How to avoid becoming a victim of a “Catfish”

Champlain College professor offers tips on protecting online identity

Prof. Jonathan Rajewski, co-director of the Leahy Center for Digital Investigation at Champlain College
Prof. Jonathan Rajewski, co-director of the Leahy Center for Digital Investigation at Champlain College
  • Prof. Jonathan Rajewski, co-director of the Leahy Center for Digital Investigation at Champlain College
    Prof. Jonathan Rajewski, co-director of the Leahy Center for Digital Investigation at Champlain College
    Prof. Jonathan Rajewski, co-director of the Leahy Center for Digital Investigation at Champlain College
    Prof. Jonathan Rajewski, co-director of the Leahy Center for Digital Investigation at Champlain College
The following is a column written by Champlain College Prof. Jonathan Rajewski, co-director of the Leahy Center for Digital Investigation at Champlain College, Burlington, Vt. It offers some identity protection tips on the internet in the wake of recent news. You can see more about cybersecurity issues at his blog - http://www.jonrajewski.com/cyberblog/. He is also available for interviews on the topic. He can be reached at (802) 865-5460 or by email at rajewski@champlain.edu

By Jonathan Rajewski
Champlain College


BURLINGTON, VT. -- Notre Dame star linebacker Manti Te'o claims to have been the victim of an elaborate online hoax. MTV’s Catfish is a show about a similar online romance, one which also raises doubts about its authenticity.

Online impersonation with the intent of engaging in a relationship is becoming more common. Similar to identity theft, which is when someone steals personal identifiable information from a victim and uses that information in the commission of a crime (fraud etc) – Catfishing is when someone “assumes” a real person’s identity and/or creates a new online persona to engage in an online relationship.

Phishing, which is related to Catfishing, is a common tactic used by online criminals to lure unsuspecting victims to do something which may lead to identity theft or other nefarious activities.

The reality is that this could happen to anyone that uses the internet. Your own online persona could be used as a “catfish” profile or you might be duped into believing someone isn’t who they purport to be. Here are some tips to keep yourself from becoming a victim of a Catfish:

1. Don’t share what you consider “private information” online:
  • You should control your online persona. Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter are all amazing technologies but can all be used against you in one way or another. In order for someone to victimize you, they will need to know as much as possible about their target. For example, if you Google your name, what comes up? Common results for most people would be interests/ pictures/ videos/ biographical information/location/ employeer/ email address/social media accounts etc.
  • Any of this information could be used to “groom” your relationship – for example – If you participate in online dating websites, and someone wants to “impress you” they might want to do research into your background. The more “private information” that you have online in a public manner the easier it will be to become a victim.
2. Treat your online relationships the same you would real-life ones
  • If you were approached at the store by a complete stranger, would you start a meaningful relationship with them? Would you want your real-life friends to know that you associate with strangers? If you answered “no” then why would you do so online? STRANGER DANGER! If our children understand it, why can’t we!
  • The power of online relationships can also cause your online friends to blindly trust your friends. For example, Facebook will suggest friends to you based on your friend’s friends. This causes a potentially false sense of safety on social networks.
3.    Track your online persona to prevent from becoming used as Catfish profile
  • Brandyourself.com is a free service that will help you manage your online profile. If you sign up for this service, you will receive regular updates to any changes to your online “google” presence. Oh, and it’s free
  • Google Alerts are extremely powerful. If ask Google to notify you whenever your name appears on the internet, it will. For example, I have a Google Alert programmed to send me an email the second it sees “Jonathan Rajewski” on any webpage that it indexes. Oh, and it’s free.
  • Perform reverse image searches using free or pay services to see if your pictures are being used online – TinEye.com is an example
4.    Know your local laws/social media policy
  • Some states consider impersonating an online persona illegal - California, Washington, Texas, and New York currently have laws on the books.
  • Most social media websites consider it a violation of their terms of use if someone misrepresents their identity – so report it when you see it!
5.    Understand social media privacy policies
  • What you think is private today, might not the next. When Facebook, Instagram or other services change their privacy settings it could place all of your “private” information in the public eye. Remember  if you’re not paying for the service, your the product.
Watch the story on Fox44 at http://www.fox44abc22yourvoice.com/category/212170/video-landing-page?autoStart=true&topVideoCatNo=default&clipId=8202715

Professor Jonathan Rajewski is co-director of the Leahy Center for Digital Investigation at Champlain College, Burlington, Vt. Read more at http://www.jonrajewski.com/cyberblog/.

Learn more about the Digital Forensics programs at Champlain College at http://www.champlain.edu/undergraduate-studies/majors-and-programs/computer-and-digital-forensics-x14305.html

About Champlain College
Since 1878, Champlain College has provided career-focused education to students from its hilltop campus in Burlington, Vt. Champlain's distinctive educational approach embodies the notion that true learning only occurs when information and experience come together to create knowledge. Champlain offers traditional undergraduate and online undergraduate courses, along with online certificate and degree programs and eight master's degree programs. Champlain offers study abroad programs at its campuses in Montreal, Quebec and Dublin, Ireland. Champlain College will be included in the Princeton Review's "best colleges" guidebook, "The Best 377 Colleges: 2013 Edition." Champlain was named a "Top-Up-and-Coming School" by U.S. News & World Report's "America's Best Colleges" and was ranked in the top tier of 2013 Regional Colleges in the North. For more information, visit www.champlain.edu.