Every day I am confronted by friends, acquaintances and those recommended to seek Me out with questions regarding a person (or people) that they feel may be perpetrating a scam against them. I don't mean the common E-Mail scams (such as “Viagra Cheep” or “Lose 40 pounds by Summer”) but the much more insidious scam involving the creation of one or more fake personalities. The scammer then uses the pseudo-persona's to deceive, hurt or abuse their victim or victims.
Because the internet offers so many easy ways to hide, to become someone fake, or to even impersonate a whole group of people, it is often very difficult for those that are not “Net Savvy” to detect and defend themselves against such scams. The purpose of this page will be to help those needing general info .. or just wanting a little more knowledge .. to recognize the common scams before they can become dangerous or injurious.
Before we can get into how to recognize a scam, we should review the most common tricks that scammers use. We will explain what makes a person “Real” and how scammers use the various Internet programs to appear real.
The popular “Portal Sites” (such as Yahoo, MSN, Google, etc.) all offer free or low-cost E-Mail accounts these days. In recent years they have all taken steps to prevent automated systems (such as those used by Spammers) from signing up for these accounts. However they do allow a single person to create multiple accounts with no trouble. This is a common “exploit” (or trick) used by the fakes. They will create one or more fake E-Mail accounts and then flesh them out with personal details to make it appear that each account belongs to a separate person. Fortunately for us, the big-name E-Mail services store information in every message sent that can help us narrow down the real sender and detect when one person is sending out E-Mail under multiple different names. A little further down, I will show how to find and use that information.
We all use various Internet Chat programs (or “Instant Messengers”) these days. Fakes will routinely use the various bogus E-Mail accounts they've created to create companion Chat Names (or “handles”). While it is possible to have multiple handles on any one computer, it is generally not possible to log in to more than one at a time. This is important to remember since it requires a faker to log out of one handle before logging in to another.
However, since the faker can run many different chat programs at once (and most of us do have more than one program installed), they will sometimes have different handles for each type of chat program. This is also important to note. Because most of us do have handles for many different chat programs, someone that only has one program installed and refuses to (or claims to not be able to) install another chat program may be suspicious.
Chat Profiles and Pictures
Most (if not all) of the common programs allow the user to fill out information about themselves. This information is called the “Profile”. Most fakes will take extra care to put real sounding info in the Profile as a way to lend credibility to their fictitious persona. But the problem is they can't use a “real photo”, so they will borrow one from the Internet or leave it blank. Be extra cautious of anyone who uses a “commercial grade” photo in their profile. While it does not necessarily mean they are a fake, if the photo isn't a real person (usually taken with a webcam or digital cam) then your level of caution should be a bit higher.
Also make note of their geographic location in the profile. If not listed there (and it often isn't for basic 'net security reasons) then be sure to find that out during your conversations with them. Fakes that create more than one persona will often scatter them around the world or the country … and that bit of fabrication will help you “out” them a little later on.
Pictures Sent Via E-Mail or IM
Fakers will often need to (or want to) send pictures of “themselves” in order to prove their existence and reality. However, as with Profiles, they must find a source for the pictures they send out. Fortunately for us, most commercial sources (and many picture sites) will “watermark” or put digital information into their pictures that indicate the true source. Fakers can't easily remove this information and thus it will be visible to you after you receive the picture. All you need to know is how to look at it and what it means.
If the Faker sends a picture file as an attachment to an E-Mail, you should also keep the E-Mail for use in determining the real origin. The information stored in the “Headers” can be compared with those in E-Mails from other people to determine if they are indeed from separate computers and regions, or in fact from the same one.
Internet “Connections” During a Chat
Most chat programs will create a “connection” between the two computers engaged in a chat. While the connection may be only temporary and exist just when the chat starts, certain types of chat activities (such as sending files or viewing a webcam) can establish a connection that lasts much longer. On computers running Window 2000 and Windows XP, there are programs you can use to list all the connections, both the “IP Address” (similar to a street address) and the “Port” (similar to an apartment number). While the program and function you are using controls the Port, the IP Address can help you determine the other person's general location, or at least let you determine if it is the same as another persona in the Faker's “community”.
The Nitty-Gritty Techno Babble Stuff
Now that we have a general idea of what sort of things can expose a faker, it's time to get into the dirty details of how to get the information we need. Primarily the data comes from a few different sources and types:
The following will discuss some simple ways to find the information you need, how to interpret it (or websites that can interpret it for you) and other details you might like to know about what it all means.
IP Address - Where Are You Really?
Every computer that talks on the Internet has a unique address called its “IP Address”. Different Internet Service Providers (or ISPs) have blocks of addresses that they use for their customers. Often times the IP Address can even identify a general location too. A Faker that has more than one bogus persona may remember to log into the right account, but they seldom if ever can change their IP Address too. Thus the IP Address can be compared between two “people” to see if they are in fact the same person (or at least using the same computer). Some programs (such as IRC chat sites and programs) convert the IP Address into a unique “Ident”; thus while you may not know the exact IP Address, you can at least be sure that two people with the same Ident are in fact using the same computer.
Techno-Geek Note: Some ISPs (such as AOL dial-up) use “connection farms” that totally obscure the origination IP Address. However, since Fakers often do not disconnect and reconnect when switching persona, you can usually find the same IP Address from two of their persona. Techno-Geek Note 2: The more savvy will notice that there are cases where the same IP Address will be shown for two different computers. The most common reason for this is home-based networks where a “Router” is used. However, if the same IP Address shows up for two people who claim to be miles or continents apart, it's a safe bet they are fakes and liars.
Turning an IP Address Into a Location
Finding the real location of an IP Address is not such a simple thing. While there are special databases that convert an IP Address to an Internet Name and vice versa (the so-called “DNS” process), there isn't an “official” database to find the location of a specific IP Address. However there are a few companies that have created their own databases … and they even provide access to them over the Internet. Some of them even provide free access to their database (but on a limited basis though). One of the databases that I use periodically is from a company called www.IP2Location.com . When you open the website you will see a list of the services and products they offer along the left-hand edge.
Near the bottom of that list is a section called “Free Resources”. Their main page also includes a “Live Product Demo” section on the upper right-hand side as shown to the left.
Note that “your” IP Address is automatically filled in for you when you open their website. You can highlight the entry and replace it with any IP Address you desire, then press the “Find Location” button to view the location information they have on file. When I clicked the button, the results I received are shown here:
IP Address Country Region City Latitude/Longitude ZIP Code Time Zone *deleted for site safety* AUSTRALIA Victoria Melbourne 35.283-149.217 - *edited*
Net SpeedISP Domain
it shows that I live in Australia, that my Internet Service Provider (ISP) is CCADIALPOOLS2-CCCONNECT.NET.AU and that my Time Zone is +10 hours GMT (“Greenwich Mean Time”; the universal home base of Internet Time services).I have deleted some of my details for site safety. Right here is all the information you need to determine approximately where I live. If I had been telling you that I actually lived in Minnesota USA (for example), this one test would prove to you that I'm lying thru my teeth. Clearly I am not in Minnesota, USA, I live in Victoria, Australia. (Or at least I am connected to the Internet from Australia. But since most fakes are cheapskates and freeloaders too, it's a safe bet they are not making tons of long distance calls to other states or countries just to disguise their real location.)
Techno-Geek Note: As can be seen from the example above, the actual physical address of an IP Address does not absolutely pin down a house address. You cannot use an IP Address to find someone's house, workplace or other highly accurate location. The best you can do is narrow it down to a region of the country or world. So if you're concerned that your IP Address will lead stalkers to your house, don't be. Bad guys can no more find your home address from your IP Address than you can.
Let's do another example test. Suppose we find the IP Address of 188.8.131.52 for someone that we often chat with. (The IP Address is actually that of a Microsoft E-Mail server, but this is just an example.) After you do your first “Find Location”, the page where the results are shown will include an entry box and some brief instructions on how to perform another test (as shown below).
The results I received for our test IP Address are shown here:
IP Address Country Region City Latitude/ Longitude ZIP CodeTime Zone 184.108.40.206 UNITED STATES WASHINGTON REDMOND 47.6738 -122.089 98052 edited due to publish time
So now we have a handy (and free) tool to help us locate the real location of someone, once we have their IP Address.
Finding a Location from E-Mail Headers
One of the best resources provided by IP2Location is a tool that uses their database and some nifty programming to analyze the headers of an E-Mail message. this service is free and easy to access; simply click the “IP2Location™ Email Header Tracer (Free)” button. At the top of the page you will see some brief instructions on what to do as well as links to specific instructions on how to find the E-Mail Headers for some of the more common E-Mail services
I use Microsoft normally, but I also use Yahoo and gmaill as well. Just remember that the techniques you will use to find the E-Mail Headers depend on YOUR E-Mail service and not those of the person that sent you the message.
There are a lot of cryptic computer details included in the headers, but you needn't worry; the IP2Location tool will figure out which of the header lines it needs and ignore all the rest.
Very Important Note: The last entry is of no significance to you; it shows the E-Mail server that you use and will almost always be the same. It does not show any useful information about the sender. Only the first entry shown above contains that information.
In the case of the email, I just last checked there is only one E-Mail Server “fingerprint” in the message headers. This is because Spammers often send their crap directly to your E-Mail server in hopes that their real location won't be visible. Of course, they are stupid because such tricks not only uncover their true IP Address, but also identifies the E-Mail message as “bulk”; a trait easily identifiable by Spam scanner and protection programs.
Picture and Image Files
One of the common problems that fakes encounter is the need to put a face on the “people” they create. Since they obviously cannot use their own pictures, they will often “mine” the Internet looking for pictures that they can use. Sometimes you can spot the fakes just by the pictures they provide; for example if the people or places don't match from picture to picture. However sometimes you have to dig a bit deeper.
Techno-Geek Note: You should NEVER accept files of ANY kind from someone you don't know unless you are very well protected by good antivirus software and you know how to use it properly.
IMPORTANT WARNING: Always, always, ALWAYS check the full name of the file you've received. A lot of evil wicked people will send you a file claiming it is a picture when in fact it is a program that can harm your computer (or worse yet, allow them to spy on your computer). Before opening ANY file you received, scan it with a good antivirus program first and then double-check the file name by right-clicking on the file and choosing “Properties”. If you see a lot of spaces in the name, usually followed by “.EXE” or “.COM”, then delete the file and immediately cease communication with the sender.
Techno-Tools for digging deeper
Many times you will have to look “inside” a file to find out its true source. Two of the better of these free file viewers is called “V” and is available from www.FileViewer.com the other is www.Irfanview.com If you don't have one of these programs and feel they might be too difficult for you to operate, then by all means find someone you can trust that is able to help you dig some.
EXIF Data - The Extended Information Details
Most digital cameras and many of the picture editing programs available today will add additional details to any image file they create. This information, called the Extended Information (or EXIF data) is stored in the data bytes of the image file itself. Using a file viewer (such as “V”) you can easily find this data and possibly learn a bit more about how the picture originated and when it was taken.
You can see the name of the manufacturer and the model number of the camera itself When you receive a number of pictures from a faker and they claim they are all taken using their own camera, compare the EXIF data from each image file to make sure they really do all come from the same camera. If they don't match, or if some have the EXIF block and some don't, be prepared to ask more detailed questions and listen closely to the answers.
We've all heard this one “I just took this for you with my digital camera” This can be very useful statement when someone makes this claim… check are the date and time or are they from days, months or even years ago. Once again, you've caught them in a lie; a good reason to run away as fast as you can.
Copyright Notices in the EXIF Data
Most commercial photography studios and services will also add a Copyright Notice to the EXIF data in their image files. If you see such a notice in any of the images you receive from someone, be sure to ask them why they are distributing copyrighted works under false pretenses. Chances are pretty good they will be the ones to cut off communication … and quickly too.
Chat Handles - The Superman/Clark Kent/ ~wonderwoman/ Diana Prince Conflict
As mentioned earlier, Instant Messenger programs (such as Yahoo, MSN and AIM) allow you to have only one login active at a time. This fact can be especially important when you suspect someone may be using the programs to impersonate two or more people.
Let's assume that you have two of their pseudo-people on your Yahoo. You've probably spoken to both of them at some time or other, but you've never been able to find them both online at the same time. This is because the faker must sign out of one handle and then sign into the other handle in order to chat. Just like no one ever sees Superman and Clark Kent together or at the same time, you will never find both fake people available at the same time either. So how do you use this information? Or better still, what can you do to prove or disprove your suspicions? Simple.
Whenever you are talking to Person A, also open a chat box with Person B and leave them a message that sounds critical or interesting enough to get their attention immediately. It can be especially telling if you use something like “I just found out something really scary about Person A and I need to ask you something right away.” If you don't hear from Person B until after Person A logs out, and then you immediately hear from Person B … well guess what, A=B.
It can be very hurtful to find out you've been deceived by someone. Whether the deceit is in person or on the Internet, the common reaction is to blame yourself in some fashion. However, you must keep in mind that most fakers have honed their skills over many years and many lies. They become expert at what they do and how they do it. Even the best and most paranoid among us has, at one time or other, been duped by a faker. Do not be ashamed. Just take your lumps, learn to be a bit more skeptical, and then get back to living your life in a decent honest way.
If you spot a fake, or if you are suspicious that someone may be “less than honest” about who they really are, do not hesitate to call on other friends and have them help you corner the liar. Because fakes are habitual liars, they will often tell slightly altered versions (or sometimes wildly different versions) of their story to other people. This allows you to compare notes with your friends and hopefully catch the liar red-handed.
And always remember the three basic rules of Internet Chatting:
Hopefully the above information will help you and others around you stay safe and secure while still having fun and finding happiness in your lives. If you know of someone that could use this information, do not hesitate to pass it along. If at all possible, find a local “computer geek” that you can trust and that can help you understand some of the deeper technical issues you may encounter. And above all else, be ready to forgive. Forgive yourself and forgive others, because carrying anger and spite inside you will never solve any problems.
Article by MissBonnie © collarncuffs.com