How to stay safe on social media in wake of Concordia sexual luring case

How to stay safe on social media in wake of Concordia sexual luring case
How to stay safe on social media in wake of Concordia sexual luring case

Lock down your social media accounts and take precautions before accepting online offers.

Those are among the tips a cybersecurity expert is offering after two Concordia University students reported being lured, drugged and sexually assaulted after being sent an offer on Instagram.

“Be vigilant and be resourceful,” said Tyler Cutler, who conducts seminars on internet security for families.

He said it’s not uncommon for predators to target young people via social media with promises of a job or money.

In the Concordia case, the two female students reported receiving “unsolicited professional development opportunities,” the university said in a public-safety alert on Monday.

The first step to protecting yourself is checking privacy settings to ensure you’re restricting who can see the private details and photos on your social-media accounts, Cutler said.

That limits the amount of information that’s publicly available — data that a predator can use to craft a personalized come-on. 

A friend request or an invitation from a stranger should trigger suspicion. 

“Definitely do some research in advance before meeting someone,” Cutler said. “Google the person, Google their phone number, ask around, ask friends if they’ve heard of this type of opportunity.”

It’s a good idea to check the person’s profile photo using Google, which allows users to upload photos and search for similar images, Cutler said. That may show that the profile photo has been taken from someone else’s account or is stock photography.

If you decide to meet the person, “tell a friend: ‘Hey, this opportunity came up, I’m supposed to meet them so I’m just telling you’ —  or maybe bring them with you so you’re not alone,” Cutler said. “And always meet in a public place.”

On Tuesday, Montreal police confirmed they are investigating the two Concordia cases, but would not provide any additional information.

It’s unclear if other Concordia students were targeted.

“I don’t know, but that’s definitely what triggered us to move as quickly as we did and to go as broad as we did,” Concordia spokesperson Mary-Jo Barr said Tuesday.

One of the incidents occurred during winter earlier this year, the second one in September. The university learned of the incidents last week. The university sent a safety warning to 45,000 students on Monday.

“From what I understand of (the two students’) stories, there were certain elements that were similar sounding, so it’s got a lot of people thinking that these may be connected,” said Barr, who has not seen the Instagram messages in question.

“Part of what’s so horrifying about this case is that students have a lot of experience on social media and they do know how to look out for creepy, dubious-looking scams, so I think it just speaks to how sophisticated this approach must have been.”

She said Concordia is “encouraging students to pay more attention than usual and to be really careful as to what they say and do online.”

In the wake of the Concordia cases, McGill will be sending a statement to students and staff, a spokesperson said Tuesday. 

“We know of no threat to or incident involving any McGill students, but we do caution you to be vigilant when responding to offers originating on social media,” the statement reads, in part. 

In the statement, Ollivier Dyens, McGill’s deputy provost (student life and learning), says anyone who feels threatened should call 911 and report any incident to campus public-safety officials.

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