Chief Investigative Reporter

Jeremy Finley is the chief investigator for News4 Investigates. His reporting has resulted in criminal convictions, legislative hearings before the U.S. Congress, and the payout of more than a million dollars to scam victims.

NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - When Kathy Waters first heard her long-time family friend had found romance online with a soldier she’d never met and was sending him money, she obviously began to worry.

So she got on Facebook and found him, but also found the soldier’s pictures were used in several different profiles with different names.

By the time she showed her friend all the different fake accounts using the soldier’s picture, the damage was already done.

“She sent approximately $35,000 total. It was absolutely devastating. It was her whole life. Her future, that turned in to be a whole lie,” said Waters.

Someone else just as angry: the soldier himself, retired Col. Bryan Denny.

“My images are being used to take advantage and hurt people,” Denny said.

Denny is the latest victim identified by News4 Investigates whose Facebook pictures have been swiped by scammers.

News4 Investigators first exposed the problem when a Monteagle veteran had his online photos were stolen and used to catfish women all over the world. 

Retired soldier caught up in international catfish scam

Denny has now teamed up with Waters to form a new organization called “Advocating Against Online Scammers,” targeting Facebook and calling on the social media giant to take further steps to shut down fake accounts.

Last year, they compiled a report of flaws they found in Facebook’s system of how easily soldiers’ photos were being swiped.

“Quite frankly the change has been very slow,” Denny said.

While many of Denny’s stolen photos have been flagged by Facebook and are unable to be reposted, News4 Investigates found one of his Facebook photos had been swiped and used on Twitter for a fake account.

In that fake Twitter account, the scammer is clearly targeting women, asking, “You look like someone I know.”

In response to our questions, a Facebook representative shared with us a video they specifically made to warn members of the military about romance scams:  FB Military and Veterans Community Page.

Facebook also pointed out this report  Community Standards Enforcement Report, in which they cite having shut down more than two billion fake accounts in just two months at the beginning of 2019.

That Facebook representative did say that they share the soldier’s frustration.

Denny said Facebook is not moving fast enough, as hearts and financial accounts are being emptied.

“I spent 26 years in uniform looking to protect people. I detest bullies and to stand up for people who couldn't defend themselves, and now my images are being used to do the exact opposite,” Denny said.

HOW TO PROTECT YOUR FACEBOOK PICTURES.

Here are the tips from Facebook about how to keep your pictures from being stolen by scammers.

  1. Don’t accept friend requests from people you don’t know.
  2. Being friends with scammers allows them to spam your timeline and view your posts.
  3. Limit you can see your pictures and albums by going to this guidance section on Facebook.
  4. Remember,Your profile picture and cover photo are visible to the public; however, you can adjust the privacy settings for a photo you've used as a profile picture or cover photo in the past.
  5. Facebook encourage people to not accept suspicious requests and to report suspicious messages to them right away: https://www.facebook.com/help/reportlinks
  6. You can report an impostor account on Facebook whether or not you have an account. Facebook created a dedicated help center link to report imposters on Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger at: facebook.com/help/fakeaccount 

HOW TO SPOT A SCAMMER ON FACEBOOK 

  • Here are some things to look out for when trying to spot a scam:
    • People asking you for money who you don’t know in person
    • People asking you to send them money or gift cards to receive a loan, prize or other winnings
    • Anyone asking you to pay a fee in order to apply for a job
    • Pages representing large companies, organizations or public figures that are not verified
    • People asking you to move your conversation off Facebook to a less public or less secure setting, such as a separate email
    • People claiming to be a friend or relative in an emergency
    • People who misrepresent where they are located. If someone signs up for Messenger using their mobile phone number, you may be able to check which country their phone number is from. If you're concerned that a Page may be scamming you, you can check the Page's location
    • Messages or posts with poor spelling and grammatical mistakes

People or accounts directing you to a Page to claim a prize

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Copyright 2019 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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