COVID-19 has brought on a lot of changes, including cybersecurity measures to mitigate issues in more people operating online and working from home.
An attack on the rise is social engineering, which experts say is one of the most insidious cyber attacks because it preys on human emotion.
Recently, there were five military men and women with large social media followings that had their identities stolen and used by Nigerian romance scammers during the COVID-19 pandemic. These scammers trick people during a vulnerable time and a study from SocialCatfish.com called Catfishing: A Growing Epidemic During COVID-19 gleans some pretty interesting data. We are always encouraging our military members and the cleared workforce to operate with caution in the digital age, so we sat down with one of those military influencers to hear her story and discuss tips on preventing this from happening more and more often.
Megan, also known as Cammy on social media, tells us a little bit about her military experience and having a side hustle while supporting our nation. Now, secret squirrels are pretty good about operating online and in social situations. But the most interesting thing about Megan’s story is that it started with someone she personally knew pulling her pictures from social media and pretending to be her. From there, the scammers started to pull her content as well.
Catfishing is a deceptive activity where a person creates a fake identity on a social networking service, targeting a specific victim for some type of fraud. The practice is usually used for financial gain, to compromise their victim in some way.
Catfishing: A Growing Epidemic During COVID-19, used the most recent data from the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center to highlight the tricks that romance scammers are using during the pandemic, and some signs that may tip off users online that they could be a potential victim of a scam. Romance scammers are even more so now pretending to be U.S. military members because it gives the perfect excuse why they cannot meet in person or FaceTime – because they are deployed.
According to SocialCatfish.com, American citizens lost $201 million to these types of scammers alone in the past year. This number is even projected to increase for the rest of this year and into 2021. Due to loneliness and isolation, millions of people are using dating apps, cruising even more on social media, and around the holidays are entering their personal data on even more websites.
Tricks Scammers Are Using During COVID-19
One of the most common traits or excuses of a catfish scammer is they cannot meet in person. They might discuss meeting in‐person but repeatedly have events occur that prevent them from doing so. They will tell you reasons that they cannot meet, like pretending to be overseas or utilizing the pandemic – an easy and logical excuse not to meet.
Another trick is to explicitly say that they need financial help for a COVID-related emergency. They foster a connection with a lonely victim and plead for money because they need help with treatment, their family is low on food, etc. These are lies, as people who have never met do not ask you for money for an emergency.
If you are social distancing or quarantining in your home with limited to no contact with loved ones, then someone’s pleas could potentially get you to bite. But beware of any individual you don’t know who says things that are too good to be true, especially if you’ve never met.
Other signs you could be in a catfish situation is if the situation starts to move too fast or if they refuse to video chat or if they note their schedule is just too hectic and timing doesn’t work out.
AVOIDING YOUR CONTENT BEING USED
Megan discusses her love of her side hustle and sharing her experience in both jobs. Especially with younger generations entering national security, social media is a fad that isn’t going away. It doesn’t mean that you have to avoid cyber space; you just have to play smarter:
- ‘Think before you link’ with all of the fake profiles on public social networks
- Have a clean or sanitized public facing profile
- Watch out for scams over email, and use your companies simulated attacks as a reminder for your personal accounts
- Practice good cyber hygiene overall across the entire internet
The best way to avoid someone else using your personal content to create a fake profile is to keep any social data you have online private. Filtering through follow requests is tedious, but it could be well worth it in preventing the next scam.