What happens when your identity is stolen on social media? [Q&A]

identity theft mask

Scams involving social media and online dating sites are on the increase. So it's not surprising that recent research shows a majority of people are now worried about identity theft and account hijacking.

But what happens when your identity gets stolen? And what can you do to protect yourself from this kind of scam?

To find out we spoke to Jeffrey Hayzlett, chairman and CEO of the C-Suite Network, about the dark side of social media and his personal experience with identity theft, after someone used Jeffrey's family pictures to defraud a woman in the UK of $45,000.

BN: Tell us what happened with your pictures?

JH: Every single day I get messages from friends or colleagues telling me they've seen my profile on a dating site -- Match, Tinder, Grindr, you name it. I'm in all of them. Since I travel a lot for business and speaking events around the country and the globe, I ask my team to take a look and monitor the situation. I ask them to keep a log of these people stealing my pictures, time stamp the incidents, what platforms/sites they're using, and keep track of the pictures, too. That's how I find out that these crooks have taken personal family photos they steal from my personal page and use them to solicit people on these dating sites and on social media for phony business propositions. They've even taken pictures of my granddaughters and posted them. That's the part that really angers me the most.

Most recently, I learned how this guy 'Henrik Bjorn' was out there pretending to be me and used my own images to scam a woman in the UK named Rachel out of thousands of dollars and convince her that I was in love with her. I've been married for 37 years to my wife, Tami, and I felt bad for the poor woman who was genuinely convinced I was the man courting her. They even used my own words from keynotes I've done in the past and manipulated the technology to talk to her via Skype. It's all getting more advanced every day and it's all fun and games until someone gets hurt -- and someone did get hurt.

BN: How did you go about clearing your name and how difficult was it?

JH: It's incredibly difficult. Every time these pictures show up I have contacted the sites. Facebook sent me messages saying that these impostors haven't violated their terms so they won't take down the pictures. The dating sites get back to me saying that the pictures are legitimate therefore they can't take them down. Well, of course the pictures are legitimate. They're mine! It's the profile that's bogus. After much back and forth with Facebook, and several members of my team reporting this 'Henrik Bjorn' person (that's the identity used most recently), the fake profile was taken down… Only to have another fake one pop up. It's like a game of whack-a-mole. It's never ending and it takes a lot of effort to try to curb the situation.

I'm tenacious when it comes to these scammers operating these 'scam labs.' They count on your giving up, but you just have to outlast them. I'm lucky I have people on my team that are quick to act whenever something arises.

BN: What advice would you give to executives and other public figures to help them protect their accounts?

JH: Here's what I would say:

  1. Report it whenever possible to as many authorities as possible. My most recent experience happened to me and a woman in UK. Report it to the local police, the Federal Trade Commission, Interpol, etc. The FTC filed a lawsuit against Match and they determined 25-30 percent of the daily sign-ups to their sites are scammers. You need that paper trail.
  2. Search the internet by doing a reverse image search.
  3. Don't fall for the 'gullibility test.' That’s when someone sends you an innocent video, then you click on it and nothing happens. They already got you. They'll know you're prone to clicking on what people send you and that's how they target you.
  4. Protect your personal brand. It's important that executives protect their personal brand, as it can have a direct impact on the bottom line. Studies have shown that a CEO's reputation is directly tied to the company's bottom line, and while that seems unfair at times, it's very much a reality.

BN: If you think your identity has been compromised what's the first thing you should do?

JH: Capture the image, create a tracking log and report it. You also have to be patient as this is not a one and done. If your identity has been compromised and your images stolen, it'll be a long time before anything can be done. Don't give up because that's what the scammers want you to do. Don't give them the satisfaction. It's a long, difficult road but if it takes down one of these crooks, it's worth the effort. It seems like a lot of steps and checklists, but don't quit! I can't stress that enough.

BN: What steps should social media platforms be taking to prevent this kind of attack?

JH: Social media platforms need to find ways to better protect their customers. It's in their own interest, too, to safeguard the users that trust these platforms with their personal information. They need to vet new profiles that pop up every single day with very few followers, even less information but tons of pictures. Chances are the majority of those pictures are from someone else's page. Once a profile has been reported, at the very least check it out and don't send out these 'bots' to tell you essentially to shut up and sit down. Platforms need to be held accountable to their users who made them the industry giants they are today. A little accountability goes a long way to ensure safety, transparency, and integrity.

Image credit: Elnur_/depositphotos.com

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