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SACRAMENTO (CBS13) – Today’s online world is like the wild, wild, west. There’s a lot of pioneering going on and local professionals are learning you really have to do your own policing to protect yourself.
Open your eyes. Identity theft goes beyond credit cards and bank accounts.
On the world wide web, your career is on the line and your reputation at risk.
“I’m sure I turned white when I saw that there was a person impersonating me online,” said Nicole Soluri, a corporate lawyer from Sacramento.
Soluri is a put-together professional who is careful with her reputation. So, she signed up for Google Alerts to monitor when her name popped up online. She never suspected a shadow figure had already stolen her identity.
“Someone had taken my name, my title, my law firm name and had created an online account through LinkedIn,” said Soluri.
Nicole’s dark shadow had already connected with more than a 160 people across the globe and posted on blogs, posing as Nicole.
“It could have been something that was very damaging. It could have been highly opinionated, controversial information,” explained Soluri.
She then found another fake account set up on Twitter. Now she’s stressed about what her shadow figure’s long-term motive might be.
“They could gather biographical information about me. Things to tip them off to passwords and ultimately access things like financial data,” Soluri worried.
Nicole has no idea who the impersonator is and no way to protect herself, her professional reputation or her firm….legally. And that’s despite new laws in California which aim to do just that.
“California’s been leading the way in fact in trying to create laws that are designed to go after these kinds of perpetrators,” internet law expert Anupam Chander.
As of January first, if you impersonate someone online with the intent to harm the victim, you could be convicted of a misdemeanor and spend a year in jail.
Chander says in some cases proving harm was intended is a challenge. There are no hard numbers showing how often this is happening, though experts say it’s a growing threat.
It happened to Dr. Bruce Baird too. He’s a local high school history teacher who doesn’t even use social networks. His own students told him someone set up a fake Facebook page, asking to “friend” them.
Many did and were duped by what Dr. Baird believes started just as a student prank.
“But then it started getting a little nasty and people started saying like ‘his favorite activity was fornication’ or things like that and it was like, okay now they’ve crossed the line…and it was getting into a dark side,” explained Dr. Baird.
Luckily students started to ‘unfriend’ or block the fake account. Even though some say they reported it as fake, Facebook didn’t take it down until CBS13 contacted the company directly.
Dr. Baird considers it a close call.
“If they even suspected that I somehow set this up or been any part of this that could destroy my career – this could be really bad,” said Dr. Baird.
He’d like to see Facebook require proof of identity before setting up any page. In Nicole’s case, she notified both Twitter and LinkedIn about the fake accounts in her name.
“Twitter was very quick to ask me to provide copies of a photo ID and some details about the situation,” said Soluri.
But she says LinkedIn took longer to resolve the situation and she received no notification when the fake profile was pulled.
For online outlets like these, learning how to handle these problems, say experts, should be a priority.
“It is definitely a worry for LinkedIn because its reputation is at stake,” said internet law expert Anupam Chander. “It would be useful to suspend the account while it’s being sorted out, so at least no more harm can be done.”
“I think there’s so much potential for damage with our online presence now through all of these different websites,” said Soluri.
Security and privacy experts say all online social media sites should be paying close attention to verifying users’ identities.
Right now, they warn, laws are still evolving.