Your Identity, Their Crimes - The Alarming Sophistication of Identity Theft (Part II.)

Love, friends, and technology, a peculiar collaboration indeed, yet here we are. These days, many apps and online communities offer us great opportunities to meet new people, make friends, and even find love. Does it work? Sometimes. Did it create an excellent platform for scams and frauds? The answer is YES.

The platforms may be different, but the core factors are pretty much the same. We put a nice picture or several, our age, location, share our likes and dislikes, hobbies, interests, and if we choose to, we add our educational and professional background.

In a utopic world, these over-sharing details might not be a concern. Sadly, we are far from wonderland. In the world we have, there are "hunters" and "prey," and the combination of trust and personal information ultimately results in a very risky game.

In the last insight, we discussed the growing phenomenon of identity theft. We examined these sophisticated criminals' strategies, the challenges the victim deals with, the loss of money, the trauma they undergo, and the difficulty of proving someone stole their identity.

However, identity theft is a criminal tactic used for more than one malicious intent. Providing the fraudsters with the information we spread online makes it much easier for them and us at a much higher risk of falling victims into their hands.

There is a social predicament between our demand for privacy and our need to share our lives online. On the one hand, we are against big and small corporations using our data without our permission, when on the other hand, we gladly expose ourselves on social media. The proof for that is the indisputable success of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, tinder, and TikTok, among many other platforms.

Nevertheless, although some criminals aim straight for our social ID numbers, passwords, and private accounts to get access to our finance, some criminals prefer to steal our "face," name, and background story to scam other people.

Meet Colonel Bryan Denny, a US army officer, a founding member, and an advocate of Advocating Against Romance Scammers, and most importantly, a victim of a stolen identity crime. Bryan Denny was the "face" of romance scams without him knowing. In 2016, Bryan's photos were stolen by a 29-year-old Nigerian and were used as a fake profile in dating sites to target women for romance scams. With his identity, this criminal rapidly targeted women from around the world who have fallen in love with this fake account, believing they are in a relationship with Bryan Denny, and willingly transferred their money to "support" their new partner in his financial difficulties.

This elaborated scam positioned this happily married man and father in the role of the villain without knowing why. The distressed victims even reached his family, and he said to ABC News, "It's been tough for my family to have to deal with, to a degree, because they reach out to my wife, reach out to my son."

Chyrel Muzic, one of the fake profile victims, sent the criminal $40,000 during a period of two years.

On 11 Feb 2019, ABC News published an alarming article about online romantic scammers. In this case, the criminals are based in Ghana, and their "job" is to target via Facebook divorced and widowed women from all over the world to scam them financially.

Just like in the Bryan Denny case, the strategy here is identical.
They create fake profiles with stolen photos and backgrounds, fake IDs, and a great story of an urgent need for money. Only a spouse will provide for the sake of love.

Another well-known scamming tactic is "Phishing." While romance scams combine "depthless" identity theft (pictures, names, stories) and emotional manipulation to make people willingly transfer money based on deceit, Phishing is slightly more sophisticated. In this approach, scammers reach out through well-bred email or text messages for the purpose of tricking us into giving them important details regarding our personal information. With these details, they could use it to perform actions in our financial accounts. The email or message we get usually looks like proper communication from our bank, credit card company, or any other online service we use.

For example, phishing can come as a request to update payment details or an unthreatening link. It could appear as a mail from Netflix, eBay, Amazon, and others, and it could even hold the company's logo to give us a false sense of validation and legitimacy.

The online world is fascinating, innovative, and multifunctional, but it also dangerous, dark, and full of deceptions. Ronald Reagen, the 40th president of the United States, used to say "Trust, but verify!" and it is more than relevant to apply among the digital space. The web is full of lies as much as it's full of opportunities. Most will have a good experience; some, unfortunately, will slip into bad ones. Although there are many ways to stay protected, and not one that can keep you 100% secure, you should never forget, just like in real life, not everything you see is real, not everything you've been told is true, and not every profile you come across is authentic.

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