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Protecting Your Social Identity

Reported by: Send eMail Kallie Cart
Videographer: Brad Rice
Web Producer: Kallie Cart
Reported: Nov. 14, 2013 11:28 PM EST
Updated: Nov. 14, 2013 11:37 PM EST

EYEWITNESS NEWS ONLINE WEBCAST VIDEO

Stolen Social Identity
Eyewitness News Photo

Charleston , West Virginia

It seems like everyone is on some sort of social media platform nowadays. It's a great way to stay connected and allow others into your life, but if that information gets into the wrong hands, your social identity could be compromised and there's little you can do about it.

Laurie Shultis leads a busy life in Spencer, running a flower shop, raising her kids and staying busy as the president of several youth performance groups.

You could say she has a pretty picture perfect life, and someone else thought so too.

"I woke up one morning and a friend of mine said, 'You didn't create a new page did you?' and I said, 'No,'" Shultis said.

To Laurie's shock and surprise someone was pretending to be her on Facebook.

You've likely heard of catfishing. It gained national attention with a show on MTV and captured countless headlines when it was revealed that Notre Dame's Manti Teo fell in love with a girl online, only to realize she didn't exist. She had been made up in the social media world of Facebook.

But what's happening to laurie is happening to an increaing number of people and could be considered even more harmful.

"It's an extreme invasion of privacy. When I saw it you could almost feel the gulp, Why would somebody do this? What would they get out of this?" Shultis said.

Someone on Facebook, not just stealing her pictures and making someone up, as they do in catfishing, but using her picture, her name and her information, posing as her on line.

"I was thinking is someone trying to scam us for money or just wreck my personal reputation," Shultis said.

Laurie has a lot to lose by an imposter ruining her reputation. Fortunately she found out about the page before any damage was done. She then went through the steps to report it to Facebook, three days later, the phony page was removed.

"There's no telling what that person could have done in three days to destroy me."

But beyond reporting the invasion to Facebook, there's little else Laurie could do to find the person or to keep it from happening again.

You may be surprised to find out, for the most part, pretending to be somoene else on-line is legal.

Evan Patterson with the FBI in Charleston specializes in computer intrusions. He says situations like Laurie's aren't uncommon -- jaded lovers, someone out to ruin another's reputation, computer hackers --
and very rarely do the situations rise to a criminal level.

"If someone is impersonating me on-line, to reach the federal level for a charge there has to be a threat, stalking or I have to have some sort of monetary loss," Patterson said.

If they wreck your reputation, you could file a civil lawsuit, if you can find the person responsible which is often a long shot. So Patterson suggests protecting your online self as best you can through the security settings offered on Facebook.

"Don't accept the defaults, go through and see how can I make this public or I don't want this to be public," Patterson said.

Steps Laurie now makes part of her social media routine, to keep herself protected.

As for figuring out if this has happened to you, it's difficult. Patterson says really the only way to find out if someone is posing as you is to occasionally search your name on the internet, through Google or a similar site, and if someone has created a fake page you can then report it to that social media site and if it warrants it, to authorities.



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