/ Jonathan Worth / 8 am Thu, Nov 12 2015
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  • When identity thieves targeted beloved open course teachers, Facebook sided with the crooks

    When identity thieves targeted beloved open course teachers, Facebook sided with the crooks

    Your account has been disabled for pretending to be someone else.

    Teachers don't go into education to get rich. It's a great job, the rewards are awesome and although they're not financial, they are of value. They are socially valuable. It's why teachers are one of the "professional" people allowed to verify your passport photograph, to qualify that it really is a picture of you. Society recognises that they're more likely to value the long rigorous process of acquiring that trust above jeopardising it to earn a quick kick-back. We even trust them with our children.

    And then you get open teachers, who make their classes available online for free, for any learner regardless of their ability to pay or personal circumstance. Open teachers naturally earn this trust, this social capital, very publicly and because they're often teaching at scale they potentially earn this social capital at scale too. It means they and people like them are great people to impersonate in order to steal, from the people who trust them (all of us).


    It isn't just teachers who are "Catfished" (the process of having your online identity hijacked). It can happen to anyone of us but what's worrying is when someone as trusted, high profile and digitally literate as an open teacher is Catfished, and try as they might, can just do nothing about it, then what are the rest of us meant to do when it happens to us (assuming we ever find out)?

    Alan Levine made my open classes possible and anyone in open education knows Alan as the open teacher's teacher, the go-to-guy for teachers as well as students. Alec Couros is the big-daddy of open education; it really doesn't get that much bigger than him. Needless to say both these guys have earned a butt-load of social capital and both of them got Catfished. The good news is that both of them are fighting back publicly. The bad news for us is that both of them are they're losing, however they're not the only victims, Alan says:


    "This is just the narrow tip of a rampant amount of scam activity enabled by Facebook. My colleague Alec Couros has had his photos used for years for catfishing- read his 2013 post on Identity, Love, and Catfishing. Alec gets daily emails from women who have been fooled by online romance scams who created fake persona's using Alec's photos. More recently, Alec described a case where the scammers had not only made a fake profile based on his photos, but connected them to more fake profiles using his brother's and his mother's photos.

    But I guess that wasn't enough. A family's set of fake profiles is pretty convincing, but the scammers felt that they needed to go the extra mile to make Alec Gallart even more convincing. The scammers thought it would be great to exploit my father's death (he passed away in 2013) by including this photo of my children at his burial mound.

    And it gets even more devious. Alec told me that the catfishing scammers are able to make Skype calls. They use software that allows them to send downloaded video clips through their computer camera, degrading them as if the connection is bad, so that the victim believes they are having a real conversation."

    Alan is blogging right now - you can go read how how the scammers and Facebook are kicking his ass. They've actually had him evicted from his own profile and moved in. Like Alex, he's supplied pictures of himself holding his driving license twice , even though:


    Facebook can already recognize you in photos that do not show your face. They have research projects like DeepFace. Why are they unable to detect when the same photos have been used as profile photos on different accounts? Why are they not checking other accounts for photos that match closed accounts confirmed as fake?

    The scammers have a free rein to create accounts using brute force software that work on a scale like a weapon , but the reporting mechanisms Facebook provides are totally ineffectual. They armed us with a peashooter.

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