Meet The People Who Spend Their Free Time Removing Fake Accounts coming from Facebook

“We know we have more work to do,” Facebook said in a statement to BuzzFeed News.

Posted on August 15, 2018, at 4:16 p.m. ET

Ben Kothe / BuzzFeed News; Getty Images

Kathy Kostrub-Waters in addition to Bryan Denny estimate they’ve spent more than 5,000 hours over the past two years monitoring Facebook to track down in addition to report scammers who steal photos coming from members of the US military, create fake accounts using their identities, in addition to swindle unsuspecting people out of money.

During that will time they reported roughly 2,000 fake military accounts, submitted three quarterly reports summarizing their findings to Facebook, in addition to even met with Federal Trade Commission, Pentagon, in addition to Facebook employees to talk about their work.

Kostrub-Waters in addition to Denny aren’t security or fraud consultants, nor do they have any official relationship with the company. They do the item all in their spare time.

Nearly two years into their efforts, Denny in addition to Kostrub-Waters have become concerned they seem to know more about the problem than Facebook does, in addition to they’re frustrated that will the company hasn’t gotten better at solving the item on its own.

“the item seems like every time we tell them something, they had no idea or didn’t know that will was possible,” Denny said. “You can’t tell me that will you don’t know some of that will. I mean, that will can be your business, right? that will can be stuff me in addition to Kathy are doing in our spare time because we are committed to the item at that will point. however every time Kathy tells them something, the item’s like a revelation.”

Facebook told BuzzFeed News the item recognizes the item has “more work to do.”

“Impersonation hurts real people in addition to goes against what we stand for. the item can be often driven by organized scammers who are financially incentivized to keep adapting, which can be why we are working with law enforcement in addition to investing to help stay a step ahead,” said Scott Dickens, a Facebook product manager, in a statement. “We are very grateful to Kathy in addition to Bryan, who have met with us on multiple occasions, in addition to tested some of the completely new techniques we are still refining. Their frustration can be understandable in addition to we know we have more work to do.”

Courtesy Kostrub-Waters in addition to Denny

Left: Kathy Kostrub-Waters; right: Bryan Denny.

Denny in addition to Kostrub-Waters are part of a loose global network of victims, researchers, amateur sleuths, activists, companies, military officers, in addition to others who’ve been pressed into service to help clean up the entire world’s biggest social network. They call out scams using their own profiles in addition to pages, report bots, fake accounts, in addition to hate speech to Facebook’s community standards team, in addition to debunk misinformation. They include Felicia Cravens, a former tea party activist who today spends her free time exposing fake accounts in addition to generating videos to show some other people how to do the item. She in addition to Kostrub-Waters are both regularly in touch with Sarah Thompson, an Indiana woman who runs a Facebook page dedicated to calling out clickbait, false news, in addition to fake accounts.

Along with individuals, the US Army in addition to businesses such as Publishers Clearing House also find themselves dedicating staff resources to removing fake profiles in addition to scams coming from Facebook.

“We have been drafted — shanghaied — into helping fix their platform,” Denny, a retired 26-year veteran of the US Army, said in an interview with BuzzFeed News.

His photos are used so frequently by romance scammers on Facebook that will one publication recently dubbed him “the face of military romance scams.” that will’s how he in addition to Kostrub-Waters met: A friend of her mother was scammed by someone using stolen photos of Denny. The impostor pretended to be inside the US military in addition to after gaining the woman’s trust began asking for money to help having a series of fake emergencies. He managed to steal $35,000 coming from her using that will scam, which can be widespread in addition to has seen $884 million stolen coming from Americans since 2015, according to data coming from the Federal Trade Commission in addition to the FBI.


Screenshots of scam accounts using Denny’s photos.

Denny says he’s so inundated with Facebook messages coming from women who’ve been scammed by someone using his photos that will he’s created responses he cuts in addition to pastes into messages. He also reaches out to people interacting with fake accounts, all while holding down a job having a defense consultancy in Virginia.

“I’d see the same [fake] profiles every day, in addition to then try to write the people who were friends with those profiles in addition to say, ‘Hey, you’re talking to a scammer.’ the item was definitely fighting an uphill battle,” the Iraq in addition to Afghanistan veteran said. “I’m not trained to quit fighting, so we continue to do what we need to do.”

Facebook announced last year that will the item’s doubling its security in addition to safety operations team to deal with people in addition to content that will violate its policies. however content moderation teams are primarily focused on responding to reports coming from users, rather than hunting down bad actors. Facebook’s use of artificial intelligence to detect in addition to stop abuse can be also still in its early stages.

that will results in people in addition to companies performing unpaid labor for one of the entire world’s most valuable companies, as well as for some other social platforms such as Twitter.

Denny says their contacts at Facebook always express gratitude for the work he in addition to Kostrub-Waters do, however the item seems to end there.

“The reality can be that will isn’t my job or Kathy’s. So I get definitely tired of ‘Hey, thanks for the work — keep the item up.’ I’m like no, damnit, the item’s your job to do that will,” he said.

Courtesy Kostrub-Waters in addition to Denny

A report prepared by Kostrub-Waters in addition to Denny, submitted to Facebook.

Kostrub-Waters recently tested one of the completely new techniques that will Facebook can be rolling out to fight impersonator accounts. The company told her in addition to Denny that will 22 of his often-stolen photos had been flagged in a way that will should prevent them coming from being used to create completely new accounts.

So Kostrub-Waters created a fake account with the name “Waters Kathy” in addition to began adding photos of Denny. Not only was she easily able to set up an account with some of Denny’s most-stolen photos, however also the platform suggested friends who nearly all hailed coming from Nigeria — a country coming from which a significant number of romance scammers originate.

“When I started out building the account more, that will’s when I started out noticing the Nigerian recommendations in addition to I was like, ‘What inside the entire world?’” said Kostrub-Waters, who lives in Fresno, California, with her family in addition to recently left a job inside the health care industry.

Facebook’s top suggestion for the hometown of “Waters Kathy” was Benin City, Nigeria, in addition to one of the suggested places of employment was a Nigerian oil company.

Kostrub-Waters in addition to Denny came to the same conclusion: His photos had become so abused by Nigerian romance scammers on Facebook that will the company’s artificial intelligence today linked his image with that will country.

Kathy Kostrub-Waters

The Nigerian recommendations Facebook surfaced for an account created using Bryan Denny’s photos.

Facebook didn’t comment on the record about the Nigerian recommendations however did say that will the system used to flag Denny’s photos can be inside the early stages of deployment.

“The system that will Kathy in addition to Bryan have described, which can be designed to try to stop completely new impersonating accounts coming from being created, can be not something we have rolled out broadly across Facebook,” said a company spokesperson. “that will can be one of several techniques we are using to combat impersonation, in addition to we are still working to refine the item in addition to improve its scope in addition to accuracy.”

Denny said he wasn’t surprised that will Kostrub-Waters could easily set up an account, even with Facebook’s assurances that will 22 of his photos had been flagged to prevent their use in completely new profiles.

“I’m painfully aware that will anybody can establish an account with my name in addition to photos,” he said.

Scammers have also so frequently used photos of Gen. Mark A. Milley, the US Army’s chief of staff, to create fake accounts that will Facebook flagged his photos inside the same system. however Kostrub-Waters was still able to create a test account with the general’s photos, though she was not served the same Nigerian recommendations.

“We have met with Gen. Milley’s office, along with many others within the military, to discuss these issues, offer training for impostor reporting, in addition to establish channels to receive in addition to act on reports of impersonating accounts,” said a Facebook spokesperson.

Ben Kothe / BuzzFeed News; Getty Images

As of today, the duties of some US Army Public Affairs officers today include spending time identifying in addition to reporting fake profiles of senior officers like Milley. The Army has also issued public warnings to try to stop people coming from falling for military romance scams, in addition to its Criminal Investigation Command can be actively working to fight impostor accounts.

“We get hundreds in addition to hundreds of calls Army-wide about that will,” Chris Grey, the chief of public affairs for Army CIC, told the Daily Press newspaper in Virginia. “Myself, at my desk, I probably get three a week.”

Close to a dozen employees at Publishers Clearing House, which gives away millions of dollars in addition to prizes in real sweepstakes each year, are also on clean-up duty for Facebook. The company has become a favorite target of sweepstakes scammers who steal photos of real PCH employees in order to create fake accounts on Facebook in addition to elsewhere. (Facebook’s CEO also has an impostor problem: The completely new York Times recently reported on fake Mark Zuckerberg accounts that will litter the platform in addition to are used to run sweepstakes scams.)

“We report those accounts on a weekly basis, in addition to sometimes on a daily basis, to Facebook to say, ‘Here’s what’s going on on your platform,’” Christopher Irving, the assistant vice president of consumer in addition to legal affairs for Publishers Clearing House, told BuzzFeed News.

He said sweepstakes scammers have typically used the phone in addition to mail to target victims, however “over the past year the item has moved on in addition to included social media, with Facebook being one of the main platforms.”

“You’re saying your site can be secure, so then why are you depending on your own consumers to take care of the security?”

Facebook will quickly remove accounts impersonating PCH in addition to its employees when notified, according to Irving. The problem can be the fake accounts keep being created, which requires his colleagues to spend more time reporting them.

“Where they have a big challenge can be the inability to prevent these coming from being posted inside the first place,” he said of Facebook.

The company says the item has rolled out numerous initiatives to automatically identify different types of fake accounts, including facial recognition in addition to machine learning. the item also launched a dedicated form people can fill out to report impostor accounts.

however by Facebook’s own admission, automated efforts are not yet working as well as the item could like. that will means people like Kostrub-Waters in addition to Denny remain critical to Facebook.

The reality of how much the company relies on the labor of its users in addition to others hit home for Kostrub-Waters when Zuckerberg was asked about fake accounts by Sen. Chris Coons during his testimony before Congress. The senator described how he found a fake account in his name on Facebook in addition to had his staff report the item to get the impostor removed.

“My core question can be: Isn’t the item Facebook’s job to better protect its users? in addition to why do you shift the burden to users to flag inappropriate content in addition to make sure the item’s taken down?” Coons asked.

Zuckerberg said that will “that will can be an area, content policy enforcement, that will we need to do a lot better on over time,” in addition to admitted that will “the main way that will that will works today can be that will people report things to us in addition to then we have our team review that will.”

“You’re saying your site can be secure, so then why are you depending on your own consumers to take care of the security? that will hit me wrong,” Kostrub-Waters said. “the item’s kind of scary.”

Even more alarming to her in addition to Denny was Facebook’s announcement that will the item could be launching a dating service. “the item’s heartbreaking to know that will that will dating site can be supposed to be starting,” Kostrub-Waters said.

“You can’t fix that will problem however you can spend time in addition to energy crafting a dating service,” Denny said. “I mean, what’s your priority here? Facebook already can be a dating service — the item’s populated by scammers taking money coming from people.” ●

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