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WARNING: Google Hangouts A Hotbed For Scams & Fraud

Image credit: https://www.theimproper.com/133270/google-hangouts-haven-scams-islamic-state/

Especially for unsuspecting men.

For many years I have learned the social media game and built my network and status with a reach only the top 1% of individuals seem to have. When I first started to get serious, after realized I had some talent or skill at it and doubled down, I mainly focused on increasing my network sizer and reach. Though I did learn to target my audience expansion better and better, I would just leave it at that. When it reached a point where I could validate that what I had built was a legitimate foundation for a real business however I also started to implement more depth into my strategy.

That depth involved first learning how to engage my audience with a content strategy that I developed over time. This is extremely challenging, so much so that I would say that out of the 1% who do know how to expand their reach on social media perhaps 10% or less of those people (so 0.1% of the total) actually know how to do that! From there I began to get back to earth and start implementing again bread and butter strategies that most of us know how to implement without the reach and status but can easily be forgotten in the highly rigorous, time-consuming and challenging process of building them. Once I started to do that however I became open to being targeted for multiple scams.

To speak more directly, at first I figured out how to grow my following, then I figured out how to get people to engage more and more with my content, and then finally I went back to implementing what I did before having the following and knowing how to engage with content, reaching out to people one-by-one to develop relationships (while avoiding the pitfall of spamming people like so many erroneously try) but in doing so put me in a more vulnerable position.

When you don’t have such a large reach or status the amount of scams or fraud you might get targeted for can be few and far in-between, and for someone like me who has a nearly gifted IQ (about 120) and knows technology inside and out, it was easy for me, on those rare occasions to avoid being defrauded or scammed. However when you do have a huge reach and status and you are not only engaging with your content but with each person individually it opens you up to attempts at being scammed or defrauded up to on a daily basis.

Even with this factor though I was able to avoid most scams or frauds because usually the individuals attempting this were weak, I had seen it before (see Nigerian scams) or there just was not enough incentive for me to prod further until the very week where I am writing this. But before I go into that I want to point out that I noticed a particular pattern for a lot of these would be scammers (most of which I could see right through) and this pattern really confused me. It is a trend of women, on your strong platform of choice where you engage with individuals one-on-one, which could included any major social media platform (for me, it was obviously Twitter), that 90% of them these days want you to continue communications on Google’s Hangouts application.

When first picking up this pattern, I did some light research to try to uncover why Hangouts was so popular with women. What I found was that Hangouts is actually a pretty unpopular platform, so it only perplexed me more. However, this time, this week, there was finally a scammer strong enough with enough incentive for me to test the waters and to find out once and for all if these girls really are a fraud or not. The reason I gave the benefit of the doubt was two-fold, the amount of money asked of me at the end of their pitch was 10-100X less than all the others I had dealt with before and the consistency of the person presenting herself and her story was better than any of the other attempted scams. Add to this a convincing personality portrayal and the fact that the images, videos and sounds used by the person appealed to my tastes the most as well. So this compounding of factors combined allowed me to give the benefit of the doubt and test the waters, I figured why not since it’s such a small amount and now I could finally open up this case once and for all!

As usual “she” (it could be a nerdy boy, a grown man, or some kind of team in reality) started by approaching me with DMs on Twitter. Unlike many of the others who were very aggressive in saying they “want a man” or are “looking for the perfect partner,” all things which are very awkward and inappropriate to say at the beginning of the relationship and had no power in fooling me, this person spoke very naturally and gradually. Clearly this person (or team) was much more experienced as people have begun wising up. Instead of those unnatural aggressive approaches, “she” took a very natural conversational approach which was much more convincing. Another point was that on her Twitter profile she had multiple pictures of herself all of which were clearly and consistently the same person (many scammers will only have one picture of themselves and those that have multiple pictures often mess up by putting pictures of more than one model, clearly a red flag for inconsistency). Moreover her story in conversation matched up with her bio description (many don’t have a bio or their stories don’t match up).

Speaking of her bio description and story, it had her as living in Texas yet interested in living in Canada, not even specifically my city (as that could maybe be too obvious?) but my general region of Southern Ontario. She said that she dreamed of moving here, so it was all very convincing. Also instead of aggressively asking for me to go on Hangouts first, she actually waited till I asked her to do a call to get her to know her better. It was only then, after I made several suggestions on how to contact which she said she was not accustomed to, that she suggested Google Hangouts. So I decided to give the benefit of the doubt and connect with her there, knowing full well that things were now starting to fall into the suspicious category.

I kept playing along, and to not be too proud, I will readily admit that I was actually somewhat convinced by this point, because of all of the reasons I already stated. However I would often double-take go back and check all those details again to make sure they lined up and so far they did. Here’s the first red flag however which finally came up (besides the fact that she followed the pattern of other scammers of wanting to “get to know each other better” exclusively on Hangouts) which was that her name on Hangouts was different than her name on Twitter. This is often a mistake of most of these scammers, since they probably change their social media profile names often to test what works better in hooking men, but it may be harder to change the name on Google Hangouts since it’s tied to an account and Google account changes are notorious for taking longer to come into effect and are not instantaneous. Though once again I gave the benefit of the doubt because up to that point everything checked out.

Throughout our conversations she began to send me pictures of herself, unlike some others who may start aggressively sending sexy or private pics, these were more the kind of pics you would expect from the early stages of a relationship, fully clothed selfies in public, and so on. On top of this, those pics were consistent with the person I saw on Twitter (often another failing of the scammers) yet were exclusive pics of her not found elsewhere (all very convincing so far!). This scam operation was quite advanced! So it kept me hooked, and of course being a man, and a human being like any other, even with my high intelligence, in-depth knowledge and experience, even I was able to get my heart strings pulled (albeit with a healthy dose of skepticism) and out of the dozen or so women who tried this with me, “she” was the only one I was actually willing to give the benefit of the doubt.

Then the ask came into play. I told her on Twitter before we started connecting on Hangouts that she looked like she could be a model. She told me she was not confident enough and didn’t believe she could but that after hearing my advice she wanted to start to try and hoped that I could help her to achieve it. Since I did have experience as a model (Linked To Article On My Modelling In Japan By Clicking On The Text You Are Now Reading) I obliged to try to help her. Over the days she started to talk about that now she was going to a trainer to get fit so that she could meet the requirements to audition as a model. She now finally asked me for some monetary help with this. When I offered her the small amount of cash she needed, only $30 American (10-100X less than what the other scammers asked for in the past) after all the relationship building she refused it (an excellent strategy to build trust) but instead asked me to pay her by sending her an Amazon gift card.

This, on the one hand had me trust her more and less at the same time. On the one hand she didn’t want cash directly which was a good sign, but on the other hand, why in the world would a trainer only accept Amazon payments? I wanted to confirm that she was the real thing so I insisted we go beyond just the text communications and start doing calls. This is where the fraud and scam starts to break down, but still was very strong. When we first met on Twitter she said she was from a small town in Texas, and though didn’t mention it at the time, by the point where we had gotten more connected and engaged on Hangouts, she started to “try” to call and receive calls, with little success. The calls would not connect or there would be issues (either lack of visual or lack of sound). She blamed this on having a “very slow internet connection,” this story checked out with her being from a small town, which are known to have weaker internet.

Finally after many attempts, a call was able to go through, the first time it was only audio that I could capture from her. But it was very strange, she never mentioned my name in the audio but kept calling me “baby.” She wasn’t able to respond when I asked her questions or tried to communicate during the call. Soon the call would cut off and she kept blaming this on her bad internet connection, and saying that she couldn’t hear me at all because of it. Since I wanted to give the benefit of the doubt this time, due to how well most things were checking out, I thought that since it was such a small amount of money she was asking for, I might as well bite the bullet to show her that “I trust her” enough to send her something.

After that, I started again trying to suggest different platforms to call on like Facebook messenger and Skype, but she insisted that Hangouts was the usual place she did calls and that we should simply try again. She would at times throughout our conversations be a bit slow to respond and would often delay our attempts to other days or times from when we were talking (I think this is also a trust-building tactic, since the more time you know someone, especially if you have intermittent breaks, the more likely you are to think they are legit since they seem to clearly be doing something else other than this).

On that next attempt when the time came around, we tried again and finally I did get a video call, except this time there was no audio to accompany it. Once again the call cut off abruptly and she blamed a bad internet connection, once again saying she couldn’t hear me. This happened twice. By this point I really started to get suspicious and so my creative juices started flowing on how I could request an appropriate way to identify her without “questioning her authenticity.” You can use this strategy too to bait your potential scammer (without having to send any money first!). I thought that since she has a slow internet connection and these video calls were just not working we try something different, she could take a short video clip of herself saying my name (or talking about what you previously discussed), something that would be a challenge for someone posing as another individual using images, video clips and sound.

She agreed but at first once again kept coming up with reasons to delay doing so (another reason I think these delays are put in place is when the victim starts to seem suspicious, by taking a break, it gives time for those bubbling feelings of suspicion to simmer, allowing them the chance to once again have the upper hand when attempting to take advantage again). Finally, as I had commonly stated through most of the conversations, I did not want my time wasted since I’m an extremely busy person, I would only ever communicate with her for short periods of time, and whenever things dragged on, I would leave her and go back to my work. I stated many time the fact that I was so busy and didn’t want my time wasted, and after all these delays I had enough and requested that she send the video by the next morning. That was this morning, at the time of this writing.

In the meantime, I finally became suspicious enough to go a little bit more in-depth with my research about Hangouts and how it may be a popular place to perform scams, and although the article has a religious bias colouring it unfortunately, it did contain a real story of it being a common place for this kind of fraud, presenting a scam-baiting project to uncover the crime (Link To That Article Found By Clicking The Text In Parentheses You Are Now Reading). When I woke up the next morning, I was presented with another couple of still images. That is not what I asked for! After pointing this out, within a few seconds she did send me a video clip, as requested. This video clip did include sound but she failed to mention my name or anything we talked about. This was a big red flag especially after reading that article and finding out why it is Hangouts is a hotbed for scams and frauds. The reason it is, as stated in that article is that most major messaging and social media platforms now have filters in place to weed out the scammers and defrauders, Hangouts does not, and it is perhaps the only major platform that does not. That was a huge revelation for me; I finally found out why these “women” always chose Hangouts exclusively for communications.

At this point I became more aggressive and even shared with her the article, her immediate reaction was to focus on the article’s unfortunate bias against Islam, a religion I don’t practice myself (as I practice no formal religion or spiritual practice other than my own personal developments) which I immediately responded that a very close member of my family practiced the religion, and that although I did not myself I stated that I respected all religions and that she should too. Then I went ahead and got back to the point, send the video where she mentions my name and what we talked about, and although she kept agreeing to do so, and even at the time of this writing continues to try to contact me, she was never able to do this. Now asking to delay more (once again with that defusing strategy) before doing it, but now it was too late, “she” already got too many chances, and if she could take 15 seconds to write me those texts she could take a 15 second video clip without delay. Now my line became hard and I now stated that if she couldn’t do it I could not believe or trust her, and she has yet to follow through on it (though “she” keeps promising she really will).

This pretty much confirmed my suspicion that she was just yet another scammer, trying to defraud men of their hard-earned cash, but that she was the most convincing and advanced on yet. The fact that the images and sounds used were of particular appeal to my tastes really played well into the scammer’s hand as well. Though this may seem like a bad turn of events, I lost a small amount of cash and was finally fooled by one of them and should be embarrassed but in fact I am very happy it happened. The reasons I am happy are multiple:

  1. Had she not been convincing enough I would never have tested the waters with a monetary commitment.
  2. If I hadn’t gotten so deeply involved with one of the scammers I wouldn’t have gone back to my research on the subject to get deeper into the possibility that Hangouts specifically is part of the trap
  3. I would not have found out so much what kind of physical appearance is really my type, since I’ve been out of the dating game for years, having been married and recently separated.
  4. I was able to blow the lid on this much more advanced strategy so I could share it with you and you could also be warned that unless you’ve met the person in real life, Hangouts is NEVER a place to be trusted
  5. Perhaps make a small contribution to Google getting their act together and meeting the standards of other major platforms by putting in scamming and defrauding filters and algorithms in place!
  6. Moreover I even started to suspect that advanced chat bots may be being implemented for these scams as I found out in my research that Hangouts, like Twitter has an excellent chat bot system available.

Though it is unlikely that chat bots were used in this case, due to sophistication of this strategy, while I have been observing the chat bots for quite some time and know that most of them aren’t even advanced enough to communicate naturally without a longterm machine learning process, which can get them surprisingly realistic! But even then, they often have slip ups and problems even in the most advanced chat bots. I also assume that most scammers aren’t smart enough or capable to develop such advanced chat bots at this time, and it would be hard for them to develop them with machine learning based on this strategy. Therefore I assume it is a team of real people, but that in the future we better watch out since chat bots may be able to eventually be advanced and accessible enough to the common scammer to employ this way besides only having enough know-how to know that Hangouts has a major gap to be taken advantage by these nefarious practitioners!

Update: She finally did make a video call where she was able to communicate properly and actually say my name. A lot of these clips, she is accompanied by another young woman who she’s stated in messages is her “roommate.” This leads me to believe that it was the real person behind it (at least as part of a team) the whole time, since she was actually able to tell me her name and mine and it all checks out. After some more communications I learned that although a team may be behind this, in this case it just seems to be a women taking advantage of the kindness of generous men with status online by hooking them into a supposed ‘relationship.’

Solution:

If this ever happens to you and you are not sure what to do, I have developed an effective strategy that actually works. Once the “potential mate” talks money, instead of playing along with their rules, suggest that you can offer her a job. Make this professional where she needs to apply to your company email. Start by asking about her skills, talents and experience and formulate a position you believe she could fill based on that, stress that hangouts communications are personal only and cannot involve business or money, but that you are offering a fair opportunity to employ her through online work at your company. If she accepts the job along the lines of YOUR rules (the employer) only and does a good job, you have a new solid staff! In most cases though you will see they cannot execute anything or really provide and employment value, then you know it’s just yet another one of the many e-beggars; a dime a dozen.

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