KUSA - Having your identity stolen no longer refers to just having your credit card or social security information hijacked. People are now stealing your image and pretending to be someone they're not online.
This past week, I discovered the creepiest thing on Facebook. Someone stole my identity and used it as their own! My image and my family's image were used. It's called "catfishing" - when someone disguises themselves as someone else. I've learned most people do it in an attempt to flirt with other people, making them think they're someone they're not.
It all started on New Year's Eve when I noticed I had five new followers on my 9NEWS Facebook page. I clicked to see who they were and noticed one of them had a picture of me as their profile picture. I thought it was weird, so I decided to click on their profile. That's when things got even creepier. The person's name was "Bernard" and he lived in France. Not only did he use a picture of me as his profile pic, but he also used a picture of me as his cover photo and uploaded more than 70 additional pictures of me that I initially posted to my own page.
Even worse, "Bernard" uploaded pictures of my nephew Mason and explained to people how Mason was "his son." All of his posts were written in French so I used an online translator to see what he was saying. Women on the page wrote how cute Mason was and the guy responded, "Yes, he's looking for a mother after my wife and I split. We should meet sometime."
I contacted Facebook immediately and reported how the person stole my identity. Within two minutes they confirmed it and had his page taken down.
"People can steal your image, your name, even your words from your posts - your online digital footprint," 9NEWS Digital Content Manager Misty Montano said.
Montano said most of the time people who "catfish" aren't happy with their own lives so they try and replicate someone else's.
"They can be someone else. Maybe they don't like themselves; maybe they have low self esteem; perhaps they don't like the way they look in photos," Montano added.
Unfortunately, there's not a lot you can do if you find someone is stealing your image on Facebook, Twitter or other social media sites. All you can do is report them and hope the site takes down their page.
Montano has the following tips to protect online identity and to make sure your new friend is real:
1. Nothing you put online is private and secure. Even social networks that claim to be private get hacked. Only post online what you want known by the general public.
2. Know the privacy policies of the social networks you use so you can set the security and privacy settings to the highest levels possible and know how to report someone for impersonation.
3. Decide how much you are willing to share about your family members, specifically about your child or children. In 2012, a study by Javelin Strategy and Research found that at least 2.5 percent of U.S. households with children under age 18 experienced child identity fraud.
4. Track your name and the names of your kids online through Google Alerts or Brandyourself.com to check for impersonation.
5. Become an Internet sleuth to track the digital footprint of new online friends. It's a red flag if your new friend's online stories don't match what he or she is telling you.
6. Perform reverse image searches on photos of those you think may not really be who they say they are. Google and Tineye.com are examples of free services, but pay services are available as well.
7. Ask new friends to do a video call with you using services like Skype, Facetime, or Google Hangout. It's a red flag if your new friend is hesitant or continues to make up excuses to not video conference with you.
If you want to learn more about catfishing and how to deal with it, here's a helpful link: http://tinyurl.com/kwp4tn3
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