Jeremy Johnson

Jeremy Johnson

People are not always what — or who — they seem online. Anyone can (virtually, pardon the pun) pretend to be anyone on the World Wide Web.

Country singer Brad Paisley even has a song about being “cooler online,” living a life one can only fantasize about. “Online I live in Malibu. I posed for Calvin Kline, I’ve been in GQ. I’m single and I’m rich.”

It’s not new. Cat phishing is a tactic used by scammers to approach someone online, start a romantic relationship and reel them in with emotions before asking for money. But the person on the other end isn’t who they said they were.

Most times, it’s safe to say he or she is far from it.

Boise Police Department has alerted Better Business Bureau that scammers are targeting college students with an alarming new twist.

Edward Fritz, crime prevention supervisor at the Boise Police Department, said there have been multiple cases reported out of Boise State University. Males are being approached on social media by females of similar age.

They begin a conversation that quickly escalates to sending intimate photos and videos. The person on the receiving end of these messages then extorts the young males. They threaten to release the photos and/or videos publicly unless the victim pays thousands of dollars.

“In one case, the video was shared on Facebook before it was reported and taken down,” explains Fritz.

Because of the sensitivity of the scam, there may be many more victims, but they are too embarrassed to report it.

“We don’t know how many others there are,” said Fritz.

For many, this experience can feel embarrassing and have long-lasting consequences. But contacting law enforcement is a great first step if you suspect you or your children or guardians are a victim.

Three tips to Spot this Scam

Copycat Profiles: Be wary of social media accounts that seem to be recently created or have little information on them. As Fritz explains, “Scammers went in, grabbed a handful of pictures and created an account or added them to an existing Facebook account. It looks like it’s coming from a similar-aged female as opposed to someone outside the country.”

Moving Fast: The conversation starts off seemingly innocently and quickly takes a turn. As Fritz explains, “It only took five to six messages to go from complete strangers to sending intimate photos and videos.”

Request for Photos: If the person you’re talking to quickly asks for photos, especially ones that should be kept private, it’s a red flag. “Once you send an intimate video or intimate image, it could be anywhere. It’s not like it disappears. The Internet is forever,” said Fritz.

Jeremy Johnson is the Eastern Idaho Marketplace Manager for the Better Business Bureau Northwest + Pacific. Contact the BBB at 208-342-4649 or email to