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Gini Dietrich

Your Facebook Identity Was Stolen. Now What?

By: Gini Dietrich | January 30, 2013 | 
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A couple of weeks ago, I was at dinner with Mr. D and our friend Matt Cermak. We talked about whether or not we thought Manti Te’o made up a fake girlfriend for publicity.

Typically the cynical one of the group, I took Te’o's side stating I can understand how something like this happens.

I spend a lot of time online. I’ve made friends with people online and then met them in person and have been disappointed to learn their personas don’t match. And that’s minor. Making up an entirely fake profile? It can happen. I get it.

To have someone go to those lengths, though? To create a persona, “find” a Heisman finalist and potential first round NFL draft pick, and romance him into a long-distance relationship? That’s quite the elaborate prank. Imagine having to keep that one a secret.

Whether or not he was complicit in the hoax remains to be seen, but for now, I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt.

It Can Happen to You

It turns out you don’t have to be a famous college football player be pranked online.

You may remember a few weeks ago, Amy Vernon was featured here on #FollowFriday.

Take a look at the photo and introduction I used in that blog post:

Now take a look at a Facebook profile Amy found of one Melissa Dugan:

Look eerily familiar? It’s because it’s the same person. But Melissa doesn’t exist. Or perhaps she does and she doesn’t want to use her own photos so she stole those of Amy.

It doesn’t stop there. Melissa’s likes include guns, racist groups (even going as far as using really awful racial slurs), and Subway. Amy is the polar opposite (even claiming to like Blimpie’s instead of Subway).

Not only did she steal Amy’s photos, she said she was “with Gerald E. Tanner Sr” in her photo and he commented on it. Twice!

Who are these people?!

You can see this particular photo was posted in July, but all of this person’s photos from July on were of Amy:

It took months for Amy to discover this had happened. In her own words, it’s not the end of the world. It’s just her face. They didn’t steal her name. But it’s shocking none-the-less.

How it Happens

She is lucky they didn’t steal her name or her credit cards or her social security number or her passwords. She immediately contacted Facebook and, while it took them several days to respond, they did remove Melissa Dugan’s profile.

But what if this person (or people) had done more than steal her photos?

It’s turning into a big business: Thieves stealing your online identity. Amy is extremely sophisticated and technologically savvy. If you want to get to her profile, you truly have to be her friend.

But many, many people use Facebook thinking only their friends can see their profiles so they post their birthday, names of family members, their home address, pet’s names, cars they’ve owned…in other words answers to the most common security questions a credit card company or bank will ask you before giving you online access to your accounts.

Armed with this kind of information, they then go to LinkedIn to learn more about your professional history. Then they go to Ancestry.com, create a fake account, and begin to pilfer through to see if they can find the Holy Grail of information about you: Your mother’s maiden name.

What to Do

If you’re like Amy and someone only steals your photos, you can appeal directly to Facebook (or the social network where the offense happened). They aren’t exactly fast, but if you can prove you are who you say you are, they’ll remove the offender’s account…and not let them back on.

Also, please, please, please review your settings to make sure they’re as secure as you think they are.

Do this by going into Facebook and clicking on the wheel-looking icon in the far right corner. Click that and scroll down to “privacy settings.”

Make sure all of your settings are set up for friends only. You’ll want to check these settings at least once a month because Facebook is always messing with privacy.

More than Photo Theft

But let’s say the theft is beyond your photo. Following are seven things you must do to protect yourself:

  1. Call one of the major credit reporting services and put a fraud alert on your account. Check out Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion.
  2. Call the credit card companies and alert them to the fraudulent activity, especially if they’ve managed to open accounts in your name.
  3. Contact your local police. When you talk to the detectives, write down their names and badge numbers as most fraud alerts will require this.
  4. Call the Federal Trade Commission and file a complaint. They can be reached at 1-877-IDTHEFT.
  5. Change ALL of the passwords you use online. If you need a safe and secure place to keep your passwords, check out these services.
  6. Set up a Google alert on your name so you are alerted if there is any suspicious activity.
  7. See Identity Thief when it hits movie theaters next month.

Even if it’s as “harmless” as someone stealing your photos or pretending to be your girlfriend long-distance, the betrayal felt is very real.

Has your identity ever been stolen? What tips would you add to this list?

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the lead blogger here at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. She is the co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Her second book, Spin Sucks, is available now.

104 comments
Nic_Cartwright
Nic_Cartwright

Identity Theft etc is scary stuff...  I had an issue a few years ago where the credit report folk told me I had a problem - but did not know what it was or how it had appeared...  I used the "hide under the duvet and hope they go away" defense technique - and in the end, it seems, that approach worked.

 

But like you say - tech savvy (or at least privacy aware) folk are easily messed with - so gawd help those that are in the dark - there is minimal good knowledge or expertise to competently deal with a determined thief (witness NY times)....  And nowadays - the plots get more complex, and the folk get more clever...

 

Who knows....  Spin Sucks...??  The greatest long game in corporate fraud ever.....???  Could be - after all Gini Dietrich = surely made up name....??

 

 

ExtremelyAvg
ExtremelyAvg

Okay, so I did like you suggested Gini and I changed my privacy settings. Then I saw something called security. It seems I was logged on to ten different sessions. Three were me, which was fine, but the rest were troubling. I was logged on in Cedar Rapids, which admittedly is near to where I'm at, presently, but I was also logged on in Pennsylvania and Cleveland.

 

How very troubling indeed.

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CharlesArment
CharlesArment

Great post Gini. This can happen to anyone. Can you meet me in my office tomorrow morning at, say, 6:30?

Gini Dietrich
Gini Dietrich

It's really scary! I freaked myself out while writing the blog post.

tressalynne
tressalynne

I was shocked a couple weeks ago to find someone tweeting using MY Twitter pic. I publicly tweeted a request that they immediately stop using my photo, and I contacted Twitter. Twitter replied immediately asking me to fax a copy of my drivers license to prove I am who I claimed to be, which I did, but before Twitter could reprimand or suspend the account, the person removed my photo and apologized. I don't get it. To what end would someone do this? 

rdopping
rdopping

I'm safe. No one would steal my mug. If I ever show up on this site please be aware that its not me. I think Drew Bledsow has stolen my identity. I can't confirm this at the moment but I am getting close. All kidding aside this reality that we have to live with is sad and shocking. It really is too bad.

TonyBennett
TonyBennett

Thanks for the info.. this is terribly disturbing and I've heard more and more instances of this.  Perhaps I really need to start the Suphero SM Protection Plan!

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Rusti-AnnBlanke
Rusti-AnnBlanke

On a slightly different note, I've lost count of the number of times my avatar has been swiped and used by a fake account on Twitter. And, since I generally only found out when someone else noticed and kindly reported it to me, I'm guessing that it happened way more often than I was made aware.  Yes, it's *only* my photo and not my identity, but it kind of put a damper on the whole twitter experience for me, particularly since @twitter won't (or can't?) do anything about it. Twitter regards it to be spam, not impersonation.

LisaMarieMary
LisaMarieMary

Totally unrelated to identity theft or online persona theft, but there is another twist that goofballs like to pull off on Facebook. They completely mimic your profile pic with a pic of themselves. You're wearing a red turtleneck, leaning on your elbows on a tall counter, with a giant smile? They make a picture of themselves doing exactly that and then friend request you. It may have just been one of the online comics (youtube) doing that. I can't remember exactly where I heard it. But it would definitely make you feel weird that's for sure. 

ErinMAdler
ErinMAdler

This is the best post related to the Manti Teo saga. It's really important information and I'm constantly checking Facebook and my privacy settings. My Aunt recently had someone hack into her Facebook account and impersonate her. The person would contact her friends and family through Facebook Chat and mention needing money because my Aunt's husband was robbed while traveling overseas. She knew some information about her personal life but luckily not enough that when questioned by friends or family it was suspicious. It took Facebook over two days to suspend the account and knock the person off.

KateFinley
KateFinley

Wow. @AmyVernon that's horrible. It's amazing to me, how people justify being immoral in this way. I had my identity stolen by a bum once. He only bought gas and groceries by the time they tracked him down but it was still hundreds of dollars.

 

Thanks @ginidietrich for sharing this how-to. I'll share it on my FB page and it's a good reminder to refresh my passwords ... going to do that now!

Rusti-AnnBlanke
Rusti-AnnBlanke

 @tressalynne To what end?  Good question. I wondered if "this" is what people get when they buy twitter followers - stolen photos on made up accounts, but that doesn't explain the tweets. What I did notice, was that the tweets these phonies posted were also stolen, i.e., repeating something that I or someone else had recently said in a chat, for example. I found that quite puzzling - thought it might be a ploy to illustrate the *authenticity* of the fake accounts to their buyers, maybe?  As for Twitter's response, I had to produce proof of my identity once, but in the end each of the dozen or more times I reported Twitters response was it was not impersonation, it was spam - so block and report...so I finally quit reporting it to Twitter altogether...and pretty much quit Twitter too.  

TonyBennett
TonyBennett

And I'm sorry, my latest conversation wasn't on a picture... why doesn't it have my FAB title of my last post?  Ughh, like it'd make a difference anyway.  and BTW @ginidietrich Did I unknowingly steal the "help wish a happy birthday to_____" concept from you or did you just like how I rolled?

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tressalynne
tressalynne

@ginidietrich Yeah. Exactly. Creepy.

LisaMarieMary
LisaMarieMary

 @ginidietrich Yeah, just to squeak you out for the laughs. Give you the heebie jeebies, they laugh, party over.

tressalynne
tressalynne

 @AmyVernon  @ginidietrich The account was under the name @ArgmammaGunilla but it has since been suspended (just checked) and there doesn't seem to be much else in that name. 

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  1. [...] Dietrich postsed on her popular blog SpinSucks.com a story her friend that experienced Facebook photo theft. It is quite simple. Someone steals photo off a Facebook profile, then creats a new Facebook [...]

  2. [...] Your Facebook Identity Was Stolen. Now What? [...]