Resource Center / Privacy / How to protect yourself from online impersonation

How to protect yourself from online impersonation

 | Updated
by Staff Writer

Mother and Daughter Look-alike Pose Together for Portrait

Have you ever followed a celebrity on Twitter or liked a page on Facebook, only to learn later that the account doesn’t really belong to that person? In most cases these accounts were created as harmless parodies, but what happens when they step over the line?

Take Apple CEO Steve Jobs as an example. In January 2011, Apple filed a complaint against the owner of a parody Twitter account. By the time Twitter suspended the account three months later, it had attracted 650,000 followers called @CeoSteveJobs.

Prior to January 1, 2011, an account like this might have been all in good fun. The passage of California Senate Bill (SB) 1411, though, made criminal “E-personation” a crime; E-personation involves impersonating people on the Web.

This article will detail how California’s new law has brought to light this growing problem and how to protect yourself from online impersonation.

SB 1411 protects your online reputation

The World Wide Web is a powerful tool for working, researching and staying connected to the world around you. Unfortunately, one of the pitfalls of the Web is that it’s a relatively anonymous environment. Anyone can create a fake account, and it’s difficult for a Twitter or Facebook user to ascertain if the person on the other end of the email or social networking account is really who he or she claims to be.

Has your personal information been exposed online? Remove my information

By making malicious online impersonation a misdemeanor, California’s SB 1411 gives law enforcement and legal representatives the ability to prosecute online criminals.

SB 1411 makes it “unlawful to knowingly and without consent credibly impersonate another person through or on an Internet Web site or by other electronic means with the intent to harm, intimidate, threaten or defraud another person.” 

Now, if someone creates false accounts or posts a hostile or harmful comment on the Web and attributes it to you, he or she could be punished by a $1000 fine or up to one year in jail. In addition, SB 1411 allows for attorney fees for those who may not be able to pay for legal representation to prosecute those who intend to harm your online reputation.

SB 1411 defends your child in cases of cyberbullying

Although the concept of online impersonation may be best known for fake celebrity accounts on Facebook and Twitter, the new law may also have potential consequences for those who partake in cyberbullying.

Online bullying of teens and children on the Web has reached an all-time high. In 2007, 13-year-old Megan Meyer of Missouri committed suicide after she was a victim of cyberbullying due to online impersonation. A parent of a rival student set up a fake MySpace account to torment the teen. Laws like SB 1411 would allow states to prosecute creators of false accounts.

Ready to protect your identity & secure your private information? Protect my identity

Control your risk of being impersonated online

False comments made on the Web can potentially harm your online reputation. Use these tips to learn how to protect yourself from online impersonation.

When the false content is sent out from what appears to be your personal accounts, it gives even more credibility to the negative information. If someone has created fake email accounts with your name or a false account on Twitter, the ramifications to your Internet reputation can be widespread. If you’re being impersonated online, you may experience the following:

Loss of job opportunities

It’s no secret that hiring managers are turning to the Internet to source information on potential employees. The Web can work as a virtual head-hunting service, and your Internet reputation is just as important as your resume.

When you’re a victim of online impersonation, your ability to put your best face forward is taken away from you. When you’re interviewed for a job, you can minimize the impact of false information by sharing the fact that you’re aware of the online impersonation. Also, if your resume is online, be sure to post a disclaimer with it that you’re a victim of online impersonation.

If online impersonation has cost you employment, SB 1411 may give you the ability to prosecute those who have sought to harm your online reputation.

Banking or credit issues resulting from fraudulent accounts

It has become easier than ever for hackers to gain access to your bank accounts and credit cards online. If someone is impersonating you online, he or she may have an easier time gaining access to your personal information by hacking your legitimate accounts. Before you know it, you’ll have racked up a huge credit card bill or purchased items you never ordered.

Check out this article on how to protect your personal data and passwords from potential hackers.

Defend your Internet reputation with the help of SB 1411

The first real step that California lawmakers have taken to recognize the importance of your online reputation is SB 1411. With Web technology evolving rapidly, SB 1411 is an important tool that both the government and lawmakers can use to help you know how to protect yourself from online impersonation.

Shelly Wutke is a freelance writer based in Vancouver, BC. Shelly has been published in Vancouver-based Love Magazine, in local newspapers, and on various websites.