Can’t We Solve This Problem?
By Patricia Wilson-Smith, CEO Safe2Meet LLC
If you’ve been around for the last couple of decades, you’ve been witness to an unprecedented explosion of technological innovation. In my lifetime, the list of advances has been endless – from CDs, to cloud storage, from personal computers to the world wide web, and everything in between and beyond, our lives have been made more convenient, more information-rich, and yes, more entertaining because of technology.
And it’s all happened in a flurry. A cascade of new devices, software solutions and limitless global connectivity have both awed and engaged us, and yet left us vulnerable to the whims of criminals anxious to use the same technology to separate us from our hard-earned money and sometimes from our very lives.
And they’re everywhere, especially online. Scammers, we call them. They troll dating sites looking for lonely people to exploit. They pretend to be someone we know and love in financial distress. They send countless emails, with official greetings from foreign consulates or missionary outposts, striking up conversations seemingly out of the blue with someone they hope will be less than savvy about these things in an attempt to trick them out of some cash. And – they hang out on social networks, often spending lots of time nurturing fake relationships in order to scam someone out of money or much worse. It’s no wonder – scamming is a very lucrative activity. The numbers are staggering:
• $81 million taken by romance scammers, who target people on online dating sites, feigning love and then asking for money — averaging more than $12,000 per victim.
• $51 million taken by auto scammers, who convince their targets to pay for cars that don’t exist — raking in an average of $3,600 per victim.
• $18 million in real estate rental scams which, like auto scams, attempt to convince buyers to pay for property that doesn’t exist — to the tune of nearly $1,800 per victim.
• $6 million taken by FBI scammers, who pretend to be government officials to intimidate and extort money — averaging nearly $700 per victim.
Though technology has produced an economies of scale effect for these scammers, the scams themselves are nothing new. The fact of the matter is, people intent on doing bad things use the tools and conveniences that are part of our everyday lives to do their worst. Before the Internet and social networking, plenty of good scams could be perpetrated using the telephone. The old “this is the IRS calling, and we’re going to come and arrest you unless you pay us $5,000 dollars right here, right now” phone scam still victimizes thousands each year, and even our Presidential candidates have gotten in on the act of separating people from their money with the promise of quick and easy riches. The big story last week was how Donald Trump charged major moolah for his “university”, luring people who dreamed of following in his real estate footsteps into paying tens of thousands of dollars only to lose their investment because the training didn’t deliver on its promises.
Scams, scams everywhere. We’ve almost come to expect them. But should we?
When it comes to the Internet, it can seem as though we’ve lost total control, with no way to regain it. But that simply isn’t true. And if it was just about the Internet, we might be tempted to not even try to solve the problem, but there’s a lot more at stake. We’re currently witnessing the birth of the crowd-sourced economy, and it’s about a whole lot more than ride-sharing. It’s about the power of the network effect and participation to spur innovation, economic development, and commerce. It’s about shifting from an economy that depends on job creation to one that supports business creation, especially businesses started by individuals, and everything that entails. We’ve entered an age where our ability to trust the people we interact with is not just a good-to-have, but becoming an urgent need precipitated by the shift to the crowd-source economy and ever-increasing peer-to-peer interactions in everything from dating, to e-commerce, to service delivery. Luckily, the same principles that fuel the crowd economy – participation, networking, and collaboration – can help us solve the problem of online scams and online scammers, but it will require a major shift in mindset, and a commitment to change to be successful.
For example – most of us are accustomed to the practice of checking the background of someone we, say, want to hire. And we certainly have no issues with consenting to a background check when we want to be hired. It’s part of the way it works. We accept the accountability involved in opening up our background for scrutiny in order to gain employment. How much of a leap would it be to do the same in order to facilitate safe, productive interactions in everything we do online?
And what if we could create a community of trust, made up of people who have voluntarily agreed to submit themselves for verification, starting with simply registering for a service that accepts only people who have verified that they are who they say they are? And what if the people in that community decided that they would only do business with people who also belonged to that community?
And finally – what if the ability to manage your identity as part of that community was completely independent of any social network or website, but could be used to make interacting almost anywhere more safe?
With Safe2Meet, we’re building just such a platform. A set of technologies that together will help our members form the aforementioned community of trust, and that will isolate them from the scammers and criminals who won’t be able or willing to subject themselves to the accountability and scrutiny that becoming a member will require.
Imagine being able to publicly declare that you are a verified member of a community of safe online buyers, sellers, daters – and then being able to choose to only interact with individuals who are willing to do the same. Peer-to-peer verification is a concept whose time has come – public accountability, with the kinds of audit trails that ensure that people who are hiding behind their anonymity in order to commit crimes or fraud will be deterred.
All it takes is a willingness to proactively manage your online credibility, the same way you proactively manage your credit profile. Stay tuned for more information on how we plan to introduce the Safe2Meet platform, effectively ending the reign of the scammers that threaten to stymie the growth of the economies of the future. Because we may not be able to stop a rich, powerful billionaire from scamming the masses, but we can sure make it harder for anyone else to.