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People are not always who or what they seem online. Anyone can virtually pretend to be anyone on the World Wide Web.

Country singer Brad Paisley even has a song about being cooler online, living a life one can only fantasize about. “Online, I live in Malibu. I posed for Calvin Klein. I’ve been in GQ. I’m single and I’m rich.”

It’s not new. Cat phishing is a tactic used by scammers to approach someone online, start a romantic relationship and reel them in with emotions before asking for money. But the person on the other end isn’t who they said they were. Most times, it’s safe to say he or she is far from it.

The Boise Police Department has alerted the Better Business Bureau that scammers are targeting college students with an alarming new twist. Crime prevention supervisor Edward Fritz said there have been multiple cases reported out of Boise State University. Men are being approached on social media by women of similar age. They begin a conversation that quickly escalates to sending intimate photos and videos. The person on the receiving end of these messages then extorts the young men. They threaten to release the photos and/or videos publicly unless the victim pays thousands of dollars.

“In one case, the video was shared on Facebook before it was reported and taken down,” Fritz said in a statement.

Because of the sensitivity of the scam, there may be many more victims that are too embarrassed to report it.

“We don’t know how many others there are,” Fritz said.

For many, this experience can feel embarrassing and have long-lasting consequences, but contacting law enforcement is a great first step if you suspect you, your children or your guardians are a victim.

Three tips to spot this scam:

  • Copycat profiles — Be wary of social media accounts that seem to be recently created or have little information on them. As Fritz explains, “Scammers went in, grabbed a handful of pictures and created an account or added them to an existing Facebook account. It looks like it’s coming from a similar-aged female as opposed to someone outside the country.”
  • Moving fast — The conversation starts off seemingly innocently and quickly takes a turn. “It only took five to six messages to go from complete strangers to sending intimate photos and videos,” Fritz said.
  • Request for photos — If the person you’re talking to quickly asks for photos, especially ones that should be kept private, it’s a red flag. “Once you send an intimate video or intimate image, it could be anywhere. It’s not like it disappears. The internet is forever,” Fritz said.

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Jeremy Johnson is the eastern Idaho marketplace manager for the Better Business Bureau Northwest + Pacific.

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