Friday, 3 January 2020

Online is a very dangerous place, be careful

Beware of online lies and scams
The last decade saw the rise of social media. Whilst it has been around for a very long time before 2010, the teenies were the decade when it went mainstream. Whilst this has many wonderful benefits for us, being able to share pictures instantly with friends and family around the world, the opportunity to tell President Trump directly what you think of him, Facetiming your kids on their gap year tour of Australia etc, there is a dark underbelly. Not everything is always as it seems. Dark forces twigged that social media can be used to manipulate us. Scammers use dodgy profiles to con us out of our money. Perhaps, most dangerously, peadophiles and other highly dubious people use the social media to groom victims. 

My advice to anyone is to be extremely careful on line. Set strong privacy settings on your facebook profile and don't accept friends requests from people you don't know. Why would a complete stranger be seeking to befriend you? One of the more common scams is for fraudsters to set up a bogus profile of someone you know, then send you a friend request. If you get a friend request from someone you are already connected with, do not accept it until you've contacted your real friend. I know dozens of people who have had fake accounts set up. Once a fake is in your network, they will ruthlessly use that information for their own purposes. One of the most upsetting examples of this was when I got a friends request from someone who I was close to and had recently died. This whole sorry episode happened purely because someone had accepted a friend request from another of the scammers accounts. 

Another highly dodgy Facebook practice that is becoming more and more prevalent is rather dodgy individuals setting up various facebook groups and then adding you to them without your knowledge. Several politicians have found themselves in hot water for belong to such groups. How do you know if a group is bona fide? It is quite easy actually. If a group is run by real people with genuine profiles, then the group is bona fide. In Mill Hill, we have two bona fide large groups that operate. These are Mill Hill Families and Inside Mill Hill. These groups are transparent in who runs and administers them.  The pages have a clear agenda, to promote the local area and no political agenda. They have not been set up to harvest members info or to lure in unsuspecting locals for all manner of untoward purpose. Sadly, the same cannot be said for every group on Facebook. The Barnet Eye has been disturbed to learn of local businessmen being conned out of thousands of pounds to advertise in a magazine, that was supposed to be printed in November., by a dodgy company operating locally on the internet. Sadly telephone calls are not being returned and invoices have not been provided and no magazine has been produced. One business owner, Romel Miah of the Day of The Raj told me "we paid hundreds of pounds for an advert, I introduced three other businesses and now there is no response to my calls, emails or tweets". I advised him to contact the Police. Sadly, such internet scammers are very adept at disappearing into thin air.

An even more disturbing trend is for peadophiles to use the Internet to connect with under age people. One of the most disturbing examples I am aware of is a local convicted peadophile, who is a in his late fifties, who has set up multiple twitter profiles and regularly tweets about and retweets info about local youth groups and schools. The accounts give the impression of being "official" local accounts. As you may expect, the author does not mention his name anywhere and there are claims of the accounts being produced by a group of local people. Investigations have shown that this is not the case, although one or two people have been duped into contributing articles etc. Most have been horrified when they have been informed of the background. I cannot repeat strongly enough that if the author of an account is not prepared to state their name in public, then you have to be suspicious, especially if the accounts are allegedly community resources and are requesting that you subscribe or befriend them.

Another highly dodgy practice is where dodgy scammers pretend to be associated with a bona fide organisation or company. Just because an account retweets or shares posts from such organisations does not mean there is any official association. I've recently seen claims from one such scammer of various associations, whilst being assured by the chair of one these associations that the scammer has been repeatedly advised that they have no association and should not make such claims. 

The Barnet Eye has been blogging for 12 years now. We have been recognised for our efforts as one of The Guardian Newspapers listed London blogs and have also been featured on BBC News, ITV and BBC Radio London. As with most bona fide bloggers, who we are is transparent and on the side bar of the web version of this blog, you can see every one of the thousands of blogs we've published. We have the official Blogger count tracker on the page. We don't make bogus claims about our views, or our history. Of course it is for every blogger to decide what they want to put on their page, but why hide your history? Why make claims about your readership and not post the official tracker stats? So my advice is to take all claims of readership and history of the accounts with a pinch of salt, unless they are there to see.

Of course some people wish to have privacy. Several of our  esteemed team of guest bloggers use pseudonames. Generally this is because they have something interesting to say, but do not court publicity. This is absolutely fine for guest bloggers as I am answerable for their content. When we broke the Freedom Pass story, this was essential as the young man in question was terrified of victimisation by the Council if they knew who he was. The bottom line is that I am responsible. But if the owner of a blog wishes to be anonymous then there is no way that there can be any degree of trust or responsibility. 

If a blogger is simply posting knitting patterns or jokes, that is not really relevant who they are. If they are claiming to be a key part of the community it is vital. How else can any claims of impartiality or honesty be verified. One anonymous local account has repeatedly claimed that it is politically impartial, but has repeatedly denigrated both the Barnet Labour and Lib Dem parties, whilst praising the Conservatives. I have no problem with anyone supporting any party, but when they lie about their allegiance and try and pretend to be an impartial local account with official status, it becomes dangerous. 

The Barnet Eye has campaigned for our area for twelve years. We are open, honest and transparent about our authorship, our affiliations and our history. If you disagree with us that is great, there is nothing worse than a mono culture. It becomes a problem when people are dishonest about who they are and what their motives really are. Sadly, the internet is not a safe place. Scammers succeed because they trick you into believing that they are trustworthy and credible. Unless they are prepared to be honest and transparent about their identity, please be extremely careful

Roger Tichborne
The Barnet Eye. 

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