LET'S not be too naive in dealing with virtual friends that we only encounter in the net and whom we haven’t really known much about.
As I keep a record of my journals or what I consider as social media studies, I felt that I should write some of it in this column to forewarn others who might fall prey and become unsuspecting victims of scams and cybercrimes. As it is, these can actually start from social media friendship that can lead to illicit online affairs followed by cybersex to blackmail extortions.
Some victims were sweet-talked and deceived into business partnerships that eventually end up false investments. All these deceptions are employed by unscrupulous schemers for their financial gains and it has victimized believers of concocted or fabricated stories.
So, the key really is to accept only those whom you think are real people and do not just believe in what they say. Do not just look at the images that they post in their profiles but scrutinize every word that they use. I have become a Google Map local guide and I consider this search engine as a friend.
As a social media practitioner, I have almost reached my FB limit for online friends and I do not normally accept requests from those with many common friends as you get linked up anyway because of online alliances.
Early this June, I received a friend request from a user whose profile reads, “studied from Army War College. Lives in Kabul, Afghanistan. Single.”
Knowing the possibility that I may be welcoming a social media user who uses a false identity, I approved the prompt with full awareness of what we call as netiquette. Then a word from my new friend greeted me with “How are you today. Thank you for accepting my friend request, am Es Thoj Dauz. I wish to be your friend hoping to hear from you.”
This is the first message of a "Friend" after I have accepted the friend request of a social media (Facebook) user who does not have much information in her profile other than an image of a 30s fine looking lady with a remarkable cheekbone.
So I responded saying that I’m fine and thanked the user for adding me as a friend. Succeeding correspondence with the American Soldier in Afghanistan went on with her saying “I’ll tell you a little about myself first and hopefully you tell me about yourself too. I’m a U.S Soldier, working in Afghanistan and some of our soldiers have returned home, so I’m one of few soldiers still on duty in Afghanistan. I’m single, I was married before but I lost my husband in a car accident a few years ago.”
Well, I replied with apologies saying that I’ve been into a lot of stressful work-related activities even mentioning the modified general community quarantine in the Philippines, the strict safety guidelines relative to the Covid-19 pandemic and so on. She accordingly works for the USA army as a Capt. in the 3rd Infantry Division.
She wrote “I was deployed to Afghan to support Operation Enduring Freedom from August 2011 to March 2013 and came back home. I got redeployed to Afghanistan in September 2015 and I have been here serving my nation to give glory to the name of the USA... I graduated from Infantry Basic Training and Airborne School; I also graduated from the Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS) and the Special Forces... I was married before, but I lost my husband in a car accident a few years ago. I don’t have any child.”
Ensuing chats with her later became more personal. She started addressing me as if I have become close to her like a boyfriend until she mentioned about investing in the Philippines with her hard-earned money. I checked the net for possible information about US soldiers in Afghanistan and according to data I gathered from the
U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID), they receive hundreds of reports a month from individuals who have fallen victim to a scam perpetrated by a person impersonating a U.S. Soldier online.
Accordingly, victims of these “romance scams” report they became involved in an online relationship with someone they believed to be a U.S. Soldier who then began asking for money for various false service-related needs. Victims of these scams can lose tens of thousands of dollars and face a slim likelihood of recovering any of it.
Victims may encounter these romance scammers on a legitimate dating website or social media platform, but they are not U.S. Soldiers. To perpetuate this scam, the scammers take on the online persona of a current or former U.S. Soldier, and then, using photographs of a soldier from the internet, build a false identity to begin prowling the web for victims.
The CID warns, “never send money to someone claiming to be a Soldier!"
The most common scheme involves criminals, often from other countries—most notably from West African countries—pretending to be U.S. Soldiers serving in a combat zone or other overseas locations. These crooks often present documents and other “proof” of their financial need when asking their victims to wire money to them.
CID’s Computer Crime Investigative Unit also cautions Soldiers themselves to be on the guard for “sextortion scams.” In these scams, criminals engage in online sexual activity with unsuspecting Service members and then demand money or favor in exchange for not publicizing potentially embarrassing images, video or information.
Such scams, when they involve dating sites, pose a unique challenge in the fight against impostors and identity thieves, because on such sites a dating profile is often required to search for fake accounts. That makes it difficult for organizations to monitor those sites for impersonators using a Soldier’s or key leaders’ information in a scam.
In addition, it is not possible to remove dating site profiles without legitimate proof of identity theft or a scam. If you suspect fraud on a dating site, take a screenshot of any advances for money or impersonations and report the account on the platform immediately.”
(To be continued)