So I spent a couple hours Thursday night among a small dedicated band helping track apparently the biggest fraud ring in the history of Facebook, or even social media.
I surfed onto Twitter to see a link to a blog post by Brad J. Ward at Butler University. A colleague at another college had a question about multiple Class of 2013 groups. Brad did some top-notch sleuthing and found similar names starting the groups. More research revealed that a small ring of people — especially Justin Gaither, Patrick Kelly, Jasmine White, James Gaither, Josh Egan and Ashley Thomas — started hundreds of supposedly “official” Class of 2013 groups at different colleges.
There are two groups for the SUNY Oswego Class of 2013. I Googled one group’s founder to find tales of his athletic feats at his stated school, and the admissions office confirmed he applied and was early accepted. The other was created by one Kyle Krennan. A Google of Kyle Krennan found a Facebook page that, when accessed redirected to … ring member Josh Egan. And no such person applied to Oswego. I realized we’ve been had, as had about 20 of our students.
First we got mad, then we got organized. Brad (who, imho, deserves the first Pulitzer Prize in social media) set up a collaborative Google document where we researched Class of 2013 pages and listed creators/admins. I volunteered to search for all SUNY schools, and found the infamous Kyle Krennan also created pages at Brockport and Plattsburgh. The majority of SUNY groups we found had ties to the ring. Out 300+ groups researched by a couple dozen of us, well over 200 (maybe more) were suspicious.
All arrows pointed back to a group called College Prowler which, among other things, uses “insider student” information to compile college guides. That in and of itself is one thing, but to set up groups and to perpetuate fraud — and probably collect a lot of user personal data — on such a wide scale is deplorable and takes advantage of students looking for genuine connections and information for their future colleges.
I posted a message on our official Facebook Fans page and one student posted on the bogus page that it was a fraud, and a lot of prospective students flocked to the legit student’s page. Word spread throughout the blogosphere and into the media. And in a surprising move, the CEO of College Prowler posted on Brad’s blog and said it was a marketing project gone awry, promising a strategic retreat.
Some commenters on Brad’s blog (not surprisingly, many anonymous) poopoo the effort, whining that Facebook is open. They miss the point that misrepresentation on Facebook (claiming you’re something you’re not) is against user policy. And downright unethical … though I sometimes wonder if ethics are lost on some youth today. Moreover, college logos and property are copyrighted, and inappropriate use for financial gain amounts to theft, period. And some of us who sprung into action were quite concerned about our prospective students potentially being scammed, data mined and otherwise exploited.
I also think our effort shows the collaborative power of social media. That a small dedicated band of Twitterers and bloggers were able to uncover more than 200 fraudulent Facebook groups in the space of a few hours — and cause their creators to give a public mea culpa — is all quite amazing.