SCAMS OF THE HEART – Another reminder comes this week about how unscrupulous people can be and how the anonymity of the internet can encourage their behavior. The ruse involves Manti Te’o, a football player from Notre Dame college and his “fictitious” girlfriend, Lennay Kekua. I have to admit, when I first heard this story, I thought Te’o was an attention seeker who devised this plan for the publicity. As more facts come out however, I am more of the opinion that once again, the internet has shown us that you cannot believe everything you read and that sites like Facebook, Twitter, G-mail etc., are breeding grounds for liars and wannabes.
Yes, there are plenty of legitimate people on these sites, and yes, most people join because a family member or friend asked them to as an easy way for staying in touch. I have a Facebook account and a total of 34 “friends” of whom I am friends with in the real world or are related to by family ties. Each time I visit FB, I am given a list of people I may want to “friend.” Personally, I don’t require many friends to feel loved and I am not trying to have the most “friends” on FB. At the same time, why do they feel it necessary to suggest friends for me based on my age, and where I have worked or gone to school? Do they think I am so simple-minded that I cannot think of someone to look up on my own?
As an experiment for this article, I set up a dummy FB account after I set up the required dummy email account. I purposely used different birthdays and life facts for each thinking there was a chance I would get found out and stopped before I got started, but it didn’t matter.
As I set up the FB account, I went through some old photos and used one from my younger days when I did community theatre. I developed my profile based on the age and character I played in the picture. This was three days ago and today I have 82 “friends” with at least 20 more recommendations. Now, before you get in my face and tell me this was wrong. I only sent out 4 friend requests and from there it snowballed. I didn’t need to request any friends, they came to me. Before I accepted any friend request I explained that I was a “poser” for the sake of an article and that if the person was willing to still be friends I would send them the article. All but 6 accepted my offer.
So what did this prove? First it showed me that there are people on FB that will friend anyone, especially if there is a common friend. It also showed me that there is a great deal of vulgar language and nasty talk that you can be subjected to depending on who you friend. Lastly, it proved to me just how easily people are duped and sucked into each other’s lives. The more you share, the more people respond with advice, criticism and their opinion as though they have the right.
After revealing my purpose on FB, one of my contacts wrote me of an aunt who went on an online dating site and made herself out to be younger, more attractive and successful than she really was. She met a couple of wonderful guys and continued the sham until she realized she really liked the one fellow. He had been after her to meet for several months and although she wanted to, had to put it off because she was nothing like the person he thought he knew. Eventually, she stopped communicating with him, closing all the accounts they used and discarding the cell phone. To this day she feels terrible for hurting him and wonders what might have been if she had been honest in the beginning of the relationship.
So, what about this football player? It would appear that he too, believed the young lady he met online was real and invested in her life. He made the first move to connect, suggested the phone calls and although he asked to meet on several occasions she discouraged him from doing so, citing her poor health or schedule conflicts.
The problem I have with all of this is the fact that it went on for 4 years. If they were friends, whatever. But he called her his “soul mate,” talked about her as though they had a true relationship to his family and friends. So, when she supposedly died, they grieved with him. By the way, nice touch that she happened to die the very same day as his Grandma.
So while this was very tragic and young Te’o will be scarred for life from this experience, the comedians are already breaking out the jokes and a private investigation is now underway to find out who started the scam and why. Let this be a lesson to any of you about your vulnerability on the internet and serve as a sober reminder that people with evil intentions are everywhere and will take advantage of anyone they can.
Have you ever heard of the “Romance scam?” A full description can be found on the FBI site, but just as in Te’o’s case, a relationship is started online and it eventually evolves into one person asking for either money or gifts from the other. Another scam uses pictures of sick, bed-ridden children and requestss money to make the child’s last wish come true, to pay hospital bills or as a way to bring a family member to the bedside of the child before they die. These scams are meant to pull on your heart and they often result in money being sent in good faith. Internet fraud and scams abound from earn quick cash, to work-at-home schemes, help in finding a foreign bride, buying designer pets and more. The following illustration gives you an idea of where the most common scams may be found. You may be surprised to see that auction sites are the largest piece of the pie.
SO, WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Be smart and protect yourself from web predators:
Be sure to have your virus and software installed and kept up to date. Your scans are run to protect your computer and potentially your personal data from being stolen. Companies like McAfee provide daily scans and alerts for a yearly fee.
Use Google.com to research and verify the name of a person or business. They have a screening process, that although not 100% foolproof uses the most stringent guidelines.
After verifying the web address, find the actual location and address, then plug it into GoogleEarth.com or GoogleMaps.
Log onto Whols.net to find out who originally registered the name of the site, spam e-mail or pop-up. Check them out thoroughly.
Use OnGuardOnLine, the Federal Trade Commission’s site to get any additional information.
Never open up or answer unfamiliar e-mails or unsolicited information.
Be cautious about sharing pictures and personal information on-line.
What should you do if you have been scammed?
Report it immediately to the FBI. Don’t be so embarrassed that you want to forget about it and pretend it never happened. That is exactly what the scammer wants and if you do, then you get no justice and the scam continues. We all need to work together and with our governments when it comes to internet scammers. The internet is a wonderful source of information and entertainment but it comes with risks. Be always on your guard, watch over and teach your children to do the same.