Unless you’ve been living inside of a golden lamp for the last 200 years, you’ve probably heard that Disney is creating a live action remake of the classic 1992 film, Aladdin. The movie is set to premiere in May of this year, and based on what the trailers are showing, it looks like viewers can anticipate the breathtaking landscapes and extravagant costumes that one would only expect from such an iconic tale. However, as I excitedly prepare for the cinematic beauty that this film will hold, I have to wonder how a plot centered around a street-rat scamming a young princess into thinking he’s a prince would play out in 2019. Between security checks and phishing scams, a lot has changed since this story was originally told, and with these changes has come an enhanced technology to protect people against the Aladdins of the world: blockchain! Indeed, in this new era of information storage and tamper-free software, how will this classic storyline unfold in a more critical modern day society, and how has blockchain technology changed the game for scammers near and far?
Aladdin, the charming scammer
Aladdin tells the story of a poor street-rat who falls in love with a princess. Upon realizing that their worlds are not meant to coincide, he uses the power of a genie to become a prince in hopes of winning her over. While Aladdin’s efforts to change who he is and meet the standards of his one true love are admirable, his ability to trick the entire royal family about his identity is concerning. Overlooking the fact that this is an animated (and entirely fictional) film, it is still unsettling to think about how easily a nobody from the streets was able to scam those who should have the highest level of security and protection. Wouldn’t the king have wanted to run at least some background checks on this prince he had never heard of? Additionally, the fact that he had inconsistent information about his past was highly questionable. In a 2019 scenario, a person with a fluctuating storyline or no traceable history would be flagged immediately as suspicious. On the other hand, a true modern day scammer would know everything they possibly could about their new identity, and create the most convincing argument for their role. Aladdin was clearly an amateur, who didn’t think through every aspect of his fraud, making the whole impostor scam all the more questionable.
In 1992, when Aladdin’s romantic magic carpet ride stole the hearts of audience members around the world, were people really that concerned with identity theft and fraud? Certainly, the concept of pretending to be someone you’re not long out-dates this Disney classic. But when we compare the societal shift that has occurred in the last 27 years, the discourse around ‘identity theft’ has changed greatly.
Nowadays, you can’t apply for a job or even download an app without some form of verification process, and people are (generally) more cognisant of who they interact with online. However, despite these efforts to create a more secure online environment, scamming is more rampant than ever. In 2017, the Federal Trade Commission received around 2.7 million complaints surrounding fraud, with the primary incidences being debt collection, identity theft, and imposter scams. You might be thinking: Well, if a crazy good-looking prince arrives at my door leading the Macy’s Day Parade, I’ll just look him up on Facebook and make sure he’s legit. You might think even if he had a fake account, it would be easy to spot based on a low number of friends or photos you find out are stock using reverse Google image search. But plenty of people are fooled by fake Facebook accounts, and in a lot of cases Facebook is a powerful scamming tool. Those who use Instagram and Snapchat are at nearly a 50% greater risk of fraud than people who choose to not use social media. So social media on its own is really no way to catch a con man.
Blockchain to the rescue!
Enter blockchain. The technology that has changed the game for security and information storage around the world. By maintaining a record of every interaction or exchange that occurs, blockchain technology ensures that personal data is kept safe from any interference or third-party adjustments. Once information is recorded, it cannot be altered without showing evidence that the changes have been made. While most people have come to associate blockchain with cryptocurrencies, this technology is not limited to crypto transactions. Indeed, blockchain is being used for storing all sorts of data and has proven successful in keeping personal information safe; confidential information and data pertaining to one’s identity can be securely recorded, and incorruptible.
If e-mail, messaging apps, and social networks were refitted with blockchain infrastructure and identity management utilities, then you could know for sure when people really are what they seem. If someone were to alter information about themselves in order to create a fake facade, the person being scammed would be aware of this change due to blockchain’s record of all information adjustments. Just think what would have happened if Jasmine were to have looked on a blockchain-backed Facebook only to discover that Aladdin’s name suddenly changed to Prince Ali! One simple check and his whole impostor scam would have been done! Thankfully, Aladdin’s intentions, though still illegal, were pure. However, not everyone that gets met by impostors is as lucky, and it’s important to know that who you’re interacting with online is exactly who they say they are.
Whether it’s a fictional Disney princess or a teenager who just loves talking to people on the internet, keeping your personal information safe and secure is critical in this interconnected, online society. Even if you think you know who you’re interacting with online, you can never be too careful, and that’s why blockchain is just the tool we need to ensure that our identities are kept safe, not only for us, but for everyone we interact with as well. If you’re someone that uses technology for all of your most important interactions and storing needs, remember, you ain’t never had a friend like blockchain!
About the author: Ștefan Neagu is co-founder of Persona. See his author profile for more information.