"Catfishing" Crimes Increasing

Scammers using social media to impersonate and steal info

POSTED: 01:28 PM CST Feb 07, 2013    UPDATED: 04:24 AM CDT Mar 25, 2013 

Anderson advises everyone to always be skeptical of someone you don't know, no matter what they look like or what story they tell. "Pictures don't really mean anything because like you said, you can download anybody's pictures," said Anderson. ABC 17's Digital Content Director Justin Abraham helped to create the Facebook profile of "Megan Grey." "You can even put photos back several years, so it's really easy now to make up a fake person," said Abraham. He showed how easy it is to steal photos to create someone new. We randomly started to choose common names and found people who left their Facebook profile set to "public." In one instance, we found out where someone lives and works and his photos showed his life's events, including graduation, vacation and entire family. In just minutes, we found a woman and started to steal her photos. "This is one with her and her dog and it's fairly simple to steal," said Abraham. "All we're going to do to save the picture is by right clicking." We stole less than a dozen photos, but they include friends, family and random fun shots. "Once someone posts their photo willingly on the Internet, they're kind of giving up the rights to that picture," said Det. Anderson. When asked if we are breaking the law, Det. Anderson said if we do not use the photos to commit a crime, likely not, but it depends on the jurisdiction. So we continued to create a new name, get an email address and head to Facebook with our photos ready to load. In less than 20 minutes, Megan Grey's new life is uploading on Facebook. To make it look more complete, we added details like Megan's high school, college and job information . Since we randomly chose Madison, Wisconsin, we "liked" a few local favorites to make it look real and found an actual high school in the city. Once we liked a few pages, Facebook allowed us to connect with others who like the same pages. We randomly started asking for friend requests. Now imagine a scammer who spends hours a day online. "And these guys are really good," said Anderson. "People have to know they are experts at what they do." In just one week, Megan has 12 friends. It took us only 20 minutes to create a fake profile that we intend to do nothing with. Remember, fake Chris, who scammed Mandy out of $8,000, probably took the same amount of time, but then he spent five months conversing with her and sending photos he had stolen from his target. He will also never get caught in the United States. "Most often, we find the suspects are outside of the United States," said Det. Anderson. "And once they're outside of the United States, we don't have jurisdiction," Det. Anderson says for most people, it's highly unlikely they will ever see their money again. As for Mandy, she says she has learned her lesson five years later. "My main thing now would be don't talk to anybody you can't meet," she said. Det. Anderson says the current local, state and federal laws are adequate. He says Missouri lawmakers make changes recommended by cyber crimes task forces and prosecutors regularly. However, he says law enforcement needs more resources and technology to fight this growing crime trend.