Sorry, your fake friends on Facebook are your fault

It’s not always easy to tell when a friend request comes from a scammer. But when that request comes from an account that claims to have amorous intentions, with cute pics to boot, it can be even more difficult. We want to believe we are wanted. That’s what makes these romance and dating scammers so insidious: they play on vulnerabilities that most people have. But whose responsibility is it to make sure you and your grandma don’t get scammed? And what are some ways you can tell that you might have been made a mark by a devious account?

The internet is full of stories about women who were scammed out of money and hope due to fake romance. Georgiana was promised love by a man claiming to be a serviceman stationed in Afghanistan. She sent him money so that he could come see her, and he broke her heart. All he wanted was the money.

Elspet now works as a “scam marshall,” after being scammed herself by a supposed military man, serving overseas. One of the biggest problems she finds is that women don’t want to report it because they just feel foolish. “You feel shame. You feel stupid and depressed,” said Elspet, aged 67,” to the BBC.

Even dating site Match.com has got in on the scammer action. According to the Federal Trade Commission, Match.com knowingly allowed scam matches to drive up their subscription base as they lured in their prey. Match.com also owns Tinder, OKCupid, and Plenty of Fish.

the podcast Swindled details a scam so involved that a man had a pyramid scheme going where he posed on dating sites as a rich man. He would then use the funds of one victim to wine, dine, and bewitch his next. The women ended up mountains of euros in debt, and reeling with humiliation. 

Scammers are pretty clever. Often, they take the profile of an actual person, someone who has served in the military and use that person’s information and photographs to entice women into engaging with them. Once a woman is on board, a scammer will say anything to get her to let her guard down, open her heart, and drain her bank account.

What of these guys whose likenesses are stolen? US Congressman Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) found out that his photos were being used to court women in fake, Facebook romance grifts, and he began a mission to stop it.

It was when a woman showed up at his office to meet him, having flown in from India, that the fit really hit the shan for Kinzinger, who believes that neither women nor he should be put through this kind or ordeal. He wants to bring the heavy hand of legislation to bare on Facebook for allowing this kind of fraud to go on.

Kinzinger thinks that Facebook should implement some security measures, perhaps with the use of facial recognition, or requiring users to have verified IDs before signing up for the social media platform. But it’s not Kinzinger’s job to protect you from scammers, or Facebook’s. It’s yours. 

There’s an active group on Facebook called Romance Scammers Exposed which lists these accounts when they hear about them, and also has this salient advice.

The only thing Facebook should do is ban user accounts when this kind of malicious behaviour is reported and verified. Facebook should let users know at the outset that there are bad actors on the platform, just like there are in real life, and to choose their friends mindfully, just like they would in real life.

Perhaps in addition to Facebook’s terms and conditions that no one reads, Facebook could convey concern that users not take other’s accounts at face value. There could be a “good practices for social media” set of guidelines, so people have a sense of what they should look out for. These kinds of things are made for kids by freaked out middle school administrators all the time, but seldom for adults. The premise is:  beware bad actors and false accounts. 

Here’s are some good, simple rules of thumb:

If a man contacts you, ladies, who is widowed with grown children, and a mountain of cash in another country that he can’t access because he’s deployed somewhere else and you with your beautiful smile and kind heart are the only one who can help him: that’s not true love.

When a new friend reaches out, and you have no friends in common other than his twinkling baby blue eyes, all his photos are long shots of someone parachuting out of airplanes, and you think maybe he could really listen to the longing of your soul if only you accepted his DM: that’s not true love either.

Even when accompanied by a marriage proposal, requests for large sums of money to be internationally transferred via Western Union, or offers to get you in on the ground floor of a new business venture, or even requests for you to bring a heap of cash when you fly to Bangkok to bail that delicious man out of jail, are not real proposals.

These guys are not looking for love, marriage, or even long walks on the beach. They’re looking for money, and you can be sure of that because they said so.

Men you’ve never met aren’t in love with you from pictures on the internet. Guys who ask you for money aren’t in love with you, they want your money. That’s why they asked for it.

For plenty of women, however, these fake friends and follows come at just the right time to ease the loneliness in their lives. We want to be trusting and believe that romance is possible, even when it’s little pixelated. But it’s our own weakness that makes us blind to the reality that lovers are not really made through anonymous dm’s. People aren’t always who they say they are when you meet them at a bus stop, nevermind when they friend you on Facebook with sketchily vacant burner accounts. 

Social media trolling of available, lonely women isn’t limited to Facebook. The Swindled podcast detailed a tactic where a man basically ran a pyramid scheme, courting one woman he met on Tinder with the funds he absconded with from a previous woman. He maintained a lavish lifestyle, jet-setted, internationally enjoyed life, and the women who fell into his trap went bankrupt. But this problem is not for Tinder to solve, it’s for users. Be wary. Don’t give your heart so easy, and don’t give your money at all.

Congress has been threatening to regulate social media, but they don’t really know how to do it. The platforms keep growing, along with their influence. Social media is both media and public square. It’s a shopping mall, newsstand, hang out. There is an intimacy we feel when we go on social media, because we access it alone, through our most intimate and personal devices, our phones. It’s easy to forget, in those moments of broken-hearted desperation, of loneliness and a need to reach out, that the people on the other side of the screen could be anyone, and are in fact living out their own fantasy or criminal enterprise.

It’s not Facebook’s job to protect people from their own stupidity, despite what Kinzinger thinks. It’s up to users to try and sort out if they’re being scammed, and to not be so innocent about a handsome face. The platform can’t regulate all the fake accounts, just like fake people in real life can’t be regulated. Users need to be discerning on Facebook, and any other platform.

Loneliness is a pervasive condition. We turn to social media for solace, comfort, friendship, and love. For sure it might be out there, but probably not in the form of a single, dashing, five star general who vows his undying love and asks for a wire transfer of $5,000 American. 




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