Online Identity Theft is a hot topic these days. The new show on MTV Catfish has drawn a lot of attention and the Manti Te'o story has amplified this issue significantly. Recently, Online Identity Theft has hit a little closer to home as two prominent ministry leaders that I work with have had their identities stolen on Facebook on multiple occasions. Then just yesterday I found that my sister and a good friend of hers had their identity stolen in a very bizarre way using family photos and such.
These incidents can be very scary and quickly cause paranoia. Our online reality that we live in is that Online Identity Theft is easier to pull off than ever and easier to prevent/shut down if monitored closely. You see, identity theft has gone on for decades and probably centuries. People have pulled of scams via print mail, then phone calls, and faxes. Through every new technology people have learned ways to decieve and cause harm. This is nothing new, we are honestly just more aware because we are more connected than ever.
Through the internet people can easily find and copy pictures, videos, information, and all sorts of things we might not want them to have. They can then use those things in very harmful ways. We also have technological tools that can protect us better than ever and monitor information online to prevent things like this from every happening.
So what should you do?
First, I would start by managing the privacy settings on your Facebook account and other social networks. You have a lot more control than you think you do! Even amongst your friends on Facebook you can choose who sees what.
The next step that you need to take (that I am honestly not good at) is changing your passwords regularly. Many people use the same password for everything and if this gets hacked everything gets hacked. I use a service called LastPass which safely stores all of my passwords in one place and allows me to change them regularly without always having to remember them all.
Finally, I would regularly search the web for your name and info. Google yourself and see what you find. Facebook search your name and see if anyone might have created a fake Facebook account with your name and photos (this happens more than you think). Google Alerts is a great program to sign up for as Google will email you anytime your name or anyone's name that you put in the system shows up on the internet. For photos Google has created an inside program here where you can track any of your photos if they are being used anywhere else online.
Here's my plea: Please don't quit using the internet and specifically Social Media because a handful of people are misusing these tools! These are great new technologies that helps us stay better connected with our family and friends... and sometimes make new friends along the way. Just like in every other aspect of our lives we must be cautious and careful in how we use them.
So what should you do if someone does steal your identity?
1) Report them immediately to Facebook or whoever manages the site that the information is on and encourage your friends to do the same. These pages are often removed within an hour and rarely more than a day if you are persistent enough.
2) Contact the perpetrator directly asking them to remove the content that does not belong to them. When they become aware that you are aware of them, they will likely quickly disappear. While you might want to, don't send them angry threatening messages, but rather let them know that this is your personal information that they are misusing and you would like for it to be removed immediately.
3) Pray for them. I know this seems like the standard Christian response, but take a moment to think about this individual. They have either done this because they are so insecure in who they are or as a way to deceive and take from others what is not theirs. There are some deep personal issues involved with these individuals and they are in desperate need of a Savior.
What are your thoughts? How will you respond?