Fake Social Media: The Dangers, Cons, and Corruption and Top 5 Recommendations to Protect Yourself on Social Media Platforms

Early this month, Elon Musk backed out of a 44 Billion dollar deal to buy Twitter because of “a continual disagreement over the number of spam accounts on the platform”. According to this article in the NY Times, the deal was made on a whim in the first place and Twitter will most likely fight him in court to keep it. Twitter claimed to have 217 million active users by the end of 2021, and Musk was supposed to pay $54.20 per share to own it. Even if his personal love of using the platform got him into the talk, it only makes sense for Musk to look into it more before seriously spending that much on it.

I think this hesitation is an opportunity to expose a much bigger issue at play on all social media platforms.

Con Artists and Human Traffickers on Social Media

I’ve written about this before with some of my own experiences with romance scams, but the biggest problem with social media now is the unknown percentage of it that is either a bot or a physical person lying about who they are. When someone lies for financial gain, they can say beautiful heartfelt things but the truth is that they became heartless long before they met you.

My experience was with a lot of stolen valor and romance scams. First, there was the Army Ranger who really stole my heart with his incredible honor, respectful words, and military service. Then it was dozens of fake accounts on dating websites like POF. I thought it would be better on Christian dating sites, but it wasn’t; even the sites themselves were corrupt. So I gave up on online dating and tried to make meaningful relationships in person. That is hard to do when everyone you meet just wants to keep you in the friend zone. Then, as my business grew, so did the number of strangers reaching out to me online for business. LinkedIn and Instagram accounts propositioned me for business investments and partnerships. If it wasn’t a multi-level marketing deal with a 4-digit buy-in, it was something similar investing in Crypto-currency.

Beverly Weeks of Cry Freedom Ministries says that human trafficking starts with stalking prey online as friends. Whole relationships are formed over a cyber connection before they ever meet in person and, when they do, sexual favors become a requirement of the interaction. Today, people I don’t know like my posts online and follow me on social media. Many of them go forward and message me compliments about how I look. Many people now don’t feel safe to even entertain comments on social media from strangers. I didn’t want to close that door myself, so I let myself say hello back. What ensued was probably the most hurtful experience of my dating past online.

An Example of Social Media Manipulation

John Fedrick Williams was a single father–an E7 Gunnery Sargeant in the Marines deployed to Yemen. He messaged me through Instagram then Google Hangouts/Google Chat.

We talked about everything. We talked about “our daughter” and made plans that moved very quickly. He sent me pictures and videos; I made him special graphics. He proposed to me; I tried on and bought a wedding dress!

When I received a large sum of money, it seemed only natural to tell him about it.

One day when John was talking to me, enemy gunfire rained in on him. He survived, but it scared him so badly that he became convinced that he would die if he went on the next mission–to pursue the invaders. I tried to talk and pray him away from his fears, but he became obsessed with applying for leave. He had his daughter’s babysitter reach out to me via email and vouch for his character, and he sent me bank information to pay for his leave. The account showed that he had over a million dollars in the bank but no access to it. When that bank payment fell through, he asked me to pay. When I refused, I was told I was “leaving him to die” and how could I do that to “our family”. When I still didn’t budge, he called me (on my VOIP number). I heard his voice and knew it wasn’t the same person I had fallen for in all the pictures and videos. I ended it cold right then, but I still missed him. Even knowing he was a lie, I wanted to have him in my life.

Why People Lie Online

Unfortunately, a lot of people get stuck in that spiral. They feel ignored, and they long to be loved, so they accept attention wherever they can get it. Social media fills that void.

You can be whoever you want to be online!

Life is glamourous and rich there. You can follow your favorite celebrities and be a part of their lives as they share on social media. You can dream about vacations and nice things. You can post your best moments, your best angles, and always look put together and your best online.

No one talks about the times they ugly cry to songs on their Spotify or grunge all day in pajamas and junk food with last night’s makeup on and their hair in a bun.

Even with no bad intentions for the world around us, we all lie a little on social media because of the way we want to be perceived in the world. The difference is that some people make a living out of telling lies and using others.

Legitimate money can be made online through advertisement and marketing, but that all depends on having a product to sell that is worth buying. What happens when the product is an emotional connection? That’s when certain people steal identities, pretend to be someone else, and get others to send them money and/or pay for stuff for them.

The High-Value Haves

A high-value have, in my definition, is someone that generates a lot of attention and potential revenue through their online presence. According to a recent statistic, over 50% of celebrities are active online, and that data is strategic for fan engagement. Social media helps celebrities continue to have the support they need to do what they do–but it also makes them targets for people wanting to catch some portion of their success. Entrepreneur Magazine did an article that suggested 1-in-4 people create fake accounts online. Some of that was for reasons not connected at all to identity theft, but still sad nonetheless.

I followed a page for one of my favorite recording artists, Brandon Lake. I was surprised when he messaged me back personally! The awe and excitement of talking with him wore off, however, when he asked me where North Carolina is. The real Brandon Lake is a worship pastor in Charleston, South Carolina–directly south of North Carolina.

Another group of high-value haves on social media is public service workers and military service members. There is just something attractive–even trustworthy–about a person in a uniform. Real public service workers work as volunteers or low-paid civil servants. Real service members don’t make a lot of money until they move up in rank–and that takes years of service. In both cases, these people serve faithfully for wages that make some of them still qualify for food stamps. Scammers take images of service members and public workers and create accounts claiming to be them. They bank on the patriotic heart of an American to support them in dollars when they ask for it.

One person I met had all his images taken from Instagram and used to create over six different accounts in his name across Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. He kept reporting them, but they kept showing up.

For more about how to love and protect yourself online in the military, read this article.

Final Thoughts and My Top 5 Recommendations

If you are a high-value have, your best bet is to avoid social media platforms altogether.

Social media is useful for inspiring ideas and staying connected with loved ones, but it is constantly putting your identity at risk because it is not carefully monitored.

Between April and June of last year, Facebook reported removing 1.7 billion fake accounts–and that was just one site and not even half a year! Scam accounts are out of hand and, many times, they are barely acknowledged when they are reported by the victims directly.

I recommend the following if you choose to stay on social media:

  1. Limit what you share to only be the stuff you wouldn’t mind even your enemies knowing about you
  2. Set your shares to private
  3. Reduce or cut off completely the number of stranger messages you respond to
  4. Search your own name periodically to identify and report fake versions of you
  5. Migrate to Daily Testify if you are Christian and want a safer place to socialize online

I hope this helps you all stay safer out there.

Thanks for reading! Please share this post with all your friends on social media.

How To Love A Soldier

Graphic by Rebecca J. Whitman

When you love someone in the military, the thing no one tells you is that you get conscripted too. You are required to move when and where the military dictates. You have to sacrifice your career, family, and friends to keep your marriage together.

In addition, you have to be flexible to enjoy downtime with your service member when they have it–whether scheduled or random. Sometimes you are all alone and feel like you are living single even when you aren’t single at all. If that wasn’t hard enough, you do it in strange places where you have no familiar support to lean on. 

Military life is isolation and trust. It is hardcore faith in someone that you chose to love even when your feelings of love are far from you. If you think it is glamorous, don’t. Being a military spouse is a calling; it is not for the faint of heart. The Military Wife and Mom wrote an insightful article about this with more details about what it takes to date and love a service member. Read her article here.

All branches of the military are different, but I think the Marines say it best concerning the reality of how most military spouses are treated. They say “if the Marines wanted you to have a spouse, they would have issued you one”.

Think about that for a moment. Let it sink in. That statement means that loving someone in the military is an uphill battle because command ALWAYS comes before love and family. Can you respect that? Can you still love and honor someone whose first priority is not you or your kids? Unfortunately, in military life the job and mission come before anything else.

What are the long range payoffs of military service?

Military service is a short-term commitment with a long-term payment. Service members serve a certain number of years, retire with full benefits, and go on to live a whole new life with a pension that carries them for the rest of their lives. Some get out before building up their pension. Others stay in service even longer with contracted work.

But that long-term payment is bittersweet. If you stay long enough for the financial benefits, you get a lot more memories to leave emotional scars, too. The things service members see in combat follow them for the rest of their lives. It can take a toll on relationships. PTSD is a real disease treated now in civilians as well as military personnel, but it used to be excused as a weakness in the military. This article explains in more detail how it affects veterans.

Beyond these involuntary physical responses to trauma, military relationships often suffer the fallout of stress that long distances and time apart can cause. Far too many service members get Dear John letters from lovers who can’t stay faithful to them while they are deployed.

Many more return home to a distant spouse and family because they got used to life without them. The emotional toll of military life is a lot harder and a lot longer lasting than it seems. Hear how several military spouses identify signs of love in their relationships, and you will see it is attention to detail in the little things that make survival long term possible.

So, how do you protect yourself from trauma within a military relationship?

The answers are not easy and are numerous.

  • Choose to make your love an anchor and honor that person no matter how unfair your sacrifices to do so seem sometimes. You remember why you loved them in the first place, and you surround yourself with those memories when the dark times come.
  • Make the sacrifices for your family and career, and you don’t blame them for the times they are away because of their command.
  • Countdown the days, weeks, months, hours, and years to their military retirement and make plans for the future to give you both hope.
  • Make friends with other military spouses and journey through this hard life together.
  • Give it your all like the good all-American warrior that you are because you ARE a warrior.

Every day you choose to love someone difficult to love is an act of war and a battle worth winning, in my opinion. 

So, how do you handle important decisions and disagreements when your military spouse is away? 

You need to realize that the most important thing to both of you right now is not arguing over minor problems between you: it is getting your soldier home safely.

Your service member is trusting you to be strong enough to take care of yourself and your family while they are gone. Don’t give them something to worry about because worry takes their mind off the mission and on you.

It might be romantic to think your soldier is overseas worried about you, but it isn’t. Every minute that a soldier is more concerned about life back home while he is in the battlefield is a moment he puts himself and his entire company in danger. Think twice before you pick a fight with a deployed soldier. No matter how alone you feel, you have to remember that military life is about protecting the ones you love the most and defending the ideals that make us all proud Americans.

When your service member is away, it is YOU they fight for–not that location or that country. Don’t steal the heart of their fight by making problems for them. Save the tough conversations for when they are home. Keep your conversation positive but authentic while they are away. Your love is life to them; your trust and commitment is more powerful than all the weapons in their arsenal.

Let this time of deployment be a time of growth and development for you as well. The Chicago Tribune wrote an article about how to deal with deployments that included many helpful tips for establishing reliable communication with your service member before and during deployment to reduce anxiety. Check out the article here.

How do you guard your heart if the service member you love is someone you only met online?

First of all, take your time. Before you can really love someone, you need to meet them in person. Call it chemistry, but anyone can be anything they want to be online. Before you fall in love with a lie, wait untill you meet them. The Soldier Project wrote a great article on this subject with advice to also be able to tell when your service member is “into you.” Check out the article here.

Secondly, don’t spend a dime on them. I mean it! Don’t even buy them a present! Until you meet in person, you are potentially falling for a lie, and the number one scam with Stolen Valor (when someone steals a military person’s identity to create a persona meant to steal from others) is circling around you paying for them to come see you. Military leave is something that is earned not bought. Even if you do exhaust your credit and pay for that $4-10k leave, you aren’t getting your service member home with it. You just paid a scammer their paycheck. 

Lastly, knowledge is power. Immerse yourself in military culture. Get to know real military members and their families in all branches of the military. The more you know, the harder it is for someone to snow you. If someone tries to present you with Stolen Valor, you will be able to see it easier when you already know the culture they are trying to rip off. Scammers don’t understand military rank, branches, job descriptions, or technical details. Everything they get comes from Googling it, and guess what…you can do that too. If something sounds fishy, Google it. Your best defense is a good offense and that is ALWAYS verifying what someone tells you online before you fully believe in it.

How do you protect yourself online if you are in the military?

No matter how proud you are of what you do for a living (or your private gun collection), don’t post pictures online of yourself in your uniform or with weapons. Especially as you go up in rank, you are a target. I don’t even have to be your friend on social media to steal your pictures and become you, so stop sharing damaging Intel.

If you want to be online, be online with an alias. Don’t even let the world see your real name. I would even go so far as to edit pictures to mark out your real name. It is just much safer for you to hide in cloaks and daggers than it is to trust your identity is safe online. No one is safe online, but it is the high profile targets like military officers and celebrities that scammers target to copy the most. 

Don’t be naive, soldier, you are loveable. The uniform alone is swoon worthy for a lot of us, but you don’t need a lover who just wants you for your rank. Wait for the warrior who loves you for your heart and partners with your dreams. Look for that person who is not afraid to walk through fire with you. Wait for the person whose love is like a slow cooker–harder to earn but always warm for you. Don’t love anyone online only; meet in person before you get serious and drop the “Love” word on your relationship. 

Dear reader, if you have been the victim of an internet scam, know it is not your fault and you are not alone. Stolen Valor is a federal crime. Report it and try not to hold the military at fault for what happened to you.

Some scammers can actually be human traffickers that have been casing you out on social media. Read more about this crime and seek help. Don’t stay isolated and don’t believe the lie that this happened to you because of something wrong or ugly about you. You are beautiful. THEY are ugly.

Criminals have no other intentions than to make money off you and make you so scared you trust no one. If you don’t give in but still talk to them, all you are doing is helping them become better at their craft to hurt someone else.

Be better than that.

Cut them off and report it before it goes more than even a couple of weeks in communication. Read this article to help you better know if you are a victim and how to deal with it.