How I became an unintentional internet scammer

As 20,000 excited people lined up to attend the Six60 concert in Dunedin on Saturday night, close to 200 of them were about to find out they had been scammed and would be denied entry.

It’s likely several of them bought their fake tickets from me – except it wasn’t me.

Someone out there has benefited from both those hopeful concert-goers’, and my, misfortune.

Ticket scammers now have so many tools at their disposal to help make them profit from unwitting concert goers that it’s far more than simply those out of pocket who are affected. And it’s from a “that would never happen to me” belief system that I can personally attest just how easy it is for it to happen to you.

It all started with what I thought was an innocent and simple social media post celebrating the fact I had received my New Zealand driver’s licence. For an Australian who had just moved to the land of the long white cloud it was a pretty proud moment, so why not share it on Instagram and Twitter? I had blacked out my driver’s licence number, there was no harm that could come from it right?

Wrong.

Somebody found that photo and decided it was a perfect route into scamming innocent people of their hard earned money by claiming to have a variety of concert tickets for sale.

From a simple photo of a licence, they then created a Facebook profile by stealing a few other photos of me from my social media pages.

James Waterworth was born.

Screenshot1
Apparently I have a twin

A couple of innocent posts claiming to have tickets to acts such as Six60, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Post Malone and Billie Eilish soon followed, and two weeks later James Waterworth was upwards of $6000 richer.

Since I was first contacted by one of his victims, more than 25 people have since tracked me down, claiming I (James) have scammed them. Each person had a similar story, saying it all started innocently by contacting him via Facebook, having him show a photo of ‘his’ (my) licence to prove he is a ‘real’ person before sending him money for the tickets and then never hearing from him again.

Screenshot2
As easy as that

Each time somebody contacted me I felt the same sense of heartbreak for them I had for each of the previous victims. And a sense of blame and guilt, thinking this all could have been avoided if I had simply been smarter and not so dumb in my social media posting.

Because I was dumb. And I never should’ve been so presumptuous when it came to posting such a personal item online.

It was a point hammered into me further when I contacted New Zealand online safety organisation NetSafe.

“Think about who you’re connected with on social media and who can see what you’re posting online,” a NetSafe spokesperson said. “If you have a public account, it’s good to consider what you’re comfortable sharing and what information people may be able to get from your public posts.”

A New Zealand police spokesperson also echoed NetSafe’s concerns, particularly when it comes to dealing with people who claim to have something for sale.

“Don’t buy goods like tickets from anyone who you are unsure about. Never pay money into another account without verifying who the account belongs too. And lastly, if an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is,” they said.

So why, and how do people fall for these scams?

One of the victims of James Waterworth told me they were always so careful when it came to purchasing things online but they were “desperate” for tickets to the see the Red Hot Chili Peppers in Auckland.

Another told me they believed James Waterworth as “he” had shown a licence and seemed “genuine” in their discussions with them.

Untitled
My one ‘genuine’ conversation with James

But is it really that simple to make someone else believe you are a “genuine” person?
According to NetSafe, any form of your personal information online can be used to somebody else’s gain.

“You should always keep your personal information secure online and be sure to think carefully before entering your details online, or giving them to someone. Protect all information that can be used to access your accounts, build a fake online presence or impersonate you,” a NetSafe spokesperson said.

After two weeks worth of frustration, guilt, and trying my best to help out all of the victims who had come to me, there was a slight silver lining: James Waterworth, at least on Facebook, was no more.

“The safety and security of our community are important to us, and we are sorry this happened,” a Facebook spokesperson said. “We have disabled the profile for scam activity. We encourage people to report suspected scam messages and remind them not to accept suspicious requests.”

So in the end, James Waterworth had been stopped. Facebook’s army of security had put a halt to his dealings with the remaining investigations to be handled by police through a report I had filed alongside countless others by his victims.

And after all of this, what has this taught me about using social media and the internet?

Think before you post and don’t be an idiot. Because I’m happy to admit that in this instance, I really was one.

This article was originally written for The Advocate South. You can read the published version via The Southland App

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