Catfishing crimes have ensnared people for years.
This week, a grieving family implored parents to monitor their children’s online activity after a former Virginia state trooper fished a 15-year-old girl online. He then traveled to Southern California, where he allegedly killed the girl’s mother and grandparents.
“Parents, please know your child’s online activity. Ask about what he is doing and who he is talking to,” said Michelle Blandin, the girl’s aunt.
This isn’t the first catfishing scam to make headlines. Football player Manti Te’o, whose story was featured in a recent Netflix documentary, has been the victim of a catfish prank. Celebrities, including musician Brad Paisley, have also fallen victim to similar pranks.
So what is catfishing and why do people do it? And how can you protect yourself and your children? Here’s what you need to know.
Catfishers target victims for a variety of reasons
Catfishing is a form of online deception in which people use fake photos and identities to create a fictional persona. They do this for a variety of reasons, including targeting potential love interests or people they are trying to befriend.
Other catfishers may be child predators trying to gain the trust of a minor. In the Southern California case, 28-year-old Austin Lee Edwards posed as a teenager to lure the girl, authorities say. Although investigators did not provide details on which platforms the suspect used or how long he had known her, the catfishers can be found on most social media platforms.
“Catfishing certainly has psychological attributes, including the ability to impersonate someone else and exert power over a vulnerable person,” says Aaron Brantly, associate professor at Virginia Tech and director of the the university’s Tech4Humanity laboratory.
There are red flags parents should watch out for
Social media sites and apps – as well as catfishing scams – have taken off in recent years. Experts say there are potential signals people should watch out for.
“Parents should pay attention to children who become intensely attached to individuals in physical and virtual spaces,” Brantly says. “Often individuals engaged in catfishing will seek to encourage their targets to hide their online relationships from friends and family.”
Fareedah Shaheed, an internet safety expert whose goal is to protect children online, says another warning sign is people who don’t want to appear on a video call or cancel dating plans online. nobody.
The FBI is urging people to think twice when someone seems “too perfect” because it could be part of a romance scam. Sometimes it means that the person has studied the digital fingerprint of their future victim to understand them more deeply. This is another reason why people should be careful about what they share online about themselves or their children.
“Scammers can use details shared on social media and dating sites to better understand and target you,” the FBI says, warning of the type of person who “promptly asks you to leave a social networking site to communicate directly” or tries to isolate people. from friends and family.
Parents Can Take Steps to Stop Catfishing Before It Starts
With social media playing such a crucial role in our lives today, safety experts say parents should have honest, non-judgmental conversations with children about digital safety, while even engaging in their online world. . It can be a lifeline that connects them to the ubiquitous virtual reality of their children.
“For example, play with them, send each other funny or interesting short videos on social media, listen to their gaming or social media stories, be curious about their online activities and ask them questions about it” , explains Shaheed. “Be a good digital role model. If you want them to post with privacy in mind on social media, make sure you do the same. It’s much easier to have conversations about privacy on internet when they see you doing what you talk about.”
Talking openly about digital safety allows parents to keep tabs on who their children are talking to online. It also helps parents learn about their children’s specific apps and identify any abnormalities in online behavior.
“Discussing who children interact with in online environments and developing a model of trust and an atmosphere of openness and transparency is an important step in minimizing potential negative interactions in online spaces,” says Brantly.
Parents should also set clear hours for device use and establish patterns and limits on when and how devices should be used. “When in doubt, start a conversation from a position of mutual trust,” he adds.
For added security, parents can keep an eye on their children’s online activities through security apps. Shaheed cites Norton Family, Microsoft Family Safety, Google Family Link, and Apple Family Sharing as reliable examples.
“The internet can be a dangerous place if internet security and privacy aren’t taken seriously,” she says. “If your kids are online, please take the time to understand how to keep them safe. You don’t have to do it alone. Start looking for communities, tools, people, and resources that can help you get started. protect your children online.”
Confidential conversations are best held in the car or while walking – in a comfortable setting that doesn’t feel intimidating.
“Make sure your conversations about internet privacy are cohesive and not just one long conversation before giving them access to social media,” Shaheed says. “Make your conversation about internet privacy a real conversation, not a lecture. Ask them questions and ask them what they think they should do for their own online privacy, then give them a few additional suggestions and the reason for each suggestion.”
Internet users can also take additional precautions
Digital security experts have other suggestions for how internet users can combat catfishing. They understand:
- Uploading suspicious images to Google’s reverse image search to determine origin.
- Request live video meetings with people you have meaningful online interactions with. “Make sure they don’t constantly have tech issues, life issues, dark environments,” Shaheed says. “It’s a way catfishers often try to get out of a video meeting.”
- Tell other family members and friends about the person you are talking to online. Having people other than yourself can help spot red flags, lies, and deception.
- Never send money to someone you’ve only communicated with online or by phone. “It’s important to recognize that technologies and tools change, but conversations about safety, good and bad should stay relatively consistent,” Brantly says.
The most important advice the experts have to offer is this: trust your instincts.
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