viewing modes; change your passwords often; and make sure websites are secure before agreeing to any contracts or making purchase transactions. And of course, avoid any sort of “phishing” or spam that asks you to verify account numbers and add profiles to your account. 



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