'You' Might Be Fiction, But It Can Happen In Real Life - Stay Safe This Valentine's Day
Most of us sign into a dating site or install a dating app with hope in our hearts and visions of candlelit meals, romantic weekend getaways, and everlasting love. Few of us get the opportunity to fulfill those dreams, however, and, for some, those same dreams soon descend into a nightmare.
The Netflix series, You, has been exploring the sinister side of love and what happens when one man’s obsession starts to destroy his victim’s life. Despite the perks of online dating and the romantic promises it holds, it also carries the danger of meeting someone like You protagonist, Joe Goldberg.
This Valentine’s Day, Don’t Let Blind Love Get In The Way Of Safety
This is a big, brash spoiler alert – if you haven’t started watching the second season of the Netflix series You, stop reading now! We’re about to reveal some of the main events of the second season so consider yourselves suitably warned!
Anyone who’s been watching the second season of the Netflix series You will have some understanding of cybercrime, having watched Joe commit identity theft and cyberstalk numerous victims. While staying off online dating sites doesn’t mean your safe from such threats, it does diminish that vulnerability to a degree.
According to Kaspersky’s report on online dating, “55% [of users] have experienced some form of threat or problem while dating online. And, people that use online dating are twice as likely to experience an IT security incident than people that don’t (41% vs 20%), primarily due to their increased level of online activity”. In other words, if an online dating scam doesn’t get you, another cyberthreat probably will.
You’re probably thinking, “Well, You is just a fictional series”, which is true, but many of the cybercrimes and other wrongdoings committed by Joe are based on reality and are, in many cases, very easy to execute. Joe may not be real, but his crimes are, and you could be the next victim of a real-life Joe, especially if you’re looking for love online this Valentine’s Day.
Cybercrime and the Netflix Series You
So far in the second season of You, Joe has committed at least four cyber-related offenses. We’re going to look at each one, how it could happen to you in real life, and how to protect yourself against such a security breach.
Identity Theft in You
At the start of the second season of You, Joe meets a man named Will Bettelheim who helps people disappear by creating new identities for them. Rather than simply making the most of his skills and services, however, Joe locks him up in a cage and keeps him hostage.
With Bettelheim’s identity at his disposal, Joe manages to secure both a job and an apartment, although this public use of his newly acquired identity soon brings past associates of Bettelheim’s crawling out of the woodwork. When a man named Jasper arrives, it seems pretending to be Will Bettelheim isn’t all its cracked up to be, and the real Will owes Jasper $50k. Jasper cuts off the end of Joe’s finger as punishment for his inability to cough up the money and keeps it on ice as some kind of macabre ransom.
Real Identity Theft
Although we appreciate Netflix creating a series that draws attention to issues like identity theft, its representation of this widespread crime couldn’t be much further from reality. Few of those exposed to identity theft ever meet the perpetrator and, in many instances, never find out who they are.
Most instances of identity theft occur remotely and are committed by those who have either purchased the personally identifiable information (PII) online or who have secured it for themselves via a security breach. In neither instance is the victim locked up in a glass cage although, for some, it may start to feel that way.
While Joe eventually decides to let the real Will Bettelheim go, on the understanding that he never reveals his true identity or exposes Joe’s fake one, many victims of identity theft are locked in a battle to restore their identities and recover from the aftermath for years after the event.
In the real world, identity theft occurs when someone else uses your social security number (SSN), name, date of birth or other PII for personal financial gain. In some instances, the offender may use a person’s SSN to apply for loans, government benefits, or even tax rebates.
Detecting identity theft isn’t always easy either and few identity thieves are going to negotiate with you as Joe does with Will. Fortunately, the best identity theft protection services offer a variety of features to help protect you against the risk of identity theft. Services like Identity Guard constantly monitor online data sources, scouring the Dark Web for any suspicious activity involving your SSN, passport numbers, credit card numbers, and bank accounts.
When it comes to preventing some of the crimes fans have seen Joe commit over the first two seasons of the Netflix series You, Identity Guard has some impressive features, not least of which is its use of IBM Watson’s artificial intelligence technology to pick up on potential cyberbullying. This kind of protection won’t necessarily stop the kind of cyberstalking we’ve seen Joe commit, but it will mean you pick up on it sooner, meaning you can put an end to it before it causes too much damage.
Cyberstalking and Security Breach Scenarios in the Netflix Series You
Joe’s cyberstalking tendencies find a new object of fascination in the early episodes of the second season of the Netflix series You and when he first meets Love, he turns to social media to find out everything he can about her.
Fortunately for Joe, Love Quinn is an unusual name, so it makes tracking her online much easier. By using a reverse image search tool, Joe accesses “a list of social media accounts and web pages with that picture on it”.
Joe also manages to figure out where Quinn lives by using the drag-and-drop technique to upload a photograph of her outside her front door to a search engine which then, somewhat miraculously, reveals her street address.
Cyberstalking in Reality
Unlike the depiction of identity theft, the Netflix series You’s portrayal of cyberstalking is closer to the truth. For instance, when Joe begins a new stalking campaign, he starts by entering his target’s name into a search engine which almost immediately takes him to her social media accounts.
Doing this in real life is also straight-forward, assuming your target has an unusual name like Love Quinn. Trying to track down a James Smith, for instance, would be rather more challenging as there’s over 38,000 of them in the US alone.
Love gives Joe another helping hand by setting all her photos public and sharing details of her private life on social media networks. Most Twitter users have their profiles set to public and unwittingly share intimate details about their lives as a consequence.
Don’t forget, “the photos you upload can be extremely telling, and they also allow strangers to see who you’ve been tagged with, which can give away the identity of your friends and family”. With that in mind, before you launch into a flurry of online dating in the run-up to Valentine’s Day, maybe think about boosting your online security by making more of your posts private and choosing who has access to them. After all, there’s no saying the man you meet on Tinder isn’t the next Joe Goldberg, or Will Bettelheim, for that matter.
You might want to even consider going the extra mile and deleting some of your social media accounts. As urban studies major from Virginia, Sean Franklin, points out, “Social media is not essential to our lives. It makes itself essential through the network effect – the more people use it, the more useful it becomes. But it has no utility in and of itself; it has no value beyond the value that people place upon it. Given all the risks, why should we use it? My answer is that we shouldn’t”.
Strangely enough, despite Joe’s abilities as a cyberstalker, when it comes to creating his own social media profiles, he’s something of an ignoramus and needs the assistance of a 15-year-old “balcony sprite”, Ellie. Even then, he seems perplexed by the inner workings of Instagram, prompting Ellie to admonish him with the words: “Don’t take this the wrong way, Will, but please don’t be this boring on your Instagram.”
One of the problems for social media users is that, even when they’ve deleted a post, it still hovers around in cyberspace. Sites like the WayBack Machine take regular snapshots of pages on the internet and store them for posterity, meaning that revealing photograph of you in uniform outside your place of work could lead cyberstalkers to your door for years to come.
To protect your online privacy and reduce the threat of cyberstalking, Brad Poole of HideMyAss VPN recommends using a search engine to check what personal information is out there. “See the breadcrumbs of information about you scattered across the Internet: your likes, dislikes, hobbies, intimacies, secrets shared between friends and family and dissenting political views,” he says.
Poole recommends doing this regularly, adding “Googling yourself with the intention to reduce your online footprint is only effective if you repeat it often”.
The Perils of Parental Controls in the Netflix Series You
Parental controls like those included in the best antivirus software and stand-alone apps like Qustodio are designed to help you keep track of your child’s whereabouts, both physically and online. Unsurprisingly, however, the protagonist of the Netflix series, You, Joe Goldberg, finds a way to use them for more nefarious means.
While it’s unclear whether Joe opts for a spyware app like or a parental control app to track young Ellie’s movements, both options would perform the job effectively. Similarly, Joe’s motives are unclear, and it almost seems as though Joe is trying to protect Ellie by spying on her. Of course, that’s what the developers of the best parental control apps had in mind but the fact that someone like Joe could use that same software to stalk a victim brings a harsh reality to light.
The Reality of Spyware and Parental Controls
In the wrong hands, parental controls that help to track an individual’s movements can turn into a creepy kind of stalkerware. One woman, who chose to remain anonymous, shared her real-life stalkerware story with the UK broadcasting service, the BBC. She explained how her husband seemed to have access to very private pieces of information and would frequently mention seeing her meeting with friends at a local café, saying he was just passing by.
The victim of this stalking experience started to doubt everything and everyone. One day, all was revealed, however. Her husband handed her his phone to show her a photograph at the exact same time as his daily notification popped up, informing him, that the “Daily report on Amy’s Mac is ready to view”.
This is by no means an uncommon occurrence and, in 2018, a survey conducted by the National Network to End Domestic Violence “found that 13 percent of domestic violence survivors reported a partner was tracking their phone or another device using GPS technology”. A further 6% had installed an app designed to track a child’s online behavior to keep tabs on their partners.
To prevent someone from hacking into your phone and installing stalkerware, it’s advisable to lock your phone and follow our 10 tips for securing an Android phone. This won’t be enough, however, if you live in a smart home or have a bunch of smart devices for your stalker to hack into.
Rebecca Nelson suspected someone was spying on her and discovered just how far they were willing to go after her mom contacted her home security company to query her account. Although the query was unrelated, her home security service informed her that “someone had logged into her alarm system and set up a rule that every time the motion detector sensed movement, the camera would take a 15-second video recording and email to somebody”.
While the best home security apps are designed to protect you, if a stalker manages to hack into it, it can become a weapon of attack rather than defense, which is why you should follow this useful guide to choosing the best home security app for your needs.
Beyond the Netflix Series You and #MeToo: Staying Safe This Valentine’s Day
While the Netflix series You highlights many of the major cyber threats online dating users should look out for, it doesn’t cover them all. Although there are plenty of success stories, with statistics indicating that around 20% of “current, committed relationships began online” and experts predicting that, by 2040, “70% of us will have met our significant other online”.
Having said that, there are plenty of people using online dating sites for reasons other than finding the love of their lives. The website, Phactual, has a list of scary statistics, including that, “in 2005 alone, 25% of rapists used online dating sites to find their victims”, and “one free dating sites, at least 10% of new accounts are scammers”.
Those statistics alone should be enough to motivate most people to boost their internet security and consider additional safeguards and precautions to protect themselves against online dating scams. With 21,000 such scams reports to Sentinel in 2018, with the average loss per victim sitting at around $2,600, it’s not only cyberstalkers that you need to watch out for.
One of the best ways of staying safe while dating online is to use one of the best background check services to find out a bit more about your new love match. By checking hundreds of public data sources, services like BeenVerified can expose all kinds of skeletons, including those lurking in a person’s criminal history.
Not only that, but background check services can also expose many untruths that your latest love match has been telling you. As they examine an individual’s employment history, a background check can prove whether your latest Tinder match is really a high-flying banker or just a low-flying baggage porter!
If you want to know more about what will show up on a background check, read our full article here. One thing that probably won’t show up is any history of that person committing phishing scams, although these are prevalent on online dating sites.
While some online dating scammers are in it for the long haul, using an approach called catfishing to gradually lure their victim in so they can exploit them for financial gain, others turn to “more efficient ways to exploit victims”. If a love match sends you a link to a website, game, or service, be warned – it could just be a scam to get you to hand over your sensitive financial information or to get you to download malware that will give your supposed love match access to your device.
Both these threats can be prevented by using the best antivirus software which will keep malware on the other side of a robust firewall and warn you of potentially dangerous links. This is one of the most common ways of protecting yourself against phishing, although identity theft protection software can also help.
Check out our article on how to avoid and recover from a phishing scam to find out the best ways of protecting yourself online and increasing your internet security.
Unhealthy Definitions of Love and the Dangers of Online Dating
With the virtual world taking up more of our time than ever before, distinguishing fact from fiction becomes increasingly complex. You only have to look at the furor surrounding fake news to realize that.
Sadly, some people also struggle to distinguish the actor from the character and it’s both surprising and distressing to see how many people are attracted to the creepy character of Joe Goldberg. A poll by Cosmopolitan revealed that 69% of respondents were attracted to Joe, a result that sparked some to assert that, “these fans, under the influence of You, might develop unhealthy definitions of love and relationships”. Creating an online profile while harboring those unhealthy definitions could put themselves in danger.
Actor Penn Badgely, who plays the cyberstalking psychopath in the Netflix series You, gives such fans short shrift and, when a fan tweeted him with the plea, “kidnap me pls”, he shut her down with his response, “No thx”. Badgely should be applauded for “shutting down such opinions, [and] letting enamored viewers know definitively that Joe should not be applauded, despite his redeeming characteristics”.
While some element of common sense and the ability to distinguish reality from fantasy are crucial in terms of internet security and generally living life as a responsible adult, the dangers of online dating are such that this is by no means enough to keep you safe.
The Netflix series You presents us with “an exaggerated version of ourselves” insofar as Joe capitalizes on the same social media qualities and benefits of the interconnectedness of the Internet of Things to uncover personal details about his victims.
Very few of us go to the same lengths as Joe, and yet many of us will check out our latest online dating match on social media, or perform a Google search on a new acquaintance to find out more about them. In some ways, the Netflix series You is really about all of us living in the current digital age and the difficulties we face in terms of establishing limits on the amount of information we access or share.
Just as “social media allows us to follow people’s lives without their consent”, it also gives others the power to consume our virtual lives without our permission, which is why taking all the necessary precautions this Valentine’s Day is so important.
Boost your internet security before you start looking for love online by using the latest cybersecurity tools, like identity theft protection services, home security apps, and antivirus software. You can improve your online security even further by changing your social media profiles to private instead of public and conducting background checks on your online love matches before meeting up in person.
Social media may have the potential to change “the meaning of privacy and relationships forever”, but that doesn’t mean we need to give it a helping hand. Whatever you do this Valentine’s Day, don’t let blind love get in the way of safety.