At some point or another…we have all bought the “magic beans.” We give into temptation and want things to be true while ignoring our inner instincts that something does not seem quite right. Sometimes we have to learn our lessons the hard way with (hopefully) temporary consequences. The money that is lost being conned may always be earned back many times over during the course of our lifetimes. The learning experience is oftentimes worth the money we lost as well as the ability to pay it forward by educating others. The Sexuality Class taught by Kelly Weiss received a special presentation from guest lecturer Jesse Saperstein who taught the College Experience students about the red flags and consequences of being a victim of scam artists who cower behind the Internet. The purpose of the class was not to scare the students or make them afraid to make social connections online. It was merely to provide a source of education in case the students should ever receive a random message from a strikingly handsome or beautiful stranger they have never met before. There is an expression as old as time that says, “If it seems too good to be true, it most likely is.” The material was so vast and the students had so many questions that the material had to be spread out over two classes. We are fully confident our students will retain this material to allow them to remain safe online.

The first subject was Catfishing, which is a term many people have heard of before but do not necessarily know what it means. Catfishing is when a perpetrator abuses the Internet by luring victims while pretending to be someone else. Some damaged people engage in Catfishing out of sheer boredom while trying to live out the fantasy of being someone else. Others do it out of bullying and choose vulnerable, naïve targets who are so desperate to have a romantic partner that they are going to fall for the scam quite easily even as others in their life try to shake them into reality. Partially due to living with Asperger’s syndrome, Jesse Saperstein has been the victim of Catfishing three times in his life. The first experience lasted for six agonizing months when he was seventeen due to a prank perpetrated by a group of his classmates pretending to be his friends. The last two experiences were much shorter in duration due to the fact that all of the red flags seemed excruciatingly familiar. These signs that something is “Rotten in Denmark” include being stood up without any notice, many outlandish excuses as to why the person cannot meet in person, and someone asking for money to help with the expense of a medical procedure or some other tragic circumstance. Jesse told the class there is never going to be such a thing as a romantic partner so gorgeous that someone should deal with being strung along, physically/emotionally/verbally abused, or having one’s heartbroken repeatedly. The students were advised to have “common sense on their radar” when a stranger with a model-like profile photograph contacts them on social media. Some red flags to look out for are not having many mutual friends, too.

The second Internet crime the students learned about is “Sextortion.” Sextortion also involves being contacted by a random person who is sometimes live on screen. The other person oftentimes will remove their clothes and encourage their victim to do the same. What happens next is usually inevitable. This new “boyfriend/girlfriend” will promptly demand money in exchange for not releasing the photos and/or video images of their victim in a compromising situation. Even when money is wired to the criminal, it is common for them to demand more cash knowing that they have snared someone who is willing to do whatever it takes to avoid those photos/videos being released to loved ones. Sometimes the consequences are tragic when the victim does not have the money to pay the Sextortionist and fears their lives will be ruined if the images are released publicly. Jesse encouraged the students to not panic if this should God-forbid ever happen to them. The scammers rarely (if ever) release these photos to the public if a victim immediately blocks them and severs contact completely. Doing so would require a lot of time and effort on their part to look up all of their victim’s contacts when they could be focusing on another victim who is going to grovel to them in hopes that this compromising material shall never see the light of day. We hope the students will never become victims after having learned so much from Jesse’s class. On the other hand, if something like this should ever happen to them…there are plenty of options to try to fix it and it is not the end of the world. It is understood that mistakes happen, but it is what we do afterwards that is going to make all the difference! Going to an authority figure such as a police officer is also encouraged. They will not yell at the victim or call them “stupid.” A solution will be worked out, and it is understood that there is a lot of temptation when a beautiful, albeit fictional, romantic partner is on the other end!

These topics are not easy to talk about, but we want our students to be as safe as possible on the Internet and the community. We will do everything we can to ensure that our students are educated about some of the difficult Facts of Life!