Catfish scams target anyone. Here’s how to keep kids safe | Internet

Cat hunting crimes have ensnared people for years.

A grieving family is asking parents to monitor their children’s online activities this week after a former Virginia state trooper preyed on a 15-year-old girl online. He then traveled to Southern California, where he allegedly killed the girl’s mother and grandparents.

“Parents, please be aware of your child’s online activity. Ask questions about what they are doing and who they are 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 recently featured in a Netflix documentary, fell victim to a catfish hoax. Celebrities, including musician Brad Paisley, have fallen victim to similar scams.

So what is cat hunting and why do people do it? How can you protect yourself and your children? Here’s what you need to know.

Catfishers target victims for a number of reasons

Catfishing is a form of online deception in which people use fake photos and identities to create a fictitious persona. They do this for a variety of reasons, including targeting potential love interests or people they are trying to befriend.

Other catfish can be child predators trying to gain the trust of a minor. In the Southern California case, Austin Lee Edwards, 28, posed as a teenager to lure the girl, authorities say. Although investigators did not provide details on what platforms the suspect used or how long they had known him, catfish can be found on most social media platforms.

“Cat hunting certainly has psychological properties, including the ability to impersonate and use force on a vulnerable person,” says Aaron Brantley, an assistant professor at Virginia Tech and director of the university’s Tech4Humanity lab.

There are red flags that parents should watch out for

Social media sites and apps — along with cat-hunting scams — have taken off in recent years. Experts say there are potential red flags people should watch out for.

“Parents need to be mindful of children who are intimately connected to individuals in both physical and virtual spaces,” says Brantley. “Often, catfishers will try to encourage their targets to hide their online relationship from their friends and family.”

Fareedah Shaheed, an internet safety expert whose focus is on protecting children online, said another warning sign is people who don’t want to cancel plans to appear on a video call or meet in person.

The FBI urges people to think twice when they appear “too perfect,” because it could be part of a romantic scam. Sometimes this means that the person studied the fingerprints of their intended victim in order to understand them more deeply. This is another reason why people are careful about what they share about themselves or their children online.

The FBI warns against anyone who “quickly asks you to leave a social media site to communicate directly” or tries to isolate people, saying, “Scammers use details shared on social media and dating sites to better understand and target you.” they can,” he says. from friends and family.

Parents can take measures to combat fishing before it begins

With social media playing such an important role in our lives today, safety experts say parents need to have honest, non-judgmental conversations with children about digital safety, even if it means getting involved in their online worlds. It can be a lifeline connecting them to their children’s pervasive virtual reality.

“For example, play games with them, send each other funny or interesting short videos on social media, listen to their games or social media stories, inquire about their online activities and ask them questions about it,” says Shahid. “Be a good digital role model. If you want them to post on social media with privacy in mind, make sure you do the same. It’s easier to have conversations about internet privacy when they see you doing what you talk about.”

Being open about digital safety allows parents to monitor who children are talking to online. It also helps parents know the specific apps their kids are using and spot any anomalies in online behavior.

“Discussing who children interact with in online environments and fostering a model of trust and an environment of openness and transparency is an important step in minimizing potentially negative interactions in online spaces,” says Brantley.

Parents should also set clear times for device use and set examples and boundaries for 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 monitor their children’s online activities through security apps. Witness points to Norton Family, Microsoft Family Safety, Google Family Link, and Apple Family Sharing as valid examples.

“The Internet can be a dangerous place if Internet security and privacy are not taken seriously,” he says. “If your children 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 start protecting your children online.”

Private conversations are best held in the car or on a walk — in a comfortable, non-intimidating environment.

“Before giving access to social media, make sure your internet privacy conversations are consistent and not just one long conversation,” Shahid says. “Make your internet privacy conversation a real conversation, not a lecture. Ask them questions and what they should do for their privacy online, then give them additional suggestions and why for each suggestion.”

Internet users can also take additional precautions

Digital security experts have other suggestions for how Internet users can combat cat-hunting. They include:

  • Uploading any questionable images to Google reverse image search to determine provenance.
  • Request live video meetings with people you have meaningful online interactions with. “Make sure they don’t constantly have technology issues, life issues, dark environments,” Shahid said. “This is a way that fishermen often try to get out of a video meeting.”
  • Talk to other family members and friends about who you talk to online. Having other people around can help you spot red flags, lies, and deception.
  • Don’t send money to anyone you only interact with online or over the phone. “It’s important to recognize that technologies and tools are changing, but conversations about safety and right and wrong should remain relatively consistent,” Brantley said.

The most important advice the experts have to offer is this: Trust your gut instinct.


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