Military and Social Media Scams

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Learning to stay safe while using social media is important to almost everyone these days.  There are general precautions that we can all take heed of, but sometimes special groups become targets in unique ways.  One of those groups is the military.  Often a vulnerable population from a consumer protection standpoint, they have a unique set of challenges when engaged in social media as well.

This may sound like a limited issue, but it is not. In fact, the Army has a division (the Online and Social Media Division in the Office of the Chief of Public Affairs) that recognizes the need for educating its soldiers on the effective and safe use of social media. Additionally, just a few weeks ago, the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command, commonly known as CID, warned the Army community to be “vigilant of internet scams and impersonation fraud, especially within popular social networking and dating websites.”

Here at the ITRC, we have some tips to share with members of the military that will help them stay safe while using social media:

  • If you are a member of the armed forces review your social media use policy and handbook carefully, it may save you from being scammed.
  • Be wary of invitations, friend requests, etc. from high ranking officials in your outfit. The military has been trained to respect authority.  Scammers will often impersonate someone of high rank to capitalize on that training, and to gain trust.
  • If you are deployed ensure that someone you trust is monitoring your social media profiles.  There have been reports of scammers using photos/identities of soldiers (both living and dead) to build fake profiles, or taking over the legitimate profiles and soliciting money from unsuspecting victims.
  • If you haven’t actually met the person sending you a friend request, do not bestow more trust upon them than they deserve.  Just because they are a friend of a friend does not mean you should trust them. They are, in fact, a stranger and you should treat them as such.

This last point is particularly important.  Don’t use the “a friend of a friend is a friend of mine” logic.  This is particularly problematic in the social media landscape.  Think of it as the reverse of the guilt by association fallacy.  We make this leap of faith almost unconsciously when someone we know and trust introduces us to someone THEY know and trust.  That person earns a higher degree of trust from us almost automatically because of this association.

If you engage in this thinking online, it can have tremendous consequences, and yet it happens.  An experiment conducted by the cyber security company, Provide Security, demonstrated this process.  The company developed a fake persona using social media accounts.  Over time a friend base was built up among intelligence and cyber communities. This fake person was able to extract sensitive data and information from all of these friends. Imagine if this fake persona had extracted sensitive data from a member of our armed forces.  Now imagine if that member was you.  Take heed and protect yourself.

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Eva Velasquez

Eva Velasquez is the President/CEO at the Identity Theft Resource Center, a non-profit organization which serves victims of identity theft. Velasquez previously served as the Vice President of Operations for the San Diego Better Business Bureau and spent 21 years at the San Diego District Attorney’s Office. Eva has a passion for consumer protection and privacy issues and is constantly striving to educate the public about these important topics. She is recognized as a nationwide expert on identity theft and has recently been featured on the Ricki Lake show and MORE magazine, as well as numerous other outlets.