What should you do if someone is impersonating you online?
That’s the question one mother had after she learned someone was pretending to be her daughter on the internet.
The mother reached out to KHON2 saying the online impersonator created social media profiles with her daughter’s name and picture to threaten others.
We wanted to know is it illegal and what if you become the target of online attacks?
Unfortunately there’s not much you can do to stop someone from creating a fake profile under your name or to keep someone from threatening you, but depending on the case, it is possible the impersonator could face charges.
Cyber security expert Chris Duque tells KHON2 he deals with online impersonation, also known as catfishing, regularly in his line of work.
“For financial fraud, online, I see it on a weekly basis,” Duque said. “Cyberbullying or cyber harassment, pretty much every other day I get someone coming to me.”
Whether it’s an email account or a social media profile, Duque says it’s not illegal to impersonate someone online although it could result in a civil lawsuit.
However, if that online account is used to make threats to others, it’s possible criminal charges could be filed against the impersonator.
“They say they’re going to hurt you, physical property damage, yea it’s a threat, terroristic threatening,” Duque said. “Say that, if you don’t do this, I’ll do this to you, I’ll post some pictures of you or whatever, I’ll say this, I’ll ruin your character – that’s extortion.”
We’re told electronic harassment is another charge police could pursue but it depends on the evidence.
“You have to warn them first, you document it, the person disregards your warning, then we got a criminal case,” he said. “The investigator should contact Instagram or Facebook or whoever the service provider is with the date, time and a copy of the threat, send a preservation letter to Facebook or Instagram to freeze the account.
So what if you’re being impersonated or you become the victim of online attacks?
Duque says time is of the essence. He says send a warning to whoever is behind the account to stop harassing you and take screenshots of the fake account and the threats if any are made.
You should also call police and notify the service provider, such as Facebook or Instagram, about the impersonation or harassment.
If a criminal investigation is started, a warrant can be issued to the service provider to hand over the IP address of the account that’s sending out threats.
Duque says that gives police a good chance of tracking the person down but it’s important to act fast.
We’re told accounts can be deleted and it’s up to service providers on how long they keep records of IP addresses.