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How to Validate a Stranger’s Identity Online

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There are many circumstances where being able to validate someone’s identity online would be a very valuable. For example;

  • Social Engineering Attacks: a number of email, telephone and txt message scams involve the fraudster pretending to be someone else (such as a bank representative) to extract personal information from you. If you can ascertain that they aren’t who they say they are then you can easily stop these attacks in their tracks!
  • Sextortion Attacks: sextortion attacks involve fraudsters pretending to be someone else so they convince their victims to send them nude images or videos. They then use this media to extort the victims out of hundreds of pounds worth of money! For example, if they’re targeting a 14 year old boy, they might pretend to be a 15 year old girl but actually be a middle aged man based in a different continent! By validating their identity, kids wouldn’t send this kind of media to the people asking for it.
  • Online Dating: everyone, adults and kids alike, should be careful when meeting up with strangers from the internet. Not only for the obvious personal safety reasons, but also to prevent time wasters. Some people on dating apps or online sites never have any intention of meeting up at all. You get a lot of men pretending to be women just to have the endless cyber chat online. Many get a kick out of it…You can use the validation techniques contained below to identify these types and ensure you don’t waste your time.
  • Fake Profiles on Social Media: many scams start on social media sites by someone getting in contact with you who looks like a friend of a friend. Actually, they’re fake profiles and have just managed to get some friend requests accepted by some of your friends who will simply accept anyone (so they have the largest number of friends…for bragging rights!). As such, they immediately look legit. Use the techniques I’ll now run through with you to identify these fake profiles and ensure you don’t fall victim to social media scams.
  • Sexual Predators: once taught what to look out for, your kids will be able to use the techniques below to ensure enforce the principle of ‘stranger danger’ online so that only people they know can actually get in contact with them.

One of the best ways to protect ourselves from such online attacks is by being able to identify these criminals as the fraudsters they are, rather than the fake personas they are presenting.

How Do You Validate Someone’s Identity Online?

  • Spot the tell-tale signs that someone has malicious intentions;

o They ask you to keep secrets from your friends/parents.
o They provide excuses for why they cannot video chat with you via a service like Skype or Facebook Messenger.
o They request information such as photos/videos/etc. Always ask yourself, why do they need this?
o They ask for money, backed with heart wrenching stories of misfortune.

  • Prove their identity with a Video Chat Service.

In today’s modern age, it is perfectly normal to ask someone online to prove who they say they are. The likes of Facetime or Skype make it very difficult to disguise your real identity and voice. You don’t necessarily need to ask to see their passport but video calling them should be enough to determine they are indeed who their social media profile says they are.

  • Validate their back story using free and publicly available information.

Google the person and check things that they’ve told you. A complete lack of digital footprint nowadays should be a red flag. Check marriages/divorces, property ownership, company ownership and even criminal records. There are many free and some small fee-based services, such as Spokeo you can use to assist you. Use http://exi.regex.info/exif.cgi to help identify fake profiles. If someone says they took a photo in Scotland but it actually shows Nigeria, you know something fishy is up!

  • Google what they say to you in conversations.

Scams are run on a mass scale by large criminal gangs. They work very much like call centres do – scammers have scripts that they use so the likelihood is, if it’s a scam, the conversation wording they’re using is a copy and paste from a script and has been posted online before by other victims.

  • Check the suspect profile for common signs it is fake;

o Do their photos look like public ‘stock’ images? Download their profile picture and perform a reverse Google image search - https://reverse.photos. As seen in the previous section on Doxing, this lesser known form of searching uses images and can be quite revealing.
o Is the profile linked to other social media accounts (e.g. friends with) that are very similar in the photos, time created and content? These would be indicators they were all written by the same person / people.
o Check to see if other people are tagged in their photos. This can help provide assurance that other people are genuinely affiliated to this person. Be aware that you should be looking for a lot of tagging – some fraudsters will create numerous fake profiles and then link them all together creating the illusion that each profile is genuine!
o Typically, fake profiles will struggle to build a network of connections because the person is purely fictional, so, if the profile has a very small number of connections and has been around for a long time then be weary. To give you a benchmark to work against, the average Facebook profile in 2017 had 338 friends .

Some other practical tips include;

• Avoid usernames that suggest your name, age, location or interest. These can help sexual predators and scammers select their targets. Usernames should be generic so nothing can be deduced from them. Avoid suggestive usernames like ‘SweetCheeks01’.
• Be suspicious if someone private messages you out of the blue. Encourage your kids to only connect online with people they actually know and have met in real life. Parents can actively help their children build relationships with people at school and in their community so they will be less reliant on online friends.
• Educate your kids on the impacts of disclosing too much personal information on social media sites. As we’ve seen, even seemingly ‘obvious’ or ‘basic’ personal information (e.g. school, home address, photos, etc.) can be used by fraudsters to build rapport with unsuspecting victims.
• Stay in Control & Beware of Excuses! You should always be able to feel like you can communicate in whatever way you wish. So, if you want to chat on skype or talk to them in person, you should be able to. If they have excuses, this should be a warning sign.
• Never send money to someone you never met in person. Goes without saying but these criminals are experts in emotional manipulation. They create scenarios designed to sweep us up in the moment which can make us think irrationally and without perspective. If unsure, ask a friend or relative about the situation – they will be able to provide an objective view, removed from any emotional attachment.

Top Tip: Hire a professional. If you suspect you are falling victim to an elaborate hoax or scam but not sure how exactly (maybe something just feels fishy…no pun intended), there are experts available who can quickly check this for you.

Hopefully his has given you some useful tools to check peoples identities online. If you’ve already fallen victim to someone scamming you via a fake social media profile or something similar, head straight to the SOS Centre here at www.simplecyberlife.com and I’ll guide you through what you need to do to secure yourself!

If you found this useful drop me a comment below and let me know!

2 thoughts on “How to Validate a Stranger’s Identity Online

  1. i believe i have been scammed. I got into a relationship on hangouts with this person, who i now understand isnt who he has told me he is. He has photos of someone and a bank account of someone else.
    I need to put it out there that he is a fake and for other women to be careful and not be fooled by him, as i have been over a period of time.
    Thankyou for your help in this matter.
    Karen Higgs

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