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One woman made an appointment for hypnosis with his New York office.
She showed up with color printouts of his photos that she believed he had sent her. When Jones posted on his real Facebook page that HuffPost wanted to speak with women who had been bilked by scammers using his name, more than 50 responded in less than 24 hours. Jones has created a Facebook group dedicated to those victims defrauded with his photos. He also posted this public service announcement on YouTube about how to avoid being scammed.
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The Facebook photos of Las Vegas resident Michael Besson were also stolen and used to create hundreds of fake profiles on Facebook and other sites. One woman from a small town in Illinois showed up at the door of his home, he said. He said his motive in speaking publicly was simple: The social network giant has facial recognition software that could help identify fraudulent photo use. Social media and dating sites, where people volunteer details about their personal lives, are a natural habitat for scammers. Dating sites appear to be aware of the role they play, however unintentionally, in romance fraud.
It is standard for such sites to disclaim any responsibility for fake profiles that appear. An industry executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told HuffPost that some sites fight back surreptitiously. They block users who they suspect are scammers without telling them. Any money paid is returned on the back end to the presumably stolen credit card.
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Victims need to be told: If the person is not willing to meet them in the first month, move on to find someone who will! Some sites do a better job of actively monitoring for fraudulent activity. Zoosk , a dating app with 40 million online profiles and members in 80 countries, lets users make a video of their face with the app that a human moderator will then view and match up with the submitted photos.
Facebook, the largest social network by magnitudes, is also a playground for scammers. Many scam victims told HuffPost that they feel Facebook is not sufficiently proactive when it comes to weeding out and blocking the fraudsters.
How A Billion-Dollar Internet Scam Is Breaking Hearts And Bank Accounts
Facebook declined to give any details about its risk mitigation systems or say how many compromised accounts are caught. The site asks users to report posts or messages that ask them to inappropriately share personal information or send money. Voss declined to discuss how many reports it receives. The issue of what responsibility social networks, including Facebook, bear for enabling scammers is one that troubles many victims. Grover, of ScamHaters, thinks that Facebook could be more cooperative in policing its site. Facebook declined to respond to questions regarding its general criteria for removing pages or why it has taken down some specific sites, but individuals do appear to be using the site to facilitate financial scams.
It had grown to almost 1, members over the course of several hours. When it was reported, Facebook took it down.
But as soon as one page is removed, another seems to replace it. HuffPost also found this page called Yahoo Boys, which Facebook has since removed. But, he noted, sometimes it is done more openly. HuffPost also found five active Facebook profiles using different names but displaying the same photos. Two of the five were taken down before we could screenshot them; here are the three that remained. Scam victim sites suggested that the man in the photo is actually a singer in the U. Facebook declined to comment on the specifics of these screenshots. For example, when someone receives a friend request, our systems are designed to check whether the recipient already has a friend with the same name, along with a variety of other factors that help us determine if an interaction is legitimate.
The FBI said it does not comment on the policies and practices of private companies, and a Justice Department spokesman said that as a matter of policy, it would not publicly discuss prosecution strategies. Jones, the hypnotherapist whose photos are regularly lifted from Facebook, argues however that if the site really tried, it could quash the problem entirely. He thinks that the large sites have programs in place that thwart scams pre-emptively and thus reduce the risk to users.
Still, ZeroFox conducted a study of money scams on Instagram last year and found that scams were being created at an estimated rate three times higher than the rate at which they were being taken down. Every digital device connected to the internet has an Internet Protocol address, a unique set of numbers that reveals, among other information, the country in which it is connected. Anyone can check an IP address , though some browser extensions will send an alert if someone is doing that. So savvy scammers use a virtual private network to hide their IP addresses. Scammers like to move their conversation with their victims off Facebook or online dating services and onto other messaging platforms where, unbeknownst to their victims, they can organize all their communications.
Leaving Facebook as soon as possible also protects the scammer from the risk that their fake profile may be reported and taken down. Scammers never want to appear on camera in a live video chat, but will sometimes send a prerecorded video that shows what a loving dad they are or how handsome they look captaining their sailboat. Obviously, these videos are stolen, too. There are multiple YouTube videos on how to do it. Virtual Cam Whores , a service that creates customizable video, can also add a layer of authenticity.
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For example, if the victim asks for a kiss, the scammer can command the image on the screen to blow a kiss. Still, some would argue, how can so many people mistake what is a prerecorded video for a live webcam? The answer is as nontechnological as it gets: Victims must be willing to suspend disbelief. Criminals have also used the services of pre-digital age businesses to help their scams flourish. Western Union employees have even been accused of knowingly participating in those scams. The Justice Department will handle the returning of money.
The process for filing a claim has not yet been established.
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They essentially fell in love with a photo and turned a blind eye to their own doubts and suspicions, many told HuffPost. They ignored obvious red flags: Victims believe because they want to believe, experts said. A study in the U. They may have successful business or professional careers. But the study said they tend to be unduly open to persuasion by others and less able to control their emotions.
Whitty, the cyberpsychologist, found that many victims were survivors of abusive relationships. To preserve the relationship, they became good at explaining away, or simply refusing to remember, the actions that hurt them. We need to be on our guard both for ourselves and for our friends and family. This ability to suspend disbelief is one reason that con artists prefer to focus on people who have fallen for scams in the past. If you have any worries that something might be a scam … it very likely is. The subjects of romance scams are often blamed for their own victimization.
The victim-blaming is something that needs to change, said Jan Marshall of Australia, a victim herself who now advocates for others through her website Romance Scam Survivor. Nobody signs up to be preyed upon. There is a small body of research indicating that fraud victims experience post-traumatic stress disorder on par with those who have suffered from violent crime.
They develop depression and psychological trauma.