06 Feb 2018

Catfishing and Online Extortion - Urban Legend or Real Concern

by Verlie Oosthuizen, Partner, Durban,
Practice Area(s): Social Media / Cyber Crimes |

In the past few days I have had some listeners telling me terrible stories that I hope you can learn from.

Let’s start off with a definition: “Catfishing” (according to Urban Dictionary) is when someone pretends to be someone they are not by using social media platforms such as Facebook to create false identities and to pursue people in deceptive practices – particularly deceptive online romances.
In the one example that I heard, a man had been approached by a person that he believed was a beautiful young woman who started chatting to him on Facebook.  Things escalated quickly and soon they were exchanging nude pictures. Next thing he knew he was being threatened that his images would go viral online unless he paid vast quantities of money.

In another example I heard, a young man writing exams had his Facebook identity cloned and nude pictures were “doctored” with his face on them.  He was told by his online “twin” that unless he paid thousands of Rands into a particular e-wallet account the images would be released.

What is described above is extortion – which is a crime where money (or another advantage) is received by using threats or force.  From my research it appears that there are syndicates operating in the country using this form of trickery to extract vast amounts of money from people. “Catfishes” will be removed by social media platforms if they have pretended to be you and you report them with the images that they have made.

If someone is trying to extort money from you DO NOT PAY THEM.  It will be a bottomless pit and they will not stop trying to extract money from you.  If necessary, report them to the police, however nine times out of ten if you refuse to pay they will move onto the next person.