It’s 2019, and the internet is the most dominating force in our modern lives.
Whether we like it or loathe it, most of what we do is automated and online these days, be it communicating with others, running a business, dating, banking, gaming or consuming media or videos. It’s all their at our fingertips, but with that ease and accessibility comes new dangers, and a requirement to be extra vigilant about our protection and privacy.
The term “catfish” was coined in the 2010 indie film of the same name, which went on to become a popular long-running reality TV show. It refers to someone who pretends to be someone else online - for any number of reasons - and is now a popular term in everyday vernacular.
While the series focuses primarily on catfishing in the online dating world, the skillful catfish has bled over into the other online realms, and now it’s more important than ever to know how to protect yourself online.
If you have been contacted, or are in contact with, anyone online whose identity can’t be instantly and easily verified, our 5 experts tips will go a long way to ensure the net remains a safe space for you and your family.
We’re taking this trick from Nev and Max on Catfish, who make it their first port of call to do a Google reverse image search to determine if any images or photographs shared can be found elsewhere on the World Wide Web.
To enact an image search simply visit images.google.com, click on the camera icon, and either paste in the URL for an image you've seen online, upload an image from your hard drive or phone or drag an image into the search box. The search engine will bring back any image results that are the same, and you will know whether that online contact really is who they say they are.
It’s a quick and easy way to see if images sent to you are original, or have been stolen from somewhere or someone else. There’s a lot of programs that offer this service, but we trust good old Google with our mission.
Received an online business inquiry from a prospective customer who seems too good to be true? Had a Facebook request from someone you aren’t familiar with?
Pretend you're an investigative journalist and protect yourself by doing some thorough research. All you need is your own internet connection.
Start with a simple Google search of their name or business name, followed by a LinkedIn or Facebook browse. Most people leave a digital footprint whether they know it or not, and these social media platforms and search engines should give you a good sense of if that person is legitimate.
Knowing the digital red flags to look out for is helpful. Social media profiles with no uploaded information, images or friends - or no social media presence at all - should make you wary. If it’s a business contacting you, they should already have a website, LinkedIn account or a couple of social media channels. If all else fails, go right to the source. ABN Lookup is a free government resource that lets you search Australian business registration information.
We can all be shy from time to time, but if an online contact is apprehensive to jump on a video call with you, or keeps putting you off, your spidey senses should be tingling.
The acclaimed podcast Criminal did an excellent episode on online romance scams, following a worried son who took it upon himself to check his mother’s new online boyfriend was who he said he was… with not-so-surprising results. The episode provides a lot of handy tips from experts on protecting yourself online, and explains why Skype can be the answer to your burning identity questions. Check it out on your favourite podcast app or on their website link above. It’s Episode 20, titled “Gil from London”.
If someone is very quickly asking you for money online, this should be a major alarm bell. Most online scams revolve around money, so don’t ever give out any personal banking details - or any financial details at all. It’s astounding how many people are scammed each year this way.
Scamwatch, an Australian government initiative, keeps a tally of reported losses, which include hacking, identity theft, phishing, extortion, employment scams, romance scams and travel prize scams - just to name a few. While it tallies up all scams both online and off, we can only imagine how much of the current 2019 total of $46 million for 2019 happened online. And that’s only money loss that has been reported to the site!
If anyone online asks you for money - run.
Unless of course you’re buying directly from a verified online business like EFM, in which case - go for it.
Your own intuition, or “gut feeling”, is a powerful inbuilt tool you shouldn’t ignore. If something feels off with your online communication, follow that feeling and follow our identity verification steps.
Even if everything seems above board, it’s still advisable to do your own behind-the-scenes investigation.
These are just a few of the ways you can make smart decisions online when interacting with others. There are a lot of resources out there to assist you, and we’ve listed some Australian ones to get you started.
Australian Federal Police - Online fraud and scams
Stay Smart Online
ATO Report a Scam