Buffalo: Many people are unaware that social media sites such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook provide a virtual playground for online predators who are continually on the prowl for new victims.
“Both men and women are being targeted on social media by these predators who attempt to assert dominance and humiliate their victims,” says Terry Evans, president of Cybersleuth Investigations, Inc. “These predators are motivated by sex, money, or simply the thrill of exploiting a victim to satisfy their own narcissistic desires.”
Evans launched Cybersleuth Investigations, Inc in April to provide a much-needed service to victims of sextortion and other online scams including revenge pornography, catfishing, and cyberbullying.
While the term “catfish” is often associated with the popular television show of the same name, Evans has found the term goes beyond simply creating a fake personal profile on social media and pretending to be someone else.
“While individuals may expect to find catfish on dating sites, they don’t anticipate someone striking up a conversation with them on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook that ultimately leads to them being exploited for money or sex,” Evans says.
Unlike the Nigerian scams where predators often speak in broken English and use implausible premises to collect money, this new breed of online predator is far savvier and more dangerous.
“They typically present as a handsome man or woman, who are self-employed and charismatic,” Evans says. “They often research their targets in advance so they know a lot about them and can engage them by sharing similar interests and views.”
Once a target has been identified, the predator begins the grooming process where they use overt attention, flattery, charm, gaslighting and secrecy to win their target’s trust. The conversation typically moves to a direct message format, and as the relationship progresses, the predator may ask for nude photos. These images are then used for sextortion, a form of blackmail in which a predator threatens to reveal sexual images in order to gain money or sexual favors from the victim.
Although Evans helps many catfishing victims find resolution and resolve their cases confidentially, he would like to prevent more individuals from being catfished in the first place. As a cybersecurity consultant with over 20 years of experience, Evans hopes to help more individuals to avoid scams and determine whether the person they are talking with online is legitimate.
“The stories I hear of broken hearts and exhausted bank accounts are sickening,” Evans says. “In addition, the emotional stress of being catfished often leaves victims depressed and blaming themselves.”