A dating scam targeting teenagers has angered Coquitlam's mayor.
And this isn't the first time Richard Stewart has been targeted by scammers on Facebook.
The long-time mayor's own photo was once used to catfish a victim as far away as South Africa.
More on that story later.
But it's the social media giant's apparent cavalier attitude towards removing harmful posts targeting young people that has sparked the mayor's ire.
Stewart recently reported a profile of a "Janice Shuman" that appeared as a friend request on his Facebook page.
The profile, featuring a woman in nearly see-through tights and a revealing skin-tight top, sought to have group chats with youth aged 13 to 18, and used hashtags like #dating and #Meetgirl to get their attention.
SCAMMERS TARGET PROFILES
Stewart, who has nearly 5,000 Facebook friends, the most allowed, believes he is targeted by scammers because he has a large friend group.
The sexy poster wanted to be "friends" with Stewart, which is how he was alerted to its existence.
He says about half his friend requests are these kind of malicious, fake profiles and he worries that someone, especially a young person, might add the so-called "friend" to their list.
If they do, they might click on a sex website, have their identity stolen, have their profile used to scam others or be ripped off financially.
He reported the fake profile to Facebook, in hopes it would be taken down before someone is fooled.
No such luck.
Instead, the social media company said it won't take down the fake profile.
In a response, Facebook said while its technology prioritizes and takes down content that doesn't meet community standards, including child exploitation, the post will stay up.
Somehow, despite the obvious sexualized content targeting youth, Facebook's algorithms didn't immediately see any harm in the fake profile.
In a statement, Facebook told Stewart:
"We understand that the content may be offensive or hurtful. Facebook is a global community and people express themselves differently. But we only take down content that goes against our standards. We review and update our standards regularly with the help of experts."
FACEBOOK PROCEDURES TOO SLOW
Stewart requested a further review.
However, he expects it will take several a days before someone has time to look at it, meanwhile teens from UK to Canada are being targeted.
"You realize this is a fake account, you report it, a week later there it’s still there," said Stewart.
"There's nothing you can do about the people that fake account has made friends with and is trying to harm. Facebook doesn’t seem to care that someone’s being scammed right now and they're not going do anything about it."
He thinks Facebook should hire more staff to weed out dangerous content or update procedures to handle complaints faster.
"Why not staff up to get rid of the back log so when you click review, it gets reviewed," said Stewart.
"There's no way to let Facebook know they are targeting 13 year olds. You can’t raise the urgency of the report, you can only report that it's sexual services, and you sit back and wait three or four days."
Stewart has himself been the subject of review because someone reported his content as being "political" and he had to provide a copy of his driver's license to prove his profile was real.
Something similar could be done quickly to determine fake profiles, he said.
MILLIONS LOST TO ROMANCE SCAMMERS
While social media has its benefits, Stewart believes, it can also be used to take advantage of people.
Recounting his own experience of having his photo stolen to catfish — luring someone into a relationship by means of a fictional online person — Stewart said the consequences of not quickly removing fake profiles are great.
He said he felt horrible when he learned his photo hand been used in the romance scam.
Fortunately, the woman who was being scammed searched the image on Google. When she identified the photo as the Coquitlam mayor, she reached out to him.
Stewart said she was just about to hand over $800 for a plane ticket to the scammer, when she realized the romance was a ruse.
Not only would she have been out the money, she might have been devastated to be left wondering why the person she grew to trust online never showed up at the airport.
Thankfully, she reached out just in time to avoid being hurt by the malicious and greedy stranger.
"She messaged me and was apologetic for what she was reporting," Stewart said.
"I know lots of others who have had their photos hijacked to be a third party, and to play this scam," he added, calling the romance scam "disgusting."
"These scams are intended to absolutely break some vulnerable person in the world for $800 bucks."
Recently, RCMP reported that 213 people lost more than $22 million to romance scammers in 2021.
However, Stewart hopes by spreading the word, people will be less susceptible to these type of crimes.
"The vaccine for that is knowledge, but better than a vaccine would be a cure and that would be for Facebook to take it seriously."