It’s scarify easy to find out personal information about the people you meet on online dating sites, leaving many individuals open to sextortion.
IF YOU’RE reading this, you’re probably wondering how I found out your name.
Well, first of all, let me make one thing clear: I am not a hacker.
My IT skills don’t extend past MS Office — in fact when I write “Proficient in Excel” on my resume I’m bending the truth, which should make what I’m about to explain to you even more alarming.
I discovered who you are in four seconds. And anyone else can too.
I just held my finger down over your profile picture (or right clicked) and selected “Search Google for this image”.
Then, in exactly the same way search engines look for words, Google scoured the internet for every copy of your picture that exists online.
From one display picture or a screenshot of your Tinder profile I found your LinkedIn,
Twitter, or Instagram account. Or I was directed to your personal blog, an old newspaper article about you, or your company’s “About Us” page.
I gleaned your full name from one of these resources, which I used to find out everything else that you, or anyone, have publicly posted about you online.
I’m talking about sextortion — a cyber crime on the rise, where the perpetrator asks for money in exchange for not releasing sexually explicit images or information about a victim. The scary part is how easy it is to do.
A SEXTORTION EPIDEMIC
Offences originating from dating websites and apps are snowballing into a worldwide crime epidemic.
In the UK, seven times more Tinder and Grindr-related crimes were reported in the past two years than in previous years — a total of 400 cases.
Last week the US Navy was forced to issue an official warning to sailors telling them not to engage in sexually explicit activities online — at least 160 have been the victims of sextortion in the past four years.
The most frightening aspect of sextortion is that the law might not always protect victims due to it being a relatively new phenomenon. Researchers argue that new laws are needed to specifically target this crime.
JUST HOW MUCH CAN ONE IMAGE REVEAL ABOUT A PERSON?
Enough to make you seriously uncomfortable.
Take the case of one prominent identity I recently discovered on an embarrassing online dating site (read: sugar daddy).
His profile stated that he was a married male, with a net worth of $10 million looking for, “Another casual playmate for no strings attached fun. Must be discrete, S&M or foot fetish experience a must.”
An excellent candidate for online “sextortion”.
Google image searching his picture directed me to the newspaper article it was originally published in. This showed me:
• The names of his family members including his wife, children, and in-laws
• The name of the town he grew up in
• The horses he owned and the jockeys he employed
Using that information, I went to his LinkedIn profile, where I found:
• The name of the schools and universities he attended
• His company name (Google maps showed me the specific building)
A search of the picture he used on his LinkedIn profile brought me to his Twitter, which used the same profile picture. There I learned:
• The name of his cat
• His birthday and his children’s birthdays
• The suburb he lives in
• The cafes he frequents
• The names of his close friends
You’d be surprised how much can be discovered from a few online dating profiles.Source:Supplied
Just for shits and giggles I then conducted an ABN search and found all the other companies listed in his name — you know, to ensure he was the $10 million man he claimed to be.
After that, the ASX told me his company was in good health — perfect.
And finally, I jumped onto Facebook. Facebook is a long shot in the cyber stalking game, and as I suspected he’d set his profile to private. But his display picture featured him and his wife in an ever so loving embrace.
Searching that photo led me to her LinkedIn — she was in marketing and all her channels of online communication were listed there — Twitter, personal blog, email address. A blackmailer’s delight.
NOTHING TO HIDE, NOTHING TO FEAR?
“Don’t put anything on the internet that you wouldn’t want on the front page of the Daily Telegraph” is pretty sound advice.
How valuable information about your love of curvaceous black women or your penchant for blindfolded anal sex is depends entirely on:
• How high profile of an individual you are
• How much “discretion” you prefer
• How much “character” your position requires
• How many enemies you have
The good news for cyber stalkers is modern dating websites and apps are designed in such a way that online predators can quickly sort through thousands of profiles to single out the people who do have something to hide.
Finding a target is as simple as:
- Running a customised search that filters results to only include married, wealthy men with profile pictures. Or perhaps it’ll look for single men with fetish related words in their profiles.
Sifting through those results until a promising profile picture comes up. What do I mean by promising pictures? The dead giveaways that an image is likely to be found elsewhere on the internet include:
— Professional shots
— Photographs with Instagram filters or images cropped to a square
— Images with eyes or faces blacked out
— Images with blurred over watermarks
— Pictures that were taken in front of promotional banners
Collecting information about the person — this doesn’t need to involve making contact with the person being researched.
“Sextortion”. Or maybe they’ll sell your juicy info to journalists if you’re kind of a big deal. Or, even worse, you could end up falling prey to a real life stalker.
SO, HOW CAN YOU MAKE YOURSELF LESS STALKABLE?
If you want to date online but value discretion, follow these simple tips to keep your identity safe:
— Use a different profile picture for every online account.
— Google image search your profile pictures before you put them up.
— Keep an eye on the information you display about yourself across all accounts, not just social media. Something as simple as a picture attached to an Airbnb profile or Yelp review is enough to give away your whole identity.
— Try to conceal your identity by simply blurring your photograph or blacking out your eyes/ face. Google image search will still bring up duplicates of a picture if it can match the majority of the photograph.
— Rely on a fake name to protect your identity.
— Set your accounts to public.
— Use the same phone number for pleasure and business. A stray yellow pages or Facebook business listing can instantly reveal your identity.
That should protect you from the amateurs, at least.
Vivienne is a blogger with a penchant for sarcasm and a love of writing true tales about unconventional encounters. Follow her on Twitter @gattonstreet