This story should turn your stomach. It should scare you if you spend anytime using any form of social media. It was published a few days ago by the NY Times. It’s a story about a middle-aged woman befriending a Marine in Iraq. They became friends on Facebook and she spent thousands of dollars helping him out, even providing him with a $5,000 plane ticket home. Problem was, there was no such flight. Yes, the Marine existed. But he wasn’t the person this woman had befriended and showered gifts on. Here’s an excerpt from the Times’ story:
They “represent two sides of a fraud that has flourished on Facebook and Instagram, where scammers impersonate real American service members to cheat vulnerable and lonely women out of their money. The deception has entangled the United States military, defrauded thousands of victims and smeared the reputations of soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines. It has also sometimes led to tragedy.
The scheme stands out for its audacity. While fraud has proliferated on Facebook for years, those running the military romance scams are taking on not only one of the world’s most influential companies, but also the most powerful military — and succeeding. Many scammers operate from their phones in Nigeria and other African nations, working several victims at the same time. In interviews in Nigeria, six men told The New York Times that the love hoaxes were lucrative and low risk.
Facebook has long had a mission to “connect the world.” But in the process, it has created a global gathering place where the crooks outnumber the cops.
For digital criminals, Facebook has become a one-stop shop. It has plenty of photos of American service members. Creating an impostor account can be easy. Facebook groups for single women and widows are full of targets. Scammers can message hundreds of potential victims. And they congregate in their own Facebook groups to sell fake accounts, Photoshopped images and scripts for pulling off the cons.
“There are so many people out there that are lonely, newly divorced, maybe widowed,” said Kathy Waters, head of a group called Advocating Against Romance Scams. “Everybody wants somebody to love and to listen to them and hear them. And these scammers know the right words to say.”
Social media has transformed our lives-for the better in some instances and for the worse in many other ways. For instance, we never communicate with one another any more. Go out to dinner sometime and take a look around the restaurant. Few are communicating with their dinner companions. Instead, they have their faces glued to the phones. Perhaps it’s time to re-think how we live. I know it’s time we are more careful in our use of social media.