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What to do when someone is impersonating as you online

cat-impersonatorYesterday, a friend of mine found out that someone had created fake social media accounts using photos of her family which includes photos of her and her husband and her kids. This person seems to be trying to create her own identity based on the photos she has downloaded from my friends blog and public social media accounts. Though this is scary when you find out it has happened to you, social media fraud actually happens all of the time.

The internet is full of sociopaths. Because you can hide behind computers and smartphones, you can create whatever identity you want. All you need is photos. You can get photos from anywhere, because we all share them publicly. Even though all of the major social media websites have privacy settings which allow you protect who can view your content and who can not, people still seem to leave it wide open.

The problem with social media is that we want everybody to see what we are up to. If we block too many people, nobody will see us. Because we want to be seen or heard, we leave things wide open, or close to it.

Here are some things to think about and do when someone is impersonating as you online:

1. This happens to many people who post stuff online. People with nothing but time on their hands do stuff like this to be able to craft a life they wish they had. This means you are doing something right because you apparently are reflecting a life that people would want to mirror. It is what happens when you post a lot of content including photos, names and other information to the “open web.”

The only way to avoid this would be to stop posting your content in the public arena. If you blog, it’s highly likely that your content is open to the public. Be prepared to be scrutinized by the internet which includes the full gamut of people in our world.

2. When you come across profiles or sites that appear to be impersonating as you, you should flag everything you come across and report it to the websites that it is posted on. This most frequently happens on social media sites so this is actually easy. Just flag everything and eventually the fake accounts will be closed. Get your real friends to flag the photos and profiles as well. The more reporting that happens the better. Make sure you encourage your friends not to bully the person. You can to remain the victim here. You or your friends could end up causing more of a scene then the one impersonating you did.

For the time being, I would also suggest that you go private with all of your social media until the situation is cleared up. You can also harness the power of your social network of friends to go after this person. You can tag, reply, comment and do all sorts of things with that person’s username to make it hard for them to exist using it without a trail of content following these accounts that describes them as fake.

3. Are you in imminent danger or this impersonator? Most likely not. It is probably some bored person who wishes they had what you have. The “hot chicks” of the internet who post selfies all day long have this issue quite often. People create fake personas using their photos so they could be looked up to by others. It’s like the movie, “Can’t buy me love,” but without the payment and the fake relationship. Thousands of people deal with this each day. All you can do is flag the accounts and contact the social media sites using the appropriate methods outlined in their Terms of Service. As long as people continue to crave attention and affection from others, this will continue to be a problem for those who choose to post publicly about themselves and their life.

It’s time consuming and annoying, but it’s what happens when you post publicly to the web. To prevent this, you could simply post privately and only allow your friends to see it but then you would lose the ability to help people you don’t know with your words. There is a trade off.

Alternatively, you could choose to post your text content publically and share your photos privately. Facebook and Google+ allow you to decide who sees your content on a post by post basis. Twitter and Instagram take an all or nothing approach by giving you one option to make your content private. People can either see your content if you approve them, or they are blocked from seeing your content in it’s entirety.

4. You can also contact the person at the profiles and let them know that a police report has been filed and they are looking into tracking the IP address that has been posting this content. That should be enough to scare them into deleting the accounts themselves. Actually contacting the authorities might not do anything at all unless there was an imminent threat. Sure this is lying to them, but it could scare them enough to close the account and move on to the next person. Chances are that this is not the first time they have done this. You would be surprised how many false identities people have gone through.

Post to your blog and other “public” places online that you have filed a report and an investigation is going into tracking the following accounts, list usernames and even link to the accounts, and then mention that they will be running an IP Tracer on the uploaded content. Social networks know which IP address was used to post content and Internet Service Providers (ISP) know which customer of theirs was actually using that IP. Though it is near impossible to actually do an IP Trace without the appropriate access and warrants and what have you, it could be enough to scare the impersonator.

Look through the friends or followers that these fake accounts have. See if there are any weird trends that look like there might be other fake accounts using photos and posts from other people. Look at the friends of those accounts and see if there are any “normal” looking profiles who seem to be friends of all of these people. Perhaps you can pinpoint who is behind all of this. However, this will be hard to do and may even be a waste of your time.

I have had run-ins with impersonation online. My company DailyAppShow.Com was copied to the point where all text content, photos and videos were copied over to a new website. I had clients contacting me asking if we make a copy of our website. I have been blogging and posting content online since 1995 and I have had to flag some accounts here and there. It comes with being part of the internet.

Lastly: Don’t lose any sleep over this. Sure it may be hard to clean up but it’s not the end of the world. I highly doubt you or anyone included in this impersonation are at any risk. The internet is full of people with antisocial personality disorders.

People will also jump to conclusions because they most likely have not heard of this happening to someone they know before. I saw someone post on my friends Facebook page that it is most likely a child predator and the post made it sound like my friend should lock up her children and prepare for the Lifetime channel to do a movie about what is happening to her family. This is not the case. Though you should take extra precaution just in case, it is most likely just someone online trying to be someone they are not. Allowing this impersonator to upset you is allowing them to win. They are probably not doing this to hurt you directly, they just want to be someone they are not. Like I said, this happens all day every day on the internet.

Here are some links to help you with reporting impersonation violations:

Have you had an experience with having some form of your identity impersonated online?