Our Scambusters, Louise Baxter-Scott from the National Trading Standards Scams Team, and James Walker from Rightly, show you how to take control, how to spot a scam and what to do about it.
This week our experts delve into the problem of fake profile pics and how they can be used to deceive.
What are profile picture scams?
Scammers often use stolen or fake profile pictures and video to pretend they are someone else in order to trick people into scams to steal their money or their personal information.
It can be difficult to spot, but it’s worth doing a few extra checks when facing a new profile online or seeing a video that seems suspicious. Scammers are using AI and other methods to trick victims into parting with their money or their personal information.
Can you trust your eyes?
These scams are most often found on social media platforms, dating websites and online marketplaces. The scammers typically create fake profiles using attractive or appealing profile pictures to gain trust and manipulate their targets.
Sometimes scammers “hijack” profile pictures of famous and well-known people to trick victims into believing they are dealing with a celebrity, or something endorsed by them, but under completely false pretences.
Here are some common types of profile picture scams:
- Romance scams: Scammers create fake profiles on dating websites or social media platforms, using attractive profile pictures to lure unsuspecting individuals into romantic relationships. They often gain their targets’ trust and then exploit them financially by requesting money for various reasons such as medical emergencies or travel expenses.
- Catfishing: Catfishing involves using someone else’s profile picture to create a fictitious identity online. Scammers use these fake profiles to engage in deceptive relationships, manipulate emotions, or extract personal information from their targets.
- Impersonation scams: Scammers impersonate individuals, organisations, or public figures by using their profile pictures to deceive others. They may create fake accounts or email addresses and use the stolen profile pictures to request money, solicit personal information, or spread false information.
- Employment scams: Scammers sometimes use fake or stolen profile pictures to create profiles on job-seeking platforms. They pose as potential employers and use the false identity to collect personal information, conduct phishing attacks, or request upfront payment for job-related expenses.
- Sales and auction scams: Scammers on online marketplaces use attractive profile pictures to establish credibility and gain the trust of potential buyers. They might advertise products or services at low prices, collect payment without delivering the promised items, or send counterfeit goods.
What about video scams?
Fake video is on the rise and just like profile picture scams, scammers are using technology to create them in order to entrap victims.
Fake video scams involve the creation and dissemination of manipulated or fabricated videos that are designed to deceive or defraud individuals. With advancements in technology, it’s becoming easier for scammers to create realistic-looking fake videos that can be used for various malicious purposes.
Here are some examples:
- Deepfake videos: Deepfakes are manipulated videos that use artificial intelligence techniques to superimpose one person’s face onto another person’s body or alter their facial expressions and speech. These videos can be used to create fake celebrity videos, political propaganda, or revenge porn. The main purpose of deepfakes is to mislead viewers and manipulate opinion.
- Video phishing: Scammers may create fake videos that imitate well-known organisations, institutions, or individuals. These videos are designed to trick viewers into revealing sensitive information such as login credentials, credit card details, or personal data. The scammers employ social engineering techniques to persuade victims to take action based on false information presented in the video.
- Investment and money-making scams: Fake videos can be used to promote fraudulent investment opportunities or money-making schemes. Scammers create videos featuring testimonials from individuals claiming to have achieved significant financial success by participating in the scam. The purpose is to convince viewers to invest money or join the scheme, leading to financial losses for the victims.
- Prank and hoax videos: Some fake videos are created purely for entertainment purposes but can still cause harm or panic. Prank videos may involve staged incidents, dangerous challenges, or fake emergencies. Hoax videos often spread misinformation or conspiracy theories, misleading viewers and potentially causing social unrest or confusion.
What can I do?
Firstly, to protect yourself from profile picture scams here are our top tips:
- Conduct reverse image searches: Use tools like Google Images to perform reverse image searches on suspicious profile pictures. This can help identify whether the picture has been used somewhere else on the internet.
- Be cautious of unusual requests: Be wary of individuals who ask for money, personal information, or engage in suspicious behaviour early in an online relationship.
- Verify identities: If you suspect someone is using a fake profile picture, ask for additional proof of identity, such as video calls or photos in different settings.
- Use privacy settings: You could also your privacy settings on social media platforms to control who can see and share your profile picture.
- Report and block suspected scammers: If you come across a profile picture scam or suspicious activity, report the account to the platform administrators and block the user to prevent further contact.
When it comes to fake video scams, think about these things:
- Be sceptical: Exercise critical thinking when watching videos online. Question the authenticity and sources of the videos before believing and also before sharing them with your friends.
- Verify sources: Check the credibility of the video’s source or who uploaded it. Look for official websites, news outlets, or reputable social media accounts that can corroborate the information shown in the video.
- Cross-check info: Seek multiple sources of information to verify the claims made in a video. Compare different perspectives and fact-check the content before accepting it as true.
- Stay informed: Keep up with the latest advancements in video manipulation technology to better recognise potential fake videos. Stay informed about common scams and hoaxes circulating online.
- Report suspicious content: If you come across a fake video or suspect that a video may be fraudulent, report it to the platform where you encountered it. Reporting helps the platform take appropriate action and protect other users from falling victim to the scam.
Keep things close
Before a scammer can contact you using either a fake profile pic or a convincing fake video, they have to know something about you for you to become a target for their latest evil scam. It might be as simple as a phone number, or an email address, which they bought on the dark web. Or quite possibly information they “scraped” from social media. Or they may have obtained it from a data breach where hackers stole your personal information from a genuine organisation.
The best way to avoid having your data stolen in a data breach is to make sure it’s not stored amongst any data that gets stolen. You can get your data deleted from any company that no longer needs it by using our Rightly Protect service. It’s quick, simple and free and will tell you just who has your data and give you the chance to instruct them to completely erase it, if that’s what you want to do.
Scambusters Mail bag – answering your scam niggles
“Is streaming content from non-official sites illegal? I love my nights at home watching new films but keeping up with the cost of various services is becoming costly.”
With the explosion in streaming options across sports and entertainment, there are more options than ever to choose what to have streamed into your home. But in these difficult economic times, we understand that people are questioning the cost of such services. It can be very tempting to engage with illegal downloads and streaming services in order to bypass the cost of going through legitimate providers, however, this puts your data at risk and could lead to you being the victim of a scam.
Turning to illegal download and streaming services can open you up to being caught by scammers and other criminals. There are many ways they will try to catch you out in order to get access to bank accounts, commit fraud, and install malicious software. And in many cases, the operators and sellers of illegal streams often ignore the danger of providing unfiltered content and that can make it accessible to children, compromising child safety.
In research reported recently, almost every illegal site carried links to malicious software or misleading content of some sort. It is notable that 40% of “free-to-view” sites had no security certificate present, which means amongst other things that the criminals can view your IP address which can enable them to target you specifically. Our advice, stay legal and stay safe.
Tip of the month: Manage your Google settings
Take control of your Google search results. It’s time to decide how easily you would like people to find your information. If you want to remain private, then ensure that your security and privacy settings are up to date.
Report a scam
Remember, if you have received a text you think is a scam then you can forward to 7726 or take a screenshot and send it to email@example.com. If you are receiving lots of unwanted phone calls or text messages you can also consider removing your details from data brokers, ensuring that you use a right to object to processing of your data. You can learn more about this on www.right.ly to stop the sharing of your data exposing you to scams. And you can take a free training course on how to fight against scams on www.friendsagainstscams.org.uk. The more we talk about scams the more we take away the shame.