When invited to do this blog post, I gave quite a bit of thought as to what I could offer to the writing community that they don’t see in a dozen or more blog posts daily. It was while I was checking messages on my Facebook account that the following idea came to me.
Like most indie writers, I receive several dozen friend requests over multiple accounts each week. A few of them are from genuine people, or should I say people who are genuine in their request. Most of you have figured out by now how to tell the real requests from the fake (or scammer) requests. For anyone who may not have figured out what to look for, read on.
First, let me explain how this has anything to do with writing. Most writers I know would rather never log in to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or any of the popular social media sites – ever. We’d rather spend our time chained to our desk pumping out one best seller after another. But the truth is, we have to spend adequate time on social media, especially if we’re an indie writer as I am. Without social media, writer’s groups, critique groups, and such, how would anyone other than our Aunt Edna and our next-door neighbor ever know we wrote a book that we hope to sell more than five copies of? Shameless plugging, self-promotion, creating a buzz – all part of a writer’s life.
That being said, back to the meat of the post. For the purpose of this post, I am going to use examples taken from Facebook, but the principles are the same within most social media circles. Aside from the few legitimate friendship requests I receive weekly are the ones I’ve learned to spot by name alone in most cases. I’m sure you’re wondering how I can tell a scammer by just their name. Well, not all, but many of them tend to use two first names as their entire name: David Michael, Henry James, Michael Todd, Andrew William. Part of the reason for this is that many, if not most, of these scammers are from foreign countries and are not familiar with American surnames. It is easier to stick with what comes easier to them, after all, you are not the only one they are trying to scam on any given day.
Next, when you click on their name, the first thing you will notice is a very nice-looking selfie, often taken in uniform. Roughly 80-90% of all of the scammer requests I receive are from servicemen, and most are currently active. Some of them aren’t too bright though. They give their name as, say, Donald Michaels, but if you look closely to the name on their fatigues, it is something like Hollenbach or Gonzales. The next thing you will notice is that they rarely ever have any friends, and if they do, it is one or two mutual friends. What that means is that they have gotten one or two of your acquaintances to accept their friendship already making you more likely to believe they are a genuine connection. But the biggest thing you’ll notice is that their timeline is full of pictures, and every one of them were added over the last day or so. Brand. New. Account. How can you tell? Usually it’s easy. Scroll to their very first timeline post and check out the date. Most likely, it will be only a day or so old. But today, I ran into a scammer who was just a tiny bit ahead of his counterparts. When I scrolled to the beginning of his timeline, he had selfies that dated as far back as 2006. Three of them. Then, no activity at all until October 14th, 2018 at 3 AM. A twelve-year hiatus! What he must not have realized, or thought we stupid American women wouldn’t realize, is that you can post a picture of yourself and date it May 1, 2010, even though the picture was taken today. But there is a way for you, the suspicious target, to determine that.
The following photo is from the timeline of the first scammer to contact me today. The date and time indicate when he made this post. (I have left out the actual photo of him for the obvious legal reasons):
Nothing out of the ordinary. It simply looks like he was active yesterday, and made a post at 3:16 AM.
The next photo looks like it was posted in November of 2006.
And the final photo shows us when that 2006 photo was ACTUALLY posted.
On the first photo taken from his timeline, there is an icon that looks like a globe. That tells us who is able to see his post, in this case it is public. In the next photo from 2006 there is a clock icon just before the globe icon. This tells us when the post was actually posted, which was not the time he chose to display. Deliberate deceit.
This guy put more effort into his scheme than most do. And for his efforts, he’s already gotten two people to follow him. What did he do differently than your garden variety scammer?
- He posted many pictures and articles on a variety of subjects whereas the average scammer includes only a few.
- He veered slightly from the “two first name” template with a last name that, although can be used as a first name (Anderson Cooper), it is better known as an actual last name.
- He did not claim to be in the military.
- He knew enough to change dates on his posts to make it look like he’s had a Facebook account since 2006, which would make the average person believe he was for real, when in actuality, his first post happened only days ago, which is when he created the account. He utilized the ‘change date’ function built in to Facebook to deceive the unknowing. Most don’t bother doing that because as I said, they do this all day. The more accounts they make, the more connections they have, the more chance they will hook the unsuspecting.
Most of the scammers you run across on a site like Facebook are petty criminals looking to fleece the trusting out of whatever they can get. THIS IS THEIR DAY JOB. They sit in front of a computer all day long creating new phony accounts, and building a rapport with those who are more trusting or less aware of the dangers lurking on the internet.
Why writers? Most writers are on such sites for the same reason. Exposure. Audience. Marketing. We have a very large following between our social media sites and our websites and are more likely to accept new and unknown requests in order to grow our network. Scammers falsely believe that if you are a writer and have a large following, you must be rich. As crazy as that sounds, it’s true (that they think that, not that we are.) Some of us make a decent living at what we do, but aren’t getting rich off it. We certainly aren’t the only ones they target, but the writing community is hit as hard as any other group and that’s the group this post is intended to reach.
We’re a smart bunch. But intelligence has nothing to do with it. They will continue to do this, most using several profiles at the same time, because all they need is a handful who fall prey to make it worth their while. For anyone who makes the mistake of letting one of these scammers into their lives, they’ll find them to be charming, attentive, and supportive. They will get on board with what you are doing (your work), maybe help promote your work, maybe buy a title or two – whatever it takes to make you warm to the idea of them. Eventually, when they feel they’ve got you in the place they want you, they will need something from you. It may be something quite small and easy the first time. They may ask to borrow a small amount of money attached to a good excuse for asking. They’ll pay the full amount back as promised. You’re hooked. The next time, the amount or the favor will be larger, but they’ve proven themselves, haven’t they?
I have never been scammed (over the internet), although as I said I receive a large number of requests each week. Sadly, I have a writing acquaintance who has been taken. A crook who went by the name of Donald Edwards took her for $1,200. It only took him three weeks to accomplish this. Do the math. Let’s assume she was his only victim for those three weeks (although that is unlikely). He made $400 tax-free dollars each week for doing nothing more than sitting in front of his computer and telling lies. Basically, what most fiction writers do… but for a lot less money.
Networkers beware. There are so many of them out there just waiting to take whatever they are able to talk you into giving. Educate yourselves and don’t ignore the signs!
K.E. Garvey is the author of Suspense and Contemporary Women’s Fiction, including the Like A Girl series and her upcoming release (November 23, 2018), Dead Enemies. She created and maintains the blog, “Ink Drop Interviews,” where she showcases indie authors and their work. You can learn more about her and her books on her WEBSITE.