Protecting Your Image: Online Dating and Private Photo Sharing

Would you feel safe handing photos of yourself out to everyone in the world without knowing their intentions, mental stability, criminal background or position in your workplace? Most of us wouldn’t, and yet scores of people do just that every day-by posting their photos on dating websites, classified personals such as craigslist, e-mailing them or using other non-secure channels.

We’ve grown to trust the Internet as a fixture in our daily lives. However, the digital world poses the same threats to our personal safety and privacy as the real world, only amplified through its ability to connect anyone with any bit of data that floats freely through the ether. In the world of online dating, people may feel safer because they share images anonymously but, in reality, this just opens up more questions about who you’re looking at and vice versa.

Sharing photos through text, e-mail, online dating sites or public photo sharing environments puts your image in front of anyone and everyone, possibly affecting your personal safety, reputation and your employability. In one high-profile case, Congressman Chris Lee’s shirtless photo, e-mailed to a woman that he met on craigslist, forced him to resign after his “private” image went public. But you don’t have to be famous to become the victim of misused photo sharing. In Dallas, a firefighter lost his job after the husband of a woman with whom he had an affair informed the fire department of the nude photos that the firefighter posted on various adult dating websites that were specifically marketed for casual sexual encounters. In Canada, a judge stepped down after explicit pictures, taken by her attorney husband and shared through e-mail without her knowledge, surfaced online on a porn website.

In addition, there are many cases when a person’s photo has been stolen or saved and used by another to create a fictitious online identity-a scenario chronicled in the documentary film Catfish. While a few states have updated their laws to include online impersonation as a crime, it is often hard to track, with many unaware that they are victims. In one instance, a California man had his pictures “borrowed” and used by another man who was meeting women on a popular Jewish dating site. It was only by chance that he knew a woman who was communicating with this man and had received the pictures during their correspondence. In another instance, a 24-year-old Denver woman had her photos and details taken from her Facebook page and used by a 46-year-old woman for over six months to communicate with men that she met on various free and paid dating sites. No legal action was taken by the state in either case.

Dating sites are also a playing ground for con artists, criminals and sex offenders. Countless stories have surfaced about people who have sent money or goods to people who have romanced them online; others have been robbed at knifepoint, sexually abused and even murdered. It is wise, therefore, to add a layer of protection to your screening process by protecting your images and personal identity.

If you want to share photos with that online charmer-or with anyone else, for that matter-you should look into a private photo sharing service. These services offer a closed, secure environment in which members can share photos, anonymously or otherwise. When selecting such a service, make sure you have control over who specifically can look at your photos, which photos they can see and how long the photos remain viewable to them. Also, confirm that the site offers security features that protect your images from being captured or saved by the viewer in order to prevent them from being used in an unintended way.

Posting a Profile Picture

Meeting someone online does involve knowing that there will be a certain level of attraction, so posting a picture in an online profile has been shown to increase the number of responses an online dater receives. Some services go even further to protect your anonymity. One private photo sharing site, for example, lets you create a “teaser image” that clouds your image just enough to keep your identity private, while still allowing viewers to get a general idea of what you look like. Members can post this teaser image in the form of a JPEG file, link or clickable image on dating sites or other online locations as part of their personal profile and direct the individuals that they are interested in back to the website to see their actual photo. The service also uses patent-pending technology to prevent people from saving, forwarding or otherwise tampering with your images once they have viewing access to them.

In a world where privacy has largely become a thing of the past, it’s up to you to find and maintain a safe harbor for your online identity. Don’t depend on the kindness of strangers-take steps to make sure your private life stays private.

Cyber Crooks Go “Phishing”

“Phishing,” the latest craze among online evil-doers, has nothing to do with sitting at the end of a dock on a sunny afternoon dangling a worm to entice hungry catfish.

But, if you take their bait, this new breed of online con artist will hook you, reel you in, and take you for every dollar you have… or worse.

“Phishing” describes a combination of techniques used by cyber crooks to bait people into giving up sensitive personal data such as credit card numbers, social security numbers, bank account numbers, dates of birth and more.

Their techniques work so well that, according to FraudWatchInternational.com [http://FraudWatchInternational.com], “phishing” rates as the fastest growing scam on the Internet.

Here’s the basic pattern for a “phishing” scam…

You receive a very official email that appears to originate from a legitimate source, such as a bank, eBay, PayPal, a major retailer, or some other well known entity.

In the email it tells you that something bad is about to happen unless you act quickly.

Typically it tells you that your account is about to get closed, that someone appears to have stolen your identity, or even that someone opened a fraudulent account using your name.

In order to help straighten everything out, you need to click a link in the email and provide some basic account information so they can verify your identity and then give you additional details so you can help get everything cleared up.

Once you give up your information… it’s all over but the crying!

After getting your information, these cyber-bandits can empty your bank accounts, deplete your PayPal accounts, run up your credit card balances, open new credit accounts, assume your identity and much worse.

An especially disturbing new variation of this scam specifically targets online business owners and affiliate marketers.

In this con, the scammer’s email informs you that they’ve just sent $1,219.43 (or a similar big but believable amount) in affiliate commissions to you via PayPal.

They need you to log into your PayPal account to verify receipt of the money and then email them back to confirm you got it.

Since you’re so excited at the possibility of an unexpected pay day, you click the link to go to PayPal, log in, and BANG! They have your PayPal login information and can empty your account.

This new “phishing” style scam works extremely well for 2 basic reasons.

First, by exploiting your sense of urgency created by fear or greed, crooks get you to click the link and give them your information without thinking.

Second, the scammers use a variety of cloaking and spoofing techniques to make their emails and websites appear totally legitimate, making it extremely hard to spot a fake website, especially when they’ve first whipped you into an emotional frenzy.

The good news, however, is that you can protect yourself relatively easily against this type of cyber-crime with basic software and common sense.

Most of these scams get delivered to you via Spam (unsolicited email), so a good spam blocker will cut down on many of them even making it to your inbox.

If you receive an email that looks legitimate and you want to respond, Stop – Wait – Think!

Verify all phone numbers with a physical phone book or online phone directory like w

Look for spelling and grammatical errors that make it look like someone who doesn’t speak English or your native language very well wrote it.

Never click the link provided in the email, but go directly to the website by typing in the main address of the site yourself (paypall).

Forward the email to the main email address of the website or call the customer service number on the main website you typed in yourself and ask if it is in fact legitimate.

Above all remember this:

Your bank, credit card company, PayPal, eBay and anyone else you deal with online already knows your account number, username, password or any other account specific information.

They don’t need to email you for ANY reason to ask you to confirm your information — so NEVER respond to email requests for your account or personal details.

How Long Should I Wait Before Meeting My Online Date for the First Time?

There is no sense in communicating with someone endlessly, talking on the phone for hours and days, if you can just as easily do so in person to find out if you like each other.

Therefore, you should try to meet up with someone you’re interested in as soon as possible. In other words, within 2 weeks of striking up conversation.

This prevents several things.

Don’t Waste Your Time

First, it prevents you from wasting your time on someone with whom you have no chemistry. Let’s say you spend several days and even weeks texting, or otherwise communicating with each other, not in person.

Let’s say you finally meet, and – woops! – there’s no chemistry there for you. Talk about a let down! Here you’ve built up this person, thinking your first date would culminate in fireworks, because of how fun it was to chat back and forth.

Instead, he was a dud, and you realize now that you aren’t very much interested in communicating with him going forward. Next!

Who Is This Person, Anyway?

Another reason why communicating too much before a first date is bad is because you don’t really know with whom you’re communicating – is this person really who he says he is?

You may have heard of the term “catfish” lately. The definition of a catfish is someone who claims to be one thing online but is someone completely different in real life.

Examples of catfish are gay/questioning women posing as men, or gay/questioning men posing as women, attempting to attract someone of their same sex, but without being honest about their own gender or sexual orientation.

Some catfish are the gender they say they are, but are stealing other people’s social media photos, and passing them off as their own.

Other examples of catfish are foreign men in developing countries who sit at an internet cafe all day, pretending to be the kind of person someone is looking for, and somehow managing to swindle vulnerable people (often older folks) out of hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars, using emotional and romantic manipulation.

Hopefully, you never come across a catfish. But the best way to combat this trap is to ensure you meet your new potential love interest in person as soon as possible.

Beware Excuses

If you’ve tried more than once to meet up with your date, and the excuses seem to keep on coming, just give up. He or she is either a catfish, or just not that interested in starting a relationship.

You are free to move on!