Protecting Yourself on Social Media

Almost weekly, I receive communication on social media from men who want to flirt. I am not flattered. I have no doubt these men have cast a wide net looking for vulnerable women either to flirt with or to trick into sending them money. Yet some women fall for these “catfish” schemes – smart women who should know better. Here are some tips and tricks to derail them:

  • Be wary of friend requests and follows from servicemen you don’t already know. This sounds terrible, doesn’t it? I certainly support our military and I’m sure you do as well. But at times I have noticed a rash of requests from military personnel. One was supposedly an Army general on Twitter. I accepted, then he started flirting. I scrolled down his Twitter stream and saw he’s married. I told my husband I was quite shocked and he said no Army general would talk that way. I unfriended the general, but I still got a stream of requests, supposedly from military men. Apparently, some people who are up to no good know that women are sympathetic to the military and have set up false accounts.
  • Be wary of friend requests from widowers you don’t already know. This also sounds terrible, doesn’t it? Lately I have been receiving requests on Facebook from men pictured with young children. After I unwittingly accepted the first request, I noticed a barrage of “widowers” trying to friend me. I really don’t feel this is a coincidence, especially since I have not made reaching out to widowers a special personal ministry. Again, this is a sympathetic group to compassionate women.
  • Realize that catfishers assume you are not who you say you are. My profile descriptions always include up front that I’m a Christian wife and mother, but this doesn’t stop them.
  • Be active offline. If you have a full and rich life outside of social media, you will be less vulnerable to people online. You won’t be moved by a stranger declaring your beauty.
  • If you are single, don’t always assume the worst. You might successfully meet a romantic partner online. Good for you! But tiptoe around land mines until you really can trust the person. Never send online “friends” money.
  • If you are married or in a committed relationship, focus your romantic interest on your partner. Your partner is the object of your love.
  • Keep no secrets. My husband knows he can pop onto my computer or phone at will and read anything I post, and that works both ways.
  • Turn off the computer. Matthew 8:18 (NIV) If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire.
  • Pray for protection and discernment. God is with you in all situations.

Your turn:

Has anyone tried to catfish you online? What did you do?

What tips can you offer to stay safe online?

53 Responses to Protecting Yourself on Social Media

  1. Avatar
    Rebekah December 1, 2016 at 6:22 am #

    Thanks for the warning!

  2. Avatar
    Melissa Henderson December 1, 2016 at 6:31 am #

    Great information. Thank you for sharing with us.

  3. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser December 1, 2016 at 6:55 am #

    I’m a dude, so no one has ever tried this kind of thing with me, but someone did try with my wife on our shared FB account.

    He opened up a chat by saying, “Hey, beautiful!” (He used a more explicit word, though.)

    I happened to be online, so I responded with “Hi there!” There might me some fun to be had here, thought I.

    He came back with something deeper in his original vein, and got this response –

    “She isn’t here right now; you’re talking to her husband, the security contractor. How can I help you today?”

    You could here the rapidly bobbing Adam’s apple across the miles.

    • Avatar
      Michael Emmanuel December 1, 2016 at 7:24 am #

      I hear the bob, Andrew. Pretty certain he wouldn’t ever pull such.
      And security contractor? How?

      • Avatar
        Andrew Budek-Schmeisser December 1, 2016 at 7:30 am #

        Michael, the chap never did return. And yes, I sold my sword for a shilling, and gave my heart to a cause. Back in the day the word was ‘mercenary’, but ‘security contractor’ does have a hipper vibe, eh?

      • Avatar
        Michael Emmanuel December 1, 2016 at 8:18 am #

        Hipper… It does.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray December 1, 2016 at 9:43 am #

      Too funny, Andrew. A long time ago, I read a book where the author described taking an offer from a “Nigerian Prince” to the nth degree. Their exchanges weren’t as funny as I thought they’d be, but it was interesting to see what happened.

  4. Avatar
    Sarah Hamaker December 1, 2016 at 7:23 am #

    I’ve always been sensitive about responding to social media requests and emails from men I don’t know, especially if it’s unclear why they’re contacting me. Overly flirtatious is easy to dismiss/ignore/unfriend/unfollow, etc., but I think it gets trickier when there could be an innocent request or interaction. One example is when Christian man from the Middle East contacted me through my website to talk about one of my Chicken Soup for the Soul stories (one about being a sister to foster kids).

    Naturally, I was leery of his intentions–showed my husband the email, and he agreed it might not be on the up and up. I responded cordially and professionally, ready to cut off contact if things went south. But to my surprise, he never crossed any line (or even came close), and we exchanged several emails over the years.

    I share that story to remind myself that we need to be discerning and not immediately dismiss contact with people of the opposite sex when it’s not clear there’s any inappropriate behavior. Of course, if there is or if you’re uncomfortable, then not continuing or starting a conversation is important. But I know I tend to be more apt to miss those God-appointed opportunities to share kindness when there’s no clear cause to be wary.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray December 1, 2016 at 9:41 am #

      Absolutely, Sarah! We never want “being safe” to end up being “too paranoid to function” on social media.

  5. Avatar
    Karen Whiting December 1, 2016 at 7:23 am #

    Please note those are not really military [people. It’ been a long running scam for people to steal the identity of generals and other service men and use them on Facebook. My late husband served for 22 years and I am still very connected to the military community. I’ve been aware of this for a number of years.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray December 1, 2016 at 9:45 am #

      Karen, that’s good to know. I guess I was late to the “party” on this particular scam. God bless you for your time as a military wife. I believe spouses serve, too.

  6. Avatar
    Sarah Ball December 1, 2016 at 7:39 am #

    Oh! I remember one time accepting a friend request who was a “pastor” from a church in Kenya. I would never usually accept without knowing them, but they were friends with a few of my pastoral connections. So being in leadership I assumed it might be a good connection to have too. After 6 months of kind comments and normal social media interaction I got a message in the middle of the night asking me what I was wearing dot dot dot…
    I was so creeeled out that I had alowed this person to have access to my personal page like he did for as long as he did. ?

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray December 1, 2016 at 9:47 am #

      Sarah, I wonder if the account was hacked. I experienced this recently, as I discovered about 30 seconds after I accepted a friend request from someone who should have been a good connection.

  7. Avatar
    Jaime December 1, 2016 at 8:34 am #

    Sarah Hamaker, I’ve received those fan mail letters from people overseas (the Middle East) who have read my Chicken Soup stories as well! And I’ve found the same as you, they were all respectful and stayed on topic.

    What I do ignore is those facebook and messenger requests from men I don’t know, usually fake profiles of military men or widowers as well. I’ve never accepted any of them, yet they still keep trying. It’s usually a bunch of people paid to sit in an internet cafe in a foreign country somewhere and keep trying until someone bites.

    The rule of thumb for me on my private facebook page is that if I don’t know them personally or have a solid, legitimate connection to them, I decline. I keep a separate author/speaker page for people wanting to connect as a fan. That page has less personal info about me (no pictures of my kids, etc), so if it gets creepy I can block them and there’s no harm done.

    • Avatar
      Sarah Hamaker December 1, 2016 at 9:00 am #

      Thanks for sharing your experience too, Jamie. And I agree RE private FB page. I also check their FB profiles to ensure it’s someone who’s legit before accepting.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray December 1, 2016 at 9:49 am #

      Good advice, Jaime!

  8. Avatar
    Nora December 1, 2016 at 8:57 am #

    I have gotten these scam friend requests before too. I hit ignore. If I don’t have a writer connection or a real life connection, I won’t friend anyone. I get friend request from friends of friends even that I don’t always accept.

    I try to always remember also that what’s said or done on the net, stays on the net forever.

    Be careful out there girls, you never know.

  9. Avatar
    Janet Ann Collins December 1, 2016 at 9:05 am #

    I get those requests constantly and report them as scam. I’ve also gotten friend requests from people I know but haven’t had much recent contact with. I check my Friends list to see if they’re already on there, because sometimes those are also scams.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray December 1, 2016 at 3:29 pm #

      Janet Ann, this is why I try to be careful where I appear. If I am on someone’s friends list then that gives that person legitimacy.

  10. Avatar
    Xochi E. Dixon December 1, 2016 at 9:15 am #

    Thanks for these tips, Tamela. I rarely accept people unless we have a number of mutual friends. Even then, I scroll through what’s visible on their time line. When I have doubts, I private message a mutual friend voicing my concerns.

    Once, I saw obviously bad photos on one potential friend whose bio said Christian writer. I rejected that friend but took a snapshot of her name and contacted our mutual friend. It turned out that the writer had accepted that person as a friend and didn’t know there were bad photos being shared on her page.

    I don’t accept any men as connections online, unless I see them communicating safely and professionally with other safe friends.

    The recent trend I’ve experienced is people using photos and names of family members and current friends, who I’m already connected with online.

    I usually take a screen shot and send a private message to the person I am already connected with online. Every time this has happened, the person has been hacked or the scammer stole information from the person’s public profile and started a false account.

    My suggestion is to be wise and to ask others if you are not sure.

    I’m actually going to be making my personal page unsearchable, so that only my author page is visible when people try to find me.

    Even then, it’s wise to be diligent about monitoring who can post or comment on your author page. I have had to block a person who was attacking a friend of mine on my author page, after I shared something about the ministry she was affiliated with at that time.

    Praying for wisdom, discernment, and protection, as well as the courage we need to set boundaries and say no.

    God bless you, Sister!

  11. Avatar
    Robin Bayne December 1, 2016 at 9:19 am #

    I delete them also, but the military requests are infrequent. Last year I had to unfriend a woman from Pakistan (I think) who started asking me for money, repeatedly. I directed her to a charity group that work in her region but she ignored that.

    More recently, I received a private FB message from someone I believe was pretending to be my former editor at Treble Heart Books. (so be ware, THB authors!) She had started a new profile so had no photo (suspicious) but knew all the authors names, mentioned her own most recent titles, and knew the area where she presumably used to live. She said she was feeling down and humiliated by having no income since her husband died.

    The friend I knew would never admit to being in dire straits, she hadn’t communicated with me for years, and it was just very strange.

    Well, anyone could get the author/publishing info online, so that proved nothing. The address she gave me to where she “downsized” due to being low on funds turned out to the an empty building. So watch out, these phishers are really good, they can tempt you to send them money.

  12. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser December 1, 2016 at 9:39 am #

    I’m not sure if this will shed any light on the issue, but I’ve had a good experience online – and most of the people with whom I communicate are women, and married.

    Part of it is that they got to know me through my participation in forums such as this one, so there’s a consistency of values that would be hard to fake over time.

    Many have become readers of my blog, FB friends, and Twitter followers. I correspond with some by email.

    This is an incredible blessing, because my physical profile limits me to being a shut-in. Verbal communication’s hard, so these contacts are pretty much my window to the world. To trespass into the realm of even mild flirtation would be a betrayal not only of my wife, but of the trust and friendship that’s been extended. It’s unthinkable.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray December 1, 2016 at 9:58 am #

      Absolutely, Andrew. I would consider you a safe person in any forum since I “know” you, particularly from this blog. I do appreciate you for being a regular reader and participant.

      My policy is never to type anything I wouldn’t want my husband to read. 🙂

  13. Avatar
    Stephen W. Hiemstra December 1, 2016 at 9:45 am #

    Most of the comments in this thread focus on women being hounded online, but men are also solicited. Some of it is fairly innocent; other times, it takes the form of explicit come ons with photographs provided via links or simply displayed. I normally ignore the requests or delete them.

    Social media solicitation is an entry point for pornography online. A friend of mine, who started a business that grew to be the largest internet provider in his metro area, told me already about 20 years ago that dirty photographs and related stuff were the biggest business online. I am not sure much has changed since then.

    For men that are tempted, risks abound. One risk is that the police sometimes troll for johns in their area because of local problems with prostitution and pedophilia. Other risks include risk of job loss for those using office equipment, the risk of spillover into other relationships, and lost job opportunities as employers examine web use in hiring.

    As a blogger, I am sensitive to the folks that follow me and normally check out their blogs/twitter/websites before following someone back. If I review a book on bipolar disorder, for example, I often will get group of follows by people struggling with bipolar disorder. The same is true for other, more sensitive topics.

    Tamela, thanks for raising this sensitive topic.

  14. Avatar
    Sheri Dean Parmelee December 1, 2016 at 10:09 am #

    Thanks so much for that valuable information, Tamela. I was approached on line a couple of times but the spelling of the men was so atrocious that I wasn’t taken in for a second. There are some advantages to being a “Grammar Cop” – as my hubby calls me. We do need to be aware of this type of thing, and I appreciate the reminder.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray December 1, 2016 at 3:31 pm #

      Sheri, excellent point that poor spelling and grammar can be indicative of an impostor.

  15. Avatar
    Laura Bennet December 1, 2016 at 10:13 am #

    Yes! Glad to hear it isn’t only me denying those requests. And my sites are all clearly stating my marital status as well. I appreciate you leaving a window open for the idea of meeting someone online. I did meet my amazing husband on a small respectable Christian dating site called christiancafe, but even there my friend (who also met her husband same time, same site) and I found fishers. Some hilarious stories came from those months of online dating which I’ve written about on my blog and in my first book, but it is wise to be wary. Thanks for the great reminders. =)

  16. Avatar
    Natalie Monk December 1, 2016 at 10:29 am #

    Excellent post, Tamela. I’m so tweeting this. 🙂

  17. Avatar
    Dianne December 1, 2016 at 10:30 am #

    Yep, I’ve been getting a lot of friend requests from those two groups as well — military guys and widowers. I’m naturally suspicious and didn’t know any of them. If I get a request from someone I don’t know, I always click on their page and check them out. If I’m sure I don’t know them, I ALWAYS ignore the feelings of false guilt and ignore, delete, or report their friend request. Glad to know it’s not just me.

    Another friend request I’m suspicious of is a request from someone I thought I was already friends with, ESPECIALLY if when I visit their account there’s no cover photo (it’s all black). I fell for a few of these fake accounts and immediately reported them when I discovered I’d been conned. I’ve figured that out earlier and reported this false accounts who have mimicked the accounts of real friends. Reporting these allows us to also send a message to the real friend that their account has been copied.

    I have noticed I’m getting less of all these types of friend requests lately.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray December 1, 2016 at 3:34 pm #

      Dianne, I had one friend who was hacked twice so this is still something to consider. I think criminals have come to realize this ruse doesn’t last long enough to be worth their while since the real person’s friends are quick to let him or her know what happened!

  18. Avatar
    Diana December 1, 2016 at 10:56 am #

    Another one to watch out for is the use of two first names, that’s usually someone you don’t want to friend John Henry. 🙂

    • Avatar
      Diana December 1, 2016 at 10:59 am #

      Adding to this, I’ve stopped accepting friendships of people I don’t know or who aren’t my target audience.

  19. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser December 1, 2016 at 11:51 am #

    I’d suggest a few things for safety –

    1) Never post a recognizable photo of yourself. I never do.

    2) Never identify where you live, either by description or landmarks in a picture.

    3) Never give your schedule

    4) if you think you’ve acquired a stalker, go to the police, change the routes and routines you use, and get some means of self-protection

    5) Healthy paranoia keeps you alive.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray December 1, 2016 at 3:36 pm #

      So true, Andrew. It may seem like fun to “check in” by letting your online friends know you’re dining out of town, but that can certainly backfire if the wrong person reads it!

  20. Avatar
    Janet Ann Collins December 1, 2016 at 12:09 pm #

    I’ve never posted anything about my family on Facebook and don’t mention when I’ll be out of town. I also try to stay out of politics, which hasn’t been easy lately.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray December 1, 2016 at 3:37 pm #

      I’ve tried to make my social media pages a safe haven from politics, too!

  21. Avatar
    Robert Stroud December 1, 2016 at 2:10 pm #

    Wise suggestions. I love the “I am not flattered” statement. Too often we do allow the massaging of our egos to lead us on those first seemingly “innocent” steps into danger.

    Also like your comment about military imposters. (No senior military officer would risk his career in this way.) As a (real) veteran myself, I consider this an especially egregious type of “stolen valor” incident.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray December 1, 2016 at 3:40 pm #

      Robert, thank you for serving. I’m glad to help get the word out about these insults to our true active duty military and veterans.

  22. Avatar
    Peggy Booher December 1, 2016 at 3:40 pm #

    Thanks, Tamela, for this information. I don’t have a FB account or Twitter account, but I do use email. Scammers hacked into my ISP, which has my only email account. For the past several months I’ve gotten email from people I’ve never heard of, about “Unpaid Invoices”, “Bank Statements” etc., so I immediately delete those. I don’t do any banking online, and I’m always aware of what I owe and to whom. This makes it a lot easier for me.

    One credit union I know of prints the customer’s account# on a little card, but the card doesn’t give the name of the credit union, for security reasons. The less information on the card, the better. I appreciate that approach, and try to keep that in mind.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray December 2, 2016 at 7:12 am #

      I’ve never seen cards like that. A good idea!

      Or, if your bank has its logo on an account card, write it down somewhere secure and then shred the card.

  23. Avatar
    Murray Grossan December 1, 2016 at 4:16 pm #

    The ones I worry about are the persons trying to plant a virus inn your computer

    sl rule number one: never open a file especially the one offering you money

  24. Avatar
    Mary Albers Felkins December 1, 2016 at 6:10 pm #

    This is such a good word. I had to wonder why so many military guys were after me on FB. I’ve friended none of them. Also, I learned a long time ago with email never to write anything I wouldn’t want my husband to read. Have I represented him well? Mischaracterized him in any way? etc. I’ve nothing to hide and thankful he doesn’t either.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray December 2, 2016 at 7:14 am #

      Yes, the honorable person never has anything to hide. I imagine if my husband decided to read my emails, he’d be bored!

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