Mobile apps allow users to make connections around the world, but with great power comes great responsibility, and users should keep their guards up.

Social media platforms and dating and e-commerce apps are often means by which criminals target unsuspecting, well-intentioned individuals who are looking to make connections or buy or sell items. Last year, the FBI received a record number of reports to its Internet Crime Complaint Center with 791,790 cases exceeding $4.1 billion in losses, according to the FBI’s 2020 Internet Crime Report.

It is important to keep in mind that these platforms are rarely vetted or typically don’t utilize a system for background checks, which create opportunity for criminals to take advantage of those using these platforms for their intended purposes.

“Trust no one,” says Matthew Hall, UCF’s vice president for Information Technology and chief information officer. “You want to disclose as little information as possible when you correspond with anybody online because once they have your personal information, they can use it in a lot of different ways.”

Stay Proactively Aware

Recent reports of individuals in Orlando being targeted by criminals through apps like Snapchat, OfferUp, Craigslist, Letgo and on various internet dating platforms are a reason to proceed with caution. While some of these cases specifically targeted the members of the LGBTQ+ community, criminals could take advantage of anyone by using these technologies to gain access and trust. In 2020, Florida was ranked the fourth most dangerous state for online dating, according to a recent report based on cybercrime statistics, romantic fraud rate and violent crime stemming from online interactions.

UCF Police Department Detective Agustin Gonzalez, who has been with the organization since 2015 and is currently a part of the Criminal Investigations Division, has some simple advice for the UCF community.

“Always trust your instincts,” Gonzalez says. “If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

He encourages students in particular to be skeptical since college students are often perceived to be easy targets. He reminds everyone to never share personal information, such as where you live, and to always meet in a common, populated place. Maintaining a healthy dose of skepticism — as not everyone is who they say they are, and catfishing, or using other people’s photos, is one way people fraudulently draw others in, Gonzalez says.

The UCF Police Department has two designated Safe Exchange Spots for e-commerce transactions that also are a great place to organize a general meet-up. The spots are located at the department’s main campus facility, are well-lit and captured by surveillance video.

“If someone doesn’t agree to meet you at the police department, that’s a red flag,” says Gonzalez. “If they won’t meet you here [UCFPD], don’t meet them anywhere.”

Resources for Help

In the event you find yourself targeted by online fraud, UCF has resources available to help.

To report a crime that’s not in progress, call the UCF Police Department’s non-emergency line at 407-823-5555. Of course, always dial 911 in an emergency.

If you’re uncomfortable reporting to law enforcement, Victim Services is another option. Victims of crime, violence or abuse can contact a confidential victim advocate for support and advocacy, free of charge. Advocates will explain your options, assist you in whatever choices you make, and connect you to appropriate campus and community resources. Reach a victim advocate 24/7 by calling 407-823-1200 or texting 407-823-6868 to discuss what you’re experiencing.

“These apps are well-intentioned. They want to connect people, whether it’s through relationships, friendships or even just making a few dollars,” says Christine Mouton ’98 ’01MS, director of Victim Services. “However, we frequently speak to clients who have been taken advantage of by criminals on these apps, which is why we’ve printed brochures and included social media safety tips on our Knights in the Know Webcourses module.”

The bottom line — have fun but be safe. Use sound judgment, trust your instincts and stay aware of your surroundings.