Identity Theft on Social Media: Dealing with Imposters

September 10, 2018

There's more than one way for someone to commit identity theft, and you should be on guard against this crime in all its forms. Some of the most prominent ways for a nefarious individual to use your personal details are purely financial in nature, such as opening bank accounts and lines of credit in your name. But the age of social media brings even more possibilities. You may log on to a social network to find someone claiming to be you.

Impersonation is common for celebrities and influencers because fraudsters like to prey on fans or followers of the real individuals. But you don't have to be famous to have your identity compromised on social media. It pays to learn more about this most modern form of attack and find out what you can do to counteract the activities of the fraudsters using your personal data.

Why Does Social Media Fraud Happen?

It's natural to ask why someone would possibly want to steal your information and create a fake social media profile. What's the value?

There are a few potential motives to consider. In some cases, your data isn't being taken by a single person but a network of fake-profile makers. An in-depth investigation from The New York Times found that people are having their profiles duplicated by bot sellers that use the fakes as megaphones for unscrupulous messages. These fake individuals seem like real people at first glance. They have actual names, pictures and biographies - potentially yours.

In other cases, impostors who want to harm your reputation or harass you personally may create accounts in your name, then post damaging material. While social media networks have clauses against fake accounts in their terms of service, a relatively large number of these attacks still take place.

When an impersonation is meant to harm someone's credibility or persona instead of simply using the data to create a spam bot, the effects can be far-reaching. Today, people and companies have important interactions and make critical statements on social platforms. A post by a convincing imposter can tarnish a person's reputation or weaken the value of a brand, while the victim scrambles behind the scenes to have the false profile scrubbed.

The AARP pointed out yet another form of social media identity theft, one that blurs the line between online and in-person fraud. Data thieves may search through social media profiles for clear pictures of people facing forward. These can be used for printing convincing fake IDs. The data theft takes place on social media, but its lingering effects can extend to other venues.


How Can Social Media Users Stay Safer?

There is no 100 percent effective way to stay safe from social media identity theft, and sometimes the only recourse is to counteract an impersonation that has already taken place. In fact, not even staying off of social networks is a foolproof way to keep someone from impersonating you. A dedicated criminal could use personal details leaked from other sources to create a profile under your name on a social network, even if you've never used that service.

When thinking of preemptive steps that will lessen your chances of ending up with an online duplicate, you can limit your risk by making your data harder to access. The AARP suggested employing social media networks' controls to display personal data only to friends or connections. The more information is public, the more info a scammer or duplicator with no previous connection to you has to work with.

Law firm Vors Sater Seymour & Pease pointed out the various reporting methods used by each of the major social media networks to counteract duplicate accounts:

  • Google+: Even though Google+ isn't as popular as its fellow platforms, users should know how to get fake profiles taken down, because they are relatively common. Users submit the URL of the imposter, then submit an image of their own ID to prove they are really the person in question.
  • YouTube: This Google-owned site has similar deletion policies to Google+. When YouTube suspends or removes and imposter, that fake account's videos may go down permanently.
  • Facebook: There are two ways to report a fake Facebook account. Facebook urges users to click a button right on the false profile to accuse it of fraud. If someone has started an account in your name but you're not a Facebook member, there's a separate form.
  • Twitter: Getting fake Twitter accounts removed may prove tricky. As The New York Times pointed out in its investigation of Twitter bot sellers, social networks have financial incentives not to crack down too hard on duplicates, as that will depress their user counts. Anti-fake algorithms have emerged, but for a more targeted takedown, users should employ a process like Facebook's and click a report button on the fake account.

What Are the Online Identity Protection Basics?

One of the most challenging parts of counteracting online fraud and impersonation is the fast pace of the internet. New services are always emerging, and as the developers of these networks attempt to move quickly and boldly, criminals exploit their under-developed security tools. Keeping your identity under lock and key is an ever-evolving concern, as is preventing attackers from using your personal details for fraudulent purposes.

From getting your personal data harvested as part of a bot farm to encountering someone directly attacking your reputation through impersonation, many identity crimes go beyond the financial scams commonly associated with data theft. Protecting against each of these methods individually is impossibly complex, and it can be difficult to recover from the damage imitators cause if they're allowed to run amok with your personal data in hand.

One way to keep a close watch on all your personally identifiable information is with Identity Guard - get it today.


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