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What I Learned Dealing With Catfish

Social Life

Social media has become something beyond a kitschy communications tool for computer nerds and shut-ins.  Granted, there are plenty of nerds using social media, as well as plenty of shut-ins, but in today’s world there is nearly no getting around being exposed to one network or another.  Even the definition of nerd as a pejorative has changed over time, and being a nerd is kinda cool now.  In 2020 the media element is almost removed, as this has become “social” life.  The same folks that used to make fun of the computer nerds in the 80’s and 90’s are the ones that are now glued to the endless feeds of whatever else other people are doing.  Offering up their exalted likes and commentary on, fill-in-the-blank.  Funny how the tides have changed.  Go ahead and like that funny cat picture.

I’m no stranger to social media.  I remember the early days when I got my very first “friend”, Tom, on an early platform.  I did not know Tom, but he was my friend.  He could have been anyone, for all I knew.  As time wore on, I did collect more and more “friends” and the rest is history, right?  You get it.

As the world and people’s perceptions and behaviors changed, so have predators.  The former some-what friendly but annoying telemarketers from the 20th century have been phased out by things like the do not call registry, and have been replaced by aggressive and nefarious robo-callers.  Society took to the internet at a record speed, and we have the birth of the catfish.

What is a catfish?  The quickest definition is someone pretending to be someone else online.  For whatever reason, an individual is pretending to be something/someone they are not.  Usually this is to extort whomever they encounter in one manner or another.  Catfish are not your friendly Silence Dogood types, hiding for political purposes to get out important messages.  Their aim is to extract resources from those they prey on.

What are catfish after?  In my experiences, which we’ll get to in a minute, catfish are looking to steal from you!  I categorize this into two piles, information or money.

A Catfish is Coming for ya

The money schemes and scams should be very obvious.  Trying to lure people into ‘get rich quick schemes’ through direct messages (DMs) or the Nigerian prince sending you an email about some inheritance you’re entitled to.  As we all become savvier, we should be able to identify with ease such BS tactics, however as recent as last year, I was in a post office when a more senior gentleman was explaining to the postal worker that he got a notice and was supposed to pick up some check or whatever fund mechanism/package that was waiting for him there.  He printed it out.  He showed it to the postal worker.  It was a scam.  He was disappointed.  As far as digital safety goes, we need to educate some of our more trusting and mature family members and friends on this subject, in addition to our kids.

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Then there are the information gathering scams, phishing.  The catfish that engage in this want your information.  They want your information so they can try to crack into accounts you may hold and then run wild with your banking institution information and so on and so forth.  DMs may come from someone pretending to be someone that just ‘wants to get to know you.’  They’ll ask innocent questions like where you are from, if you’re single or married, your favorite food, favorite color….you should be able to see where this is going.  They’re asking some of the many security questions that might be used to identify you in lost password verification processes.

The Nitty-Gritty

Onto the learning portion…I recently became a bit more involved with one of the social media networks.  I came bit late to the game on this platform, but whatever, I’ve arrived.  Not with high marks mind you, but I’m learning.  Now some of my social media profiles I keep fairly private and others open for the world.  Even my private profiles, I limit what I share with the world at large.  Volumes can be written about the implications of social media use, exposing vulnerabilities of something in your life, sharing too much information, and also embarrassing posts that may haunt us in the future.  I don’t know too many people that are immune to that statement.  The profile I’m discussing is a public one.

I don’t know what the draw is, but for some reason I started to get all kinds of what I would call ‘suspect’ followers and or messages from ‘suspect’ profiles.  Usually they come in the form of a female that is looking for a relationship.  Do I strike these individuals as being someone that is particularly vulnerable to such tactics?  I queried a few people and none of them have this issue, so I must be “special” in some way or another?  I have entered a phase in my life where I have very little patience for robo-callers, spammers, and catfish.  With all these neat and new followers sending me messages, I figured I’d have some fun.

The conversations would start out rather innocent.  I’d ask things like “Do we know each other?” when I get a random DM.  And usually I’d get replies like “No, but I thought we could be friends.”  And I think to myself Do people actually fall for this line of garbage?  I would play the game stringing the catfish along, feeding them false information about a fake persona I’d invent.  Like how I’m a software developer from Pasadena.  Or a Banker from Fort Meyers.  Super single and heartbroken, playing into their hand.  Oh, and very rich, naturally.  I put on my best Frank Abagnale Jr. and become whoever I want.

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Some of the catfish are looking for you to buy them gift cards and send them pictures of the cards.  Some of them are just phishing for information.  I usually ratchet up the situation and attempt to do a live video chat, holding my finger over the camera.  They would deny the request.  Wanna see if they’ll call my bluff.  Or there are times I’ll outright just cut to the chase and tell them I know they are a catfish and that I’m not going to send them information or money.  Sometimes I say vile and disgusting things just to see their response, a fun tactic to employ with robo-callers you get on the line.  I’m not saying this is the way to go, but why not extract a little entertainment from the situation.  Afterall, it is they that are engaging with me.  Why should I be culpable for whatever non-sense, R rated, or not I say back to someone trying to steal something from me?

Got a Big One on The Line!

My perception of the fun cat and mouse toying with catfish game changed drastically earlier this month.  I got a new follower.  Except, it was a follower I already had.  Hm.  Then I got a DM from the new follower.  The person on the other end was telling me how excited they were about some new opportunity they wanted to share with me.  I looked into the profile…they took the picture from my friend – and mind you, the person they were pretending to be, I actually know, as in from in the flesh real world, not The Matrix.  It had been some years since we connected, but we know each other in the ‘real’ world, a former boss of mine.  The profile name they used was my friend’s name with an underscore at the end of it.  I challenged this imposter.  I asked them How long have we have known each other?  Wittingly they replied “A long time.”  Then What town did we meet in?  Foul ball, they answered “New Jersey.”  I told them that New Jersey is not a town, duh!

The game of tag went on a little more back and forth with questions, me knowing the account was clearly an imposter account.  I reported them to the reporting people that one would report fake accounts to, saying it was someone pretending to be someone I know.  Then I decided to tell the entity on the other end that I was going to report them to a governmental agency that specializes in cybercrime.  That the said three letter agency would surly investigate them and find them.  I took this a step further and said if they were out of country, said agency would farm out the case file to the international three letter agency, and they would find and shut them down.  Crickets.  The catfish was done trying to sell me stuff and also done trying to pretend to be my former boss.  I declared victory and popped open a virtual champagne bottle, high-fived myself in my head, snickered about some catfish worried the fuzz was gonna come and get em’.

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The next morning I woke up to a good pile of messages from friends and family members.  The basic gist?

Dude your Myagrambooker account has been hacked!

I did a little digging.  Nope, my Myagrambooker account was not hacked, but there was a new version of me out there, with my same exact profile picture, same screen name with one extra letter slipped in, and this person was out there sending messages to all my whopping 40 or so followers (those numbers have grown exponentially, to 50 since that fateful day.  Hitting it big.), excited to tell them about a new business opportunity.  FML. Right?  What do you do in this instance?  I took to my DM sender thingy and went back to the profile that I threatened to sic the fuzz on and declared “Delete that other account now!”  I mean, I used an exclamation mark and all, so I figured they would know I meant business.  They did write back with “Ok.”

Three days of reaching out to my whopping 40 followers, asking them to report the imposter account, and finally Myagrambooker did remove the imposter account.

Attrition

In the end, I sighed a big sigh of relief, now that there was no longer a fake me, leading my grown list of followers, 50ish people, to think there was some great business opportunity I needed to let them in on.  What did I learn?  At minimum, do not threaten these people.  If ya gotta report them, just report them.  I suppose if you want to have a romantic round of raunchy chat with some person trying to extract your favorite color out of you, pleading with them for naked selfies, have at it…in theory that is harmless (this is not legal advice!!!).  That gets entertaining.  But me personally, I’ve decided to retire my catfish fishing license, and regardless of what weirdos pop up that seem to be either too good to be true or for sure, stranger than fiction, I’m gonna just hit that block button.  My sage advice in short is to ignore them.  That all does come with a cost…,my big fear though concerning my new policy on this, is pretty valid.  It is that I may miss out on that one million pounds of currency I’m being promised from a Nigerian prince.

What to read more of John’s work or connect with him on social media?  Visit him on the web at www.johnpetrolino.com Instagram @jpetrolinoiii Twitter @johnpetrolino

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