So. Last night, I was wandering around The Boys of Summer and got IMed by one ’emiiliaredgrave’ about joining her group called ‘*Redgrave Fashion* GroupGift’. She wanted me to spend L$500 to join her group.
My ears perked up a bit when this happened, as the designer at Redgrave Fashion is not ’emiiliaredgrave Resident’, but ‘Emilia Redgrave’. I took a moment to take a peek and noticed that she was… 1 day old. I filed an Abuse Report (and how do I file an Abuse Report, you ask? You go up to the top bar, and click ‘Help’, then select ‘Report Abuse’) against this user promptly, as I didn’t feel it appropriate to let such a scam perpetuate any longer than it had to.
Then I let the actual person behind Redgrave Designs know about it, as I figured an AR from her might find a little more of an ear from Linden Lab. She IMed me back when she got inworld just to let me know she was on it, and that this sort of annoying thing happens a lot to her, I should be aware, & so forth. We chatted a bit about my experience so I could be sure she had all the details I could give her, and then she said it was really good of me to let her know as there were (I’m paraphrasing) a whole lot of things more fun to do in SL than chase people abusing the users. I said it was my pleasure to help out someone who does so much to keep things in SL gorgeous and novel, but it got me to thinking…
…is it unusual that I did this? Was it seriously novel that someone would tell Emilia ‘hey, there’s a scam artist pulling a variety of the Big Store scam at an event in Second Life, using your name’?
Why wouldn’t someone just help out their fellow SL citizen by pointing out someone using their identity to attempt to scam people out of L$500? It’s kinda small change in a First-Life currency, sure, but L$500 is really not small potatoes in a Second Life scale. I am a bit unusual in being a fly gee (that is: someone outside the scam who is aware of it), but still: am I the only person who looks at WHO invites them to a group and tries to figure out WHY?
Identity theft is not a new game that didn’t exist before the internet. It’s not even one that predates the printing press. It’s at least one that pre-dates English, and quite probably the written word.
What’s the first example of identity theft recorded? Whether you are a person of faith or not, Genesis chapter 20 records a tale of Jacob wearing goatskins on his hands and neck to trick his father into giving him the blessing that he’d intended for Esau. Maybe you think Genesis is a flat account of things that actually happened: maybe you think it’s a load of fiction. That doesn’t enter into why I’m quoting it. Instead, I’m quoting it because a document roughly 4500 years old presents us with our first example of deceitfully representing yourself as someone else. That’s the earliest example I can find, anyway. 4500 years of people pulling this kind of shenanigans, and yet still, it happens on the internet.
Ladies and gents, you have to protect yourselves. In the specific example above, a well-known designer in Second Life, like Redgrave, is just not likely to ask for a steep membership fee like that. They know they’re going to sell whatever they come up with, because they have a quality product and a solid reputation they’ve gained through years of producing quality products. The steepest group membership fee I have seen on any reputable designer’s group is half of L$500 – and that came with free gifts that were easily worth L$500, available as soon as you joined!
If you see a group invite that asks you for lindens, here’s a simple guide to help you not live out Dr. John Bridges’ warning (from Defence of the Government of the Church of England, 1587): ‘A fool and his money are soon parted’.
Step 1: Read Everything Before Doing Anything.
I don’t know if you got this one in your preteen years, but I got a quiz once on which the first instructions were ‘read everything before doing anything’. The instructions got more and more and more bizarre as you went down the list of directions (#25 or so was ‘stand up and shout “I AM THE FIRST PERSON WHO HAS READ THIS FAR!”‘, if memory serves), but the last instruction was ‘if you have read this far without doing anything, put your pencil down and watch your teacher: ignore all of the previous instructions.’ This was a valuable lesson to me in the importance of reading ALL the directions before following ANY of them, and has served me well in life. How does it apply here, then?
There are often tell-tale signs that you’re dealing with someone illegitimate online, simply in how a message is phrased. One of my favorite indicators is less strong in Second Life, as you often see egregious typos in group notices from people who are completely trustworthy, or just plain terrible English. These kinds of errors crop up in 419 scams a lot in First Life (a 419 scam often starts out like this: ‘I am a Nigerian prince and I have 15 million dollars in the bank that I can’t get out because of some improbable chain of circumstances that I will outline to you very briefly! IF you can come up with $15,000 of US currency to stand as proxy then I will sharing the 15 million with you!’), and are a really good indication of what sort of person you’re talking to.
Sadly, this red flag isn’t as useful in Second Life, as you can be dealing with a 100% above-board SL citizen whose contributions to the community as a creator of goods or services are well past reproach – but who hasn’t really taken any English since they were 9 years old. They’ll do their best in English, but you’ll see things crop up in their typing that are more an indication of a foreign language being their native tongue.
Step 2: Use Your Common Sense
The great big tell-tale signs in a ‘come join my group!’ notice are pretty broadly painted. It’s often, simply, what they claim to offer. If it sounds unlikely that your L$50 is going to get you 5 outfits by a good designer? It almost certainly IS too good to be true. If a complete stranger asks to borrow L$10 today and promises to repay you tomorrow? You’re unlikely to see that L$10 tomorrow. If he promises to repay you double, you WILL NOT see that money tomorrow.
People will promise you the moon if they’re trying to scam you, and you should keep in mind that the moon, in Second Life, rises every four hours, and can be reset to whatever position in the sky’s convenient to your needs.
Currently, I’ve convinced the moon that it’s 2:00 AM… and that it rises in the north.
Step 2: Read the profile.A lot of identity scam issues are really easily solved. Let’s take our friend ’emiiliaredgrave Resident’ as an example here, because well… she’s a transparently obvious one.
So emiiliaredgrave invites me to her ‘*redgrave fashion* groupgift’ group, and my first reaction was ‘how on earth do you justify me spending L$500 on this group?’ So I decided to see WHO this person was.
I pulled up her profile.
Let’s have a look at this info, shall we?
So here’s The First Weird Thing: the account’s 1 day old. Hasn’t Redgrave Designs been around a little longer than 24 hours? Isn’t the fact they’ve been inworld for years cranking out gorgeous stuff the reason why you’d WANT to join ‘*Redgrave Fashion* GroupGift’?
Second Weird Thing: why would Emilia make a secondary account to invite you to a group: why not just use her own account? Alternately, why not set up an account named ‘RedgraveFashion Resident’ and use that for inviting people to groups, if she wants to avoid a million zillion requests about the group when she’s on to upload textures, play with sculpties or meshes, re-design her shop, or do any of the other stuff involved in running a business?
Third Weird Thing: Know Your Actors.
There are two people in the group. One is EmiiliaRedgrave Resident, and BladeBee Resident.
Where’s everybody else? Are we supposed to believe that Emilia Redgrave wants to HIDE that there are 8000 people who want to know what the new Redgrave Designs clothing item, skin, hair, or whathave you is? ‘Quo vadis?’ is a good question here: ‘who profits?’. What does it profit Emilia to hide that people are interested in her work? It gains her nothing to disguise that. Why is NOBODY ELSE in this group publically visible? IS there anybody else in it? Quite possibly no.
So with these 3 rules of thumb – ‘Read Everything Before Doing Anything’, ‘Use Your Common Sense’ and ‘Know Your Actors’ – I saved myself L$500 and a bit of embarassment. And so can you!
While the identity scam in play here may go back to ancient Egypt, it certainly was new in my SL experience, and hopefully these helpful tips are going to be new and useful to some of you. So, that’s what’s fresh in SL today!