One day a few weeks ago I was poking around my Facebook message inbox, looking for those messages that get stuck there when they are sent from someone who isn’t a Facebook Friend. Several messages were weeks or months old but one of them had been sent three days prior in an urgent attempt to contact me.
Reading further, the sender owned a store in western North Carolina and said she wanted to warn me of someone’s possible attempt to steal my identity. She didn’t want to discuss it online, she said, but left me her number so I could call.
Identity theft? Urgent matter? Wouldn’t discuss it online? I was quite skeptical of the whole thing; not only quite sure that my identity hadn’t been stolen, but also how and why was this woman contacting me through Facebook? Deciding I had nothing to lose, I picked up the phone the next day.
The store owner was indeed who she said she was, and mentioned that an online customer of her store had tried to order some merchandise and pay by credit card. The store owner was suspicious of this transaction for whatever reason, so she demanded the customer send her a scanned driver’s license to verify identity. She said she received an image of a Florida driver’s license with my photograph attached, but something about the drive r’s license didn’t look right to her. She put my photo into Google and the photo matched a photo I have on my blog. Now armed with my name, she found me on Facebook and reached out to me there.
I thanked her for letting me know and assured her I was in no danger of identity theft. I also congratulated her for spotting the fraud and for her amazing feat of finding me. It took some mad Google Image skills for her to do that, and I know because I pride myself on my GoogleFu. Before ending the call, I asked if she could send me the photo she had been sent and she told me she would.
About a week later I got it. As you can see, it’s a pretty amateurish forgery.
As for the photo, it comes from my years-ago blog post on passport photos. For a moment, I considered maybe scrubbing the photo from my blog. Then I realized that wouldn’t do any good. I have hundreds if not a thousand photos of me on the Internet. My face is just one of millions out on the Internet – not unique and certainly not any more valuable to a crook than anyone else’s. This is more of a fluke than anything, I decided.
I thought it would be fun to put my Google Image Search skills to the test and see where else my photo might be being used. Some of the hits show that I am being advertised as a Master’s degree graduate of a South Korean diploma factory. My face is also attached to a fake English teacher at a Bangladeshi high school and a “Security Guard” at another, similar site (interesting). I had no idea these were out there and while I could probably ask for them to be taken down I don’t see much harm in them. Material on my blog is licensed via Creative Commons for anyone to use, so one complaint I could make is that I wasn’t given proper attribution.
The moral to this story? Not sure there is one. Once stuff gets out on the Internet it’s there forever? Don’t post photos if you don’t want them being stolen for other things? If you’re going to forge an ID maybe spend more than 5 minutes doing it? Or perhaps the moral is that it’s getting easier to track down the source of fake material on the Internet. What one person can uncover on the Internet others can, too.
That’s not such a bad thing, after all.