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Online Identity Theft

IDENTITY THEFT

When you think of identity theft, what springs to mind? The importance of shredding sensitive documents? The importance of divulging your personal information to only those you highly trust?

What about online identity theft? Shredding documents doesn’t help prevent it. How easy would it be for someone to steal your online identity?

The answer to that is “probably easier than you think”.

It is hard to believe that it has been about a month since I last wrote about the situation I went through with my Twitter identity being stolen. The experience was utterly exhausting. I have seen daily traffic on the various links I have already posted about this situation and have been trying to find the time and energy to write an update to it since there is obviously an interest. Today is the day I am finally posting the next installment regarding the Twitter identity theft incident I experienced. I urge you to view the previous information I have written on this topic. All Twitter identity theft posts are being linked back to the Why I Left Twitter link in the left sidebar under NAVIGATION.

Remember this?

R.I.P.
Twitter account known as @jeanneendo
July 13, 2008 – November 11, 2009

Twitter_Blog

Identity theft is not something to be taken lightly. In the course of my experience, I encountered people who laughed it off. I am not certain whether people took the identity theft less seriously because it occurred online, because it did not involve someone draining money out of my bank account, or what?

I cannot emphasize enough that identity theft is serious.

Quite frankly… having someone steal my face, steal my reputation, steal what people thought was my name (it was just one letter off and many people were fooled into thinking they were interacting with me on Twitter rather than an identity thief), and post the blog link to my hard work on this very blog within the fake Twitter account was a bigger violation than if someone had robbed my bank account. In essence, this person stole me! Many, many of my “Twitter friends” believed that the impostor was me, had conversations with the impostor, or knew that it was an impostor and engaged in conversation anyway! (This last part was spectacularly unhelpful).

Let me be clear. This person was taking credit for my body of work. My “Twitter friends” were retweeting blog posts I had written and attributing them to the impostor’s Twitter account. My “Twitter friends” were sending out “Follow Friday” recommendations intending to recommend that people follow my account on Twitter but in their confusion they were posting the impostor’s Twitter account. In short, the impostor was believed by enough people that I was hammered with questions (on Twitter, on my blog, by email for those who had my email address, on Facebook, etc.) No human being could possibly keep up with the volume of questions I was getting such as:

What is going on with your Twitter account? (Hmm. There is no short answer to that).

Why did you send me an email inviting me to follow you on Twitter if I already follow you? (These astute people were questioning the automated email they got from Twitter triggered by the impostor going down the list and following every single person linked to my account, which is publicly visible).

Why don’t you just change your Twitter background so that it’s different from the impostor’s? (If only it were that simple. The impostor mimicked every move I made. This would have confused people even more).

Why is someone doing this to your account? (Now that was a loaded question)…

I was the victim of online identity theft. My face, blog link, Twitter name (one letter off), and Twitter background were used to create an account designed to look like mine. Whoever created this account was actually posing as me and having conversations with my contacts on Twitter.

This identity theft was not caused by any carelessness on my part. It is important to note that this could happen to anyone. In fact, one of my fellow bloggers, Endochick, had the same thing happen to her just days after my identity was stolen on Twitter.

I am not suggesting that this is commonplace or trying to instill fear in anyone. My intent is to help people understand that this type of identity theft can happen to anyone. It is quite easy to “clone” a Twitter account, actually. Once I had been managing the fallout of my Twitter identity theft for a couple of days, it became readily apparent how the individual who “cloned” my account went about doing it.

It quickly became apparent that any public tweets I sent would be used as fodder by the impostor. Every warning I tried to send, every attempt I made to communicate with my Twitter contacts was mimicked by the impostor on the fake account, adding to the confusion for my Twitter contacts. When I then tried to direct message people, the impostor quoted distinctive phrases I had used in those direct messages. Whether my direct messages had been breached or whether some of my Twitter contacts had been tricked into sharing what I had said with the impostor (thinking they were talking with me), I don’t know. All I know was I stopped sending tweets at this point since both means of doing so were compromised and counterproductive.

There is no way to make a nice, neat post out of this messy, complex situation. There is no way to find a good “stopping point”. I will stop here to say that I will write more updates as I am able but please see previous posts such as:

Twitter Impostor

Where is @jeanneendo?

Why I Left Twitter!

Again, all Twitter identity theft posts will link back to Why I Left Twitter link in the left sidebar under NAVIGATION.

Aside from the Twitter identity theft incident, I have witnessed some other situations that prompt me to share some basic Internet safety tips. The most important thing I would like to emphasize concerns personal information:

Please don’t give out your personal information to anyone you don’t trust HIGHLY. This includes your street address, phone number, and possibly even your email address. The Internet is loaded with scammers. Some of them even pose as chronically ill patients, befriend actual patients, and then exploit them in some way.

Also, please don’t share other people’s personal information with anyone without their express permission. It is not at all unusual for scammers to obtain personal information about a person from friends of that person. It is common for scammers to trick the person into divulging the friend’s information by telling some sort of a lie. Please, do not share your friends’ personal information with others. This could be another post in and of itself.

Everyone, be careful online. Sadly, the scammers are out in force. It’s important to be alert and careful.


This post was written by Jeanne at http://chronichealing.com. Copyright © Jeanne — chronichealing.com. All rights reserved.


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Reading: Online Identity Theft

12 comments

1 EndochickNo Gravatar { 12.28.09 at 9:08 pm }

Jeanne,

What we went through with Twitter has caused both of us to stop using a service that, at one point, was a really useful tool. During March, we made excellent progress in getting our voices heard across the Internet with that little social network. But then we experienced the scary side of the rainbow, I guess. It’s terrible we had to go through what we went through, but hopefully your post (and our experiences) can provide enough warning to others to be CAREFUL with social networking sites. Guard their personal identities as you would your credit card and social security numbers. It’s so easy to be scammed on-line, and the practice is prevalent. We must be careful to not let it happen. Play on-line, chat, blog, enjoy yourself, but stay safe.
.-= Endochick´s last blog ..Drug Withdrawal =-.

2 EndochickNo Gravatar { 12.29.09 at 12:16 am }

I just wanted to add, in case it wasn’t clear, I have also left Twitter. My account is still there but I’m never on it.
.-= Endochick´s last blog ..Swallow your GnRH treatment? =-.

3 Jannie FunsterNo Gravatar { 12.29.09 at 12:25 am }

“please don’t share other people’s personal information with anyone without their express permission. It is not at all unusual for scammers to obtain personal information about a person from friends of that person.”

The whole article was good, of course, but that line sticks out to me so much. EVERYONE who uses the internet should read that line.

scammers do not make my heart smile.

4 AvivaNo Gravatar { 12.29.09 at 2:01 am }

Thanks for sharing a bit more of the details with all of us, Jeanne! I know how horrible this has been for you to go through, I think you’re doing a wonderful public service by sharing your experience with the rest of us as a warning.

Hope your holidays are going well!
.-= Aviva´s last blog ..Serendipity =-.

5 JeanneNo Gravatar { 12.29.09 at 2:44 am }

Endochick:

You’re right that Twitter was a useful tool for both of us at one point. I met some wonderful people there! It’s a shame that things had to go downhill for both of us on Twitter the way they did. You are very right. Last March, we really harnessed the power of Twitter to generate a great deal of awareness for endometriosis. I too felt we made our voices heard using it. It’s true that we’ve gotten to see the dark underbelly of Twitter. The Twitter impostor incident in and of itself was awful. You’re very right about that. The other issues I have written about that preceded it (on Twitter) such as the massive amounts of spam we received really detracted from the experience before the Twitter impostor ever “cloned” our accounts. I do hope that by writing about these experiences it can encourage others to exercise caution online. This applies not just to Twitter but ANYWHERE on the Internet. Whether it is on social networking sites, blogs, or forums… it is imperative for people to use caution regarding who they share their information with, how much information they share, etc. On the topic of scamming, there are so many unsavory characters online that it really is crucial for people to exercise caution and common sense. I agree with you. It’s great to have fun online but not at the risk of safety. I thought your Twitter account still existed but I had a notion it hasn’t been in use. Just remember that if you should ever decide to close it out (which I know you had expressed interest in but haven’t had time to do), I highly recommend “cleaning out” the account before closing it. Readers, I will have to explain the purpose of cleaning out a Twitter account prior to closing it in a future post.

Jannie:

Yes, this part is important because I have witnessed multiple scammers use this means for obtaining information they want… They simply ask the friends of the person they are targeting for the information they want. Quite often, the friends of the person are happy to oblige because they are trying to be helpful and they don’t realize they are disclosing the information to someone with ulterior motives. My rule of thumb is that if anyone wants my contact information, I am the logical person to ask. My contact form is right on my blog. Anyone wishing to contact me can email me there. There is no need to ask any of my friends for my information. For me… when someone asks for the contact information of a third party, it’s a red flag. If they wanted contact info for that person and have no means to reach the person (no blog to leave comments or an email message on, no Twitter account, no Facebook account, no MyBlogLog account, etc.), they could always ask the friend to relay a message for them. Asking the friend for the contact info for someone else puts them in an awkward situation. Some people don’t feel comfortable saying no to this request or know how to word it. Anytime someone asks me for someone else’s contact information because they don’t have a way to reach that person, I simply say, “I don’t ever give out anyone’s personal information without their permission but I’d be happy to relay a message for you”. That way, my friend can choose whether to connect with the person directly or not… and I am not left responsible for divulging someone else’s personal info. I’m glad you liked the article. I agree that the part about distribution of personal info could be beneficial to anyone who uses the Internet. Jannie, scammers do not make my heart smile either. It’s not too often I see a subject that turns your smile upside down. Hopefully by spreading the word to as many people as possible on simple steps they can take to stay safer online, we can turn your frown upside down again. :) To be realistic, we’ll never reach everyone. However, if we can help spread the word to as many people as possible, the Internet will not be such a haven for scammers as it is now.

Aviva:

Hey you! Here is one of the buddies I met via Twitter now! Thanks for stopping by. I miss chatting with you like we used to. I’m glad you liked the post. It really was horrible (the identity theft)! I am still trying (fruitlessly) to feel somewhat “caught up” with the backlog of work that ensued following that impostor incident from October! We’re heading into January! My hope is that by sharing my experiences with the Twitter impostor incident plus passing along other Internet security issues I have witnessed, that maybe I can prevent someone else from going through a stressful experience. I have to admit that writing today’s post resulted in some “re-living it” and I think that is part of why it has taken me so long to post this latest installment. It was a draining experience. While I am glad to have it behind me, I feel I have a duty to warn others of some of the potential security issues to look out for. My holidays are going pretty well, all things considered. How about you? Everything going well on your end? We celebrate both Chanukah and Christmas. So it has been busy. I hope you’re doing well. It’s nice to hear from you!

~~

Jeanne

6 YayaNo Gravatar { 12.29.09 at 6:08 am }

Soooooo scary the kind of people that lurk in the Internet world. And so bizarre that this happened to you.
.-= Yaya´s last blog ..2010=HOPE =-.

7 PoobaNo Gravatar { 12.29.09 at 3:51 pm }

I just don’t get it. Why do people do that? Especially to someone like you who’s sole purpose is to help others? Did the twitter imposter ever say anything directly to you? Give a reason why? Seriously, that bugs and is just scary. I will definitely be more careful about who I give my information to online! Is it bad that I already trust you enough that I’d willingly give up my info too? We met only a week or so ago. That’s my problem, I am WAY too trusting in people. It drives my husband nuts! I just can’t believe that there are bad people out there in the world. Guh!

Anyway, in reply to your comment left on my blog like forever ago! The picture I use for my blog ID is definitely me and my husband. I always try to hold the camera out to get a picture of the both of us in it and he is constantly ruining them by pulling a face or, yes, trying to eat my ear LOL! So that is my husband’s BIG mouth and my little eyeball in the corner. (I accidently had it zoomed in way too close which is another reason why it turned out so odd) But I loved it and had to use it. (My husband hates that picture! But it was his own fault :o )!

And before I got a bloggy makeover I did use that picture at the top of my main blog as the header and I still use it for my other sorta blogs like the listening one which is where you saw it as a header before. Anyway, sorry it took me forever to get back to you about that!
.-= Pooba´s last blog ..I Was Going to Title This Post "ALOHA", But I Know Some of You Don’t Speak Hawaiian. So I Didn’t. =-.

8 JeanneNo Gravatar { 12.30.09 at 2:17 am }

Alicia:

Yes, it’s scary alright. What is scarier still is how easily such incidents can potentially affect anyone online. I am still recovering from the Twitter impostor incident that occurred in October and it’s almost January. Twitter is just one site, though. People can be exploited virtually anywhere online. I become alarmed when I see people sharing their personal information freely enough that I become concerned for them. Sadly, this scenario tends to happen just about daily.

Pooba:

There are many reasons why some people exploit others. I could write a whole book on potential motives for such incidents but there is no simple way to answer your questions. Believe me when I tell you that I received plenty of “why” questions when the Twitter “cloning” occurred.

Rather than speculate on why someone cloned my Twitter account (which could get really complicated very quickly), I like to emphasize that no one is “risk-free” and that such an incident truly could happen to anyone. I emphasize that I don’t say this to be an alarmist but rather because I truly believe that everyone online (on any site) needs to keep his/her guard up in order to stay safe.

As Endochick (whose identity was also stolen online) said in a previous comment (and I am paraphrasing her here)… it is important for people to be able to take advantage of the positive things the Internet has to offer but it’s also very important to do so in a safe way.

It is scary how very many scammers and predators are active on the Internet. The reality is that awareness of that fact and staying alert are important. These things enable us to spend time online more safely.

I don’t mean to sound “doom and gloom”. It’s just that in a mere 1.5 years of blogging I have seen numerous false cures/scams, witnessed fellow patients exploited in various ways, and I’ve supported an online friend (who was scammed) – dealing with the stress of reporting the crime, etc. So, it’s easy for me to be in skeptical mode all of the time because of what I have seen.

As far as whether you should trust me when you only “met” me about a week ago, the honest answer is no. If you asked me that same question about anyone you’d “met” online a week ago, I’d say the same thing. (By the way, I’m not suggesting you have anything to fear from me personally. I’m simply saying that you have no way to know that).

Despite the fact that you and I “met” through someone we know mutually (Alicia), my personal belief is that all strangers need to be treated with caution. No exceptions.

It is very challenging for people who are trusting in their nature to turn that trusting trait ‘off’ when screening for trouble. It sounds like your husband is probably just concerned for your well-being. I have a relative who is very trusting and I have tried to help her when she has raised concerns about this (being too trusting) herself. I tend to be far less trusting than she is.

As far as whether there are “bad people” in the world, I choose to look at it as people in the world who do “bad things” or make “bad choices”. As far as that’s concerned, there are oodles of people like that to go around. Oodles.

I figured that picture was of you and your husband. That’s too funny that I’ve been seeing that picture on comments on Alicia’s blog for months and always thought it was a man commenting. Yes, I thought I had seen that picture on a blog header. There is no need to apologize. I’m having trouble keeping up with blog comments myself today! :)

Anyway, keeping your guard up and being careful who you share your personal information with is the safest way to go. It’s not about being afraid. Who wants to live in constant fear? No, it’s about being cautious and alert… and keeping your guard up for your own safety and well-being.

I am writing all of these posts not to scare people but to hopefully make people a bit more aware of just how careful one needs to be to stay safe on the Internet. There are people online who have horrible motives and who lack ethics in the way they conduct themselves online.

~~

Jeanne

9 PeggieNo Gravatar { 12.31.09 at 1:31 am }

Hi! I sincerely THANK ALL OF YOU 4 providing us w/this info. I ‘m what they call a “NEWBIE” 2 the comp. world.I’m such a Newbie my skin is still PINK..hahaha ;-) .When I 1st signed on 2 Twitter, it was just 2 see what it was ALL about.One month later in my e-mail acct. i received a notification that “so & so” was following me.I stopped what I was doing & went 2 my Twitter site,looked this person up,only 2 discover it was a porno site.I immediately learned that day how 2 block this person. Now as soon as I find out that a stranger is following me (& I’m rarely on Twitter) I again block them.That is the main thing I DO NOT like about Twitter,we don’t get 2 screen like a friend request on FB, anyone can start 2 follow you w/out ur permission!!!! But again the info u guys gave here was/is really appreciated,& I’m soooo sorry ur accts. got hacked. GENTLE HUGS ~PEACE~ & HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! Peggie

10 JeanneNo Gravatar { 12.31.09 at 1:59 am }

Hello again Peggie!

Well, welcome back. That was quick. :)

I’m glad you found the posts about online identity theft and Twitter impostors helpful. (Did you see all of them or just the most recent one)? Anyway, there is a great deal of information in the comments of these posts in addition to the posts themselves. Many people have made excellent points. So, if you missed any of that… be sure to check it out. Don’t miss the “Scam Busters” post either. (“Newbies” are perfect targets for scammers. So, be careful).

We all remember what it was like to be a newbie online. I see your avatar snowflake literally did come up (randomly) as pink. Haha. (At least it did in the dashboard of my blog. It will probably be the default blue and white avatar on the blog once I post this).

If you decide you want to personalize your avatar (totally optional), there’s a link for setting up a Gravatar near the bottom of each post. If you choose to set one up, you do not necessarily need to use your face picture (which you may not care to post online for privacy reasons or whatever). You can get creative and pick a picture that symbolizes you or something you really like. Or, you can leave the default. It’s entirely up to you. If you get stuck with questions, just let me know.

Good for you (!!) on learning how to block undesirable accounts on Twitter early on. I was always a huge advocate of blocking myself. I didn’t want accounts appearing on my Twitter page that I disliked for some reason. I became quite a prolific blocker!

Like you, I was more comfortable having the option of approving “follow/friend” requests first! Twitter’s policy of “letting anyone follow anyone” puts the burden on the user to have to block anyone they would not have approved of if they had been given a chance to have a choice first (which they didn’t).

Believe it or not, there is plenty more info where that came from regarding identity theft online, Twitter impostors, scams, false cures, etc. I swear I could write a book. I’m glad you found what’s posted so far helpful. Please do check back for updates as I do plan to keep adding more info.

Gentle hugs and peace to you too and Happy New Year! :)

Jeanne

11 Boxing BagsNo Gravatar { 12.31.09 at 12:05 pm }

Wow that is Horrible – thanks for sharing this eye opening story with us :-(

12 JeanneNo Gravatar { 12.31.09 at 7:17 pm }

Boxing Bags,

Yes, the Twitter impostor situation really was horrible and the other situations besides it that prompted me to make other suggestions (i.e. not revealing personal information too easily, not sharing friends’ personal info, etc.) were terrible situations as well. It is a shame there are so many people out there exploiting others but it’s a reality. I think the more people are aware of how easily they could become victims the better. I try to be proactive and cautious… and share what I’ve learned with others in the hope that I may be able to help someone out there avoid a messy situation that might have been prevented.

Jeanne

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