Gini Dietrich

Your Facebook Identity Was Stolen. Now What?

By: Gini Dietrich | January 30, 2013 | 

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, 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, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • PattiRoseKnight

    This is really scary….I keep telling my son to never post personal information on FB…or anywhere for that matter.  There are also those out there just waiting to take advantage of us if we let them.

    • @PattiRoseKnight It goes way beyond that, too. Make sure his privacy settings are set so only his friends can see his stuff. It can’t prevent his photos from being taken from Google, but it does prevent some of this other stuff.

      • PattiRoseKnight

        @ginidietrich actually he’s not on FB much so deactivated his page (whew)….I think the 18 year-olds don’t want hang where the parents hang. Plus he works and isn’t on much anyway.

  • cksyme

    It’s sad that there is no real way to prevent, or even stop this. As long as someone needs only an email address to set up a Facebook account, there will always be fraud. This is the dark side of social media. People have issues, and can be totally anonymous online. It’s the perfect breeding ground for crime. Thanks for drawing attention to this.  Your list of action steps is great. We need to keep encouraging people to watch over their privacy carefully. I really don’t think the social platforms are as concerned about privacy as they are about getting our data, IMO. It’s up to us to be proactive.

    • @cksyme I spoke to a college class last fall and, during the Q&A, a young woman raised her hand and said I was too strict on privacy and I needed to loosen my “rules” a bit. I asked her to explain. She said she posts things on Facebook, leaves them up for only a few days, and then deletes them so no one can find them, especially her future bosses or her parents. I asked her for her name and opened Google on the big screen in front of the entire classroom. I typed in her name and the second result was her Facebook account. I clicked on it and silently enjoyed showing her how all those things she deleted were found with two clicks of a button. She was horrified (I was gleeful) and she vowed to watch her privacy settings and what she posts more consistently.

      • cksyme

        @ginidietrich Wow–what a great visual. I do something similar when working with student-athletes. Their reaction always amazes me. It’s like the State Farm commercial–you know the one–the woman who finds the “French model”on the internet. People’s understanding of internet reality is skewed.

      • @ginidietrich  @cksyme I solve it by posting everything publicly except for cute quotes from my children. I only post those semi-privately because I don’t want to be deleting spam comments from those posts. 
        Because I have an almost entirely public profile, I make sure that everything I post is nothing I would be concerned about everyone in the world knowing – whether for embarrassing, business or privacy reasons. I post virtually no photos of my children. 
        The flip side of being public is that this can happen. But it *can* happen to almost anyone, so …

        • @AmyVernon  @cksyme I have a similar philosophy: If I don’t want the world to know it, I don’t post it. Though, I recently stopped using Foursquare because someone saw me check in to a movie theater and waited outside until the movie was over so he could meet me. It was harmless, but I was totally creeped out.

        • @ginidietrich  @cksyme Oh, ick! I often don’t check in until I’m leaving a location. And I find 4sq useful when I go to conferences. But that is very creepy.

        • @ginidietrich  Oh gawd! That would’ve totally freaked me out!

        • belllindsay

          @AmyVernon  @ginidietrich  @cksyme I have never used Foursquare, and I never will – and it’s EXACTLY because of what you have said here GIni. That is beyond creepy. People don’t need to know where I m at any given time (and more importantly, the fact that I’m NOT at home!).

        • jenzings

          @ginidietrich  @AmyVernon  @cksyme I’ve never even set up an account on Foursquare. I think anyone with a…shall we say…overly persistent person in their past immediately recoils at the idea of check ins.
          There are days when I think, “can’t we please just go back to 1985 or so?” This Monday was like that. I read the piece by Diane O’Meara (she’s the one whose image was used in the Te’o hoax), and then within a half an hour, I learned of Amy Vernon’s issue. It’s enough to put one off of social. At least for a half an hour or so.

        • @belllindsay  @AmyVernon  @ginidietrich  @cksyme Super creepy…i read a similar story once about a journalist who recieved a breathy phone call at a restaurant he had checked into on foursquare and he never used it again. ever since, then, I won’t use it. Then again, it could be useful…I read another story where a girl used it so her friends and family knew the last place she was if she ever went missing. Either way, it’s kinda creepy.

      • debdobson62

        @ginidietrich  I’ve done the same thing during presentations where I was told the same thing about being too strict.  Love the reaction of horror.

  • lbatzer

    Hearing about ID theft any any fashion and seeing it in action are two different things.  Thank you for post today.  It made me shiver to see Amy’s photo used on a fraud account.  While I don’t know her, it is creepy to think that people would do this.

    • @lbatzer Isn’t that awful? When I saw it earlier this week, I actually gasped out loud.

      • @ginidietrich  @lbatzer It’s really creepy to see your own face looking back at you with someone else’s name under it. Especially someone who likes Subway. I mean, REALLY.

  • HowieG

    This goes beyond the ‘people lie on their personal information’ which the main driver behind the flaw with influence which I think even @dannybrown can’t get around. Look at the info on my facebook page. Nothing is real. In fact you and I got piercings in the Ukraine per my timeline.
    And we know about fake accounts and how nothing is safe on Facebook.

    • @HowieG We did?! Did we have fun? Where are the piercings?

      • HowieG

        @ginidietrich I got my septum pierced and you had both eye brows. Facebook doesn’t require proof of anything for timeline. Yes we had a blast.

        • belllindsay

          @HowieG  @ginidietrich Thank you for keeping it PG. 😉

  • This made me ‘oh my god’ earlier this week when I saw it. It is really nuts. And on the heels of that I discovered that Facebook had reset my default privacy setting to public posts. It is a matter of always being diligent I guess.

    • @katskrieger Mr. D and I JUST had this very conversation. Facebook always resets and plays with the settings. We have to be diligent in checking them consistently.

  • I’m so glad you addressed this subject and provided some “how to” tips for anyone who experiences this in the future. It’s hard to believe that anyone would go to the lengths this “person” did in stealing @AmyVernon ‘s images but clearly it happens. And will happen again. It is so important that we talk about this and remind people to be careful.

    • @allenmireles  And thank you for your help in getting images and background information.

      • HowieG

        @ginidietrich  @allenmireles  Allen I saw your photos on P-Diddy’s Facebook Account. The one with you sporting the thick gold chain.

        • @HowieG  @ginidietrich I thought it was a good look for me. And you know Gini can wear anything. 😉

  • Scary stuff. And despite our conversation yesterday, I”m not sure I want to meet you now. I have a feeling you are really some guy named seanmcginnis

    • @KenMueller  seanmcginnis Trust me…if I could have no relation to Sean, I would.

      • @ginidietrich  seanmcginnis But I fear you really LOOK like him.

        • @KenMueller  seanmcginnis I don’t. I’m too short. And I have hair.

  • AmeenaFalchetto1

    Wow, goosebumps! WHAT on earth?! How did Amy find out?
    I watched Catfish last year and that was really unsettling but not surprising about fake identities online. It’s super scary how much personal information is online – I know a lot of families who’s kids pictures have been stolen for a range of purposes which always reinforces our stance to keep BiP’s identity as vague and limited as possible.

    • @AmeenaFalchetto1 An acquaintance who had mutual friends with this person saw the avatar pic and immediately recognized me.

      • AmeenaFalchetto1

        @AmyVernon Wow, so if they’d not had a mutual friend it could have gone undetected?! SCARY!

        • @AmeenaFalchetto1 Yep. Reminds me that I need to check for my photos on TinEye/Google Image Search more often.

        • jenzings

          @AmyVernon  @AmeenaFalchetto1 Okay, perhaps I am having a brain dead moment, but how would an image search work with ferreting out this sort of thing, if the image (of you) was associated with another person’s name? I just did an image search, and my name is connected to a lot of other people’s pictures, because, for example, I’ve commented on a blog, or used their photo in a blog post, etc.

        • AmeenaFalchetto1

          @jenzings  It’s not perfect but you can search in google images for your pics and visually similar ones. Drag and drop a profile pic and you’ll see some weird stuff. I do this a lot to find the pesky people out there who use my illustrations without crediting me as the artist!

        • @jenzings  @AmeenaFalchetto1 No, an image search where it’s searching the images. TinEye is the simplest to do that.

        • AmeenaFalchetto1

          @AmyVernon  @jenzings TinEye doesn’t seem to pull up any of my images – yet the Google Image search I described shows all the places the image has been used.

    • @AmeenaFalchetto1 Crazy, huh?? You’re very smart about BiP. You even go as far as to post just pictures of the back of her head. I think that’s really smart.

  • kentjulia

    Nailed it. Awesome post! xo

  • Engage121

    Thanks for the reminder to double check my privacy settings.

  • First of all, any blog post that touts an upcoming Jason Bateman movie is genius.  🙂
    While I live my online life assuming that everyone will see everything I post (or as my husband likes to say – I post like I intend to run for office), these types of posts always result in my stepson getting another lecture in online privacy.  It always shocks me how “private” teens and college kids think social sites are.  
    We have a subscription to a service that tracks our credit for us and alerts us if anything is wrong.  Hate that we have to pay for a service that assumes something may happen, but it’s great peace of mind! 
    The photo stealing doesn’t bother quite as much.  As an identical twin, I would just make it her problem.  Ha!

    • @HeatherTweedy I can’t wait for that movie. It looks HILARIOUS!

  • belllindsay

    Sweet baby jane, my mother’s maiden name!!!?? I never thought of going the route for that. Whoa. That seriously gave me pause. I had my identity stolen IRL once. It wasn’t wide reaching, but DID involve my social insurance # (your social security #) – and income taxes, etc.., what a nightmare! And of course who was tasked with cleaning up the mess and dealing with the multiple levels of government? Moi. It’s very easy for someone to use your ID. The best thing you can do is be diligent, keep solid records of your own, always check bank statements or tax receipts, etc., and as @ginidietrich mentions here – ALWAYS double check your online privacy settings.

    • @belllindsay Sweet baby jane?! Are you serious? LOL!!

      • belllindsay

        @ginidietrich You said I’m not allowed to swear cause of, you know, ‘her’.

  • Aimee West

    Whew! So glad I just did this…

  • This is scary…I’ve never had my identity stolen, but know i need to be more careful about passwords and sharing too much information. My credit card number has been stolen plenty of times and that’s scary enough! Great tips Gini.

    • @yvettepistorio I kind of want to steal your identity now.

      • belllindsay

        @ginidietrich  @yvettepistorio I just want her credit card number. Cause apparently it’s ‘easy’.

  • Gini,
    Thanks fo the mention!
    It seems like nothing ever ceases to amaze us and disturb us. Sorry to hear about this, Amy. In regards to the Te’o story, Hawaii has an incredibly high identity theft rate compared to most states. Crazy, crazy stuff.

  • Another tip: Search for your photos on Tin Eye and/or Google Image Search every now and again. Someone did it the other day in response to what happened to me, and she discovered that one of her photos pointed to a porn site.

    • @AmyVernon YES! Thank you! I need to add that in the tips as an update.

  • 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!

    • @kateupdates  Something about a bum stealing your identity is hilarious to me.

      • belllindsay

        @ginidietrich  @kateupdates Me too. Eeeep. We are bad people. LOL

        • @belllindsay  @ginidietrich OMG guys. In that case, I won’t even tell you how the bum got my identity in the first place … LMAO

  • 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.

    • @ErinMAdler It may be worth noting that Manti Te’o was targeted by Facebook friends of his.  It was a prank set up by a family friend and NFL football player.  A careful reminder to make sure that people are selective about who they friend and give access to.

    • @ErinMAdler That happened to Danny Brown a few months ago. It was REALLY disturbing. We watched it all happen going, WTH?!?

  • Josie C

    Very informative!

  • 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.

    • @LisaMarieMary I haven’t even heard about this. Really?!?

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

  • 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.

    • @Rusti-AnnBlanke  That is just wrong. I would go insane and break some knees at Twitter HQ if that happened to me.

  • 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!

    • 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?

      • @TonyBennett I’m not sure I can claim ownership of it. I only do it for relatives and employees. Everyone else I comment on their walls.

  • 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.

    • @rdopping If you’re going to suggest a football player stole your identity, why not make it Tom Brady? He’s hot.

      • @ginidietrich  @rdopping But Kaepernick is going to win the ring. And the Bears were a big part of that!

  • 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?

    • 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.

    • @tressalynne I don’t get it. They removed the photo and apologized? I’d want to know WHY they did that.

      • @ginidietrich Yeah. Exactly. Creepy.

        • @tressalynne  @ginidietrich They woudn’t respond why? I’d love to interview this person and find out what was behind it.

        • @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.

  • Gini Dietrich

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

  • Arment Dietrich, Inc.

    That’s why I will not be watching Identity Theft! ^yp

  • Gini Dietrich

    Oh come on! It looks hilarious!

  • Arment Dietrich, Inc.

    The name just scares me…

  • How creepy for poor Amy. This may very well be the tip of the iceberg…especially for our kids as they grow older. They are not very “privacy savvy.”

    • @spinchick When you shared this on LinkedIn, I literally laughed out loud.

    • @spinchick It’s amazing how un-savvy many younger people are about privacy. And don’t care, because they don’t realize the importance of some privacy.

  • CharlesArment

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

    • @CharlesArment Wow, Charles, it’s been a long time. Welcome back!

      • @barrettrossie  @CharlesArment I’m kind of freaked out you’re back from the dead!

        • belllindsay

          @ginidietrich  @barrettrossie  @CharlesArment BAHAHAHA!!! Nothing has ever been as good as this right here. Never. Maybe in my whole life. Including two marriages and the birth of my son.

        • @belllindsay  @ginidietrich  @barrettrossie  @CharlesArment I’m sorry if this is insensitive, but is Charles really dead? Was this an example, as a joke?

        • @ExtremelyAvg  @belllindsay  @ginidietrich He’s a lot like Mitch from “Touched.”

        • @barrettrossie  @belllindsay  @ginidietrich I get it now, he’s fictional.  Thanks! I’m glad he isn’t dead.

        • rdopping

          @ExtremelyAvg @barrettrossie @belllindsay @ginidietrich Pure gold. Brian, I encourage you to Google Charles and see what’s what.

        • @rdopping  @ExtremelyAvg  @barrettrossie  Poor Charles.

        • @ginidietrich  @rdopping  @ExtremelyAvg  @barrettrossie I never knew the story of Charles Arment! lolol. I love you, Gini. Don’t tell @tinu – OK, you can tell Tinu.

  • 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.

    • @ExtremelyAvg Scary, right?! Do you have your browser secure? It’s under “privacy settings” and the “security.” You’ll check the box that says, “Enable secure browsing.”

    • @ExtremelyAvg I also have my FB settings so it pings me if I sign in on a new computer/IP address, it sends me an email and text message to make sure it was me.

  • 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….??

  • Dan Holden

    Gini I posted on a similar incident a couple of years ago where a friend and I actually watched an imposter compile a facebook profile using another friend’s photos and data, and then actually contact all of HIS friends in an attempt to scam them.  My post is here, FYI

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  • BOO! I can be anyone I want online. Even a cow on Livefyre! But a damn cute cow none the less.

  • ThinyDink

    In Facebook. A Filipino guy took everything from me. Stole my real name and my photos. When i noticed him i reported him then Facebook disabled my account. I was ready to show my identify card or my passport. No chance. Never put your real name or your personal photos in Facebook

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  • christine

    sooo i found a lot of different fb accounts with my husbands pic. all with different names. i found out because one of the girls that was a friend on one of the profiles, alerted me to it. he swears someone else had to of created the profiles, that it wasnt him. i guess its possible. but dont know if I believe him.

  • jacquez

    Email interception
    Text message interception
    Password retrieval
    Databases hack
    Clearing of criminal records
    Grade Changes
    Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn/Skype Hack
    Bank Transfers
    University grades changing
    Software hack
    Phone hack
    Retrieval of lost files and documents.
    Contact solely on