Imposters and impersonators on social media


Last Updated on: March 28, 2023

Imposters and impersonators flourish on social media. A recent experience compelled me to sit down and write about it.

The reason isn’t just because of my own, personal, experience. But for anyone who might be exposed to the same. And as much, those who’ve had their identify stolen. With pictures, social network and everything.

Before I get there, lets rewind a bit, uh.. “a bit”.

Early internet days

Like for many others curiosity and interest for online communication led me to start with internet chatting. Well actually, not entirely true. It started before the internet. Back in those days there were BBS, or Bulletin Board Systems. Dangerous stuff, especially considering you had to, at least in my country, pay per minute for using a dial-up connection.

With the internet came chat rooms, and chat services. One of the biggest was, or rather became, WBS chat. Followed by chat programs such as Powow, later also ICQ, AIM, to mention a few. Oh, and of course, one must mention IRC or Internet Relay Chat. Which exists and is alive today.

WBS chat from the 90s

One of the WBS chat incarnations from the 90s

Back when I started everyone used nicknames. Thinking back there was one big difference, compared to today. Behind those “nick’s” were, for the most part, real people. No reason to pretend to be someone else. The more you got into talking, the more a real personality came to shine through.

I’ve lost count on how many conversations I had with people I never physically met. Or knew the real name for. I’ve also no idea how many real thoughts, real reflections and how many funny, pleasant, honest and engaging conversations I’ve had. With people I never met.

Being socially curious is IMHO important. It’s a journey. And on that journey you also get to know more about yourself. If you “listen” enough.

Fast (or slow) forwards, till today

With experience from a distant (digitally speaking) past the move over into present time social media wasn’t difficult. But it is different in so many ways. I know of many people who have long since given up on being social online. Many reasons for that, life happened, family life happened, aging happened, and interests changed.

Social fatigue might also have happened.

Today’s digital reality also means a greater chance for personal exposure. Even a requisite for personal exposure, whether for security or commercial reasons. In this new blend of protections, conventions, rules and laws, there is perhaps less freedom. If you post something online, well at least up to GDPRS (for Europeans), you might risk it stick to you and your online history.

All this increases vulnerability. And increase need to protect oneself, preserve personal integrity. And yet, reaching across any border, venturing into the unknown, exploring new territory, exchanging thoughts and feelings, none of this has lost its importance. None of it has lost its value.

Modern social media

I’m still somewhat of an “explorer” in this respect. And, as you might now have guessed, if you didn’t know it already, also helplessly long-winded. Apologize for that.

I’ve been using Facebook for a long time. Mostly, to maintain and keep a network of people I know. Some I got to know online ages ago. Others I’ve met, sorry “met” , later. I don’t use that media for political means, or expressing personal opinions. I share pics and daily rant. Maybe now and then contribute to a smile, or some fleeting moments of positive reflection.

Additionally, like you perhaps, I use other channels, like Twitter, Youtube (to a minor extent), and Instagram. Not on TikTok though. Not my kind of “pond”. Although it does happen I see stuff published there. Mostly short videos.

Imposters on Instagram

Instagram has been sitting around unused by me for a long time. Aside of a few infrequent pics posts. But while trying to spark some interest in this web/hobby project, I decided to up the sharing of pictures. Being a blogger, and motorcycle rider, I do have quite a bit of stuff on this site. Whether pictures or blog posts.

At first, I got a lot of those who wants to sell stuff. Sell you clicks, followers and “fame”. Not into that, and it would probably not be sustainable. I am perfectly content if someone, out there, experience some moments of curiosity. Like pictures, find useful information.

My profile is semi-open. Else it would not do much in regards to blog promotion. I fully understand those who shield and guard their profile by making it private. It’s a jungle out there. And the bloody nuisance might hit one’s shores like a tidal wave. I can imagine, much more for women and girls.

Began to get some other private messages. Ignored those chat or message requests at first. Then curiosity got to me. At first the conversation seemed normal. But then it turned into something else. It had the imposters smell. Too many obvious wrongs.”If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck”.

So I ended it almost as quickly as it started.

The next imposter

Some days later, another message. This time I was more alert. On the surface it looked like a real person. Or the person he or she pretended to be. I normally do a bit of research. Sometimes it gives results, but not always. Some people don’t have much exposure on the internet.

The first sign of something potentially being wrong, is or can be inconsistent information on, for instance, Facebook and Instagram. And/or elsewhere. That could be one red flag. And that’s what I found. On Instagram, stating one location, on Facebook another. Just as if the imposter or account thief had not had time, or forgot, to change information in both places.

Some days later I became more and more convinced that this was another imposter or impersonator. Someone who had stolen not only an identity, but pictures, personal as well as of family and friends. Why I never really figured out. Maybe some people get a kick out of it? Maybe because of a long term scam plan?

A call to action

Decided to at least try to expose the believed-to-be imposter. Said I had a website and shared a link. Analytics tools gave no indication there was any visits that would add up. Which also was strange. If anyone was interested in finding out more about me, well how about googling? I know I would. As for links, well the phony usually sticks out.

Seeing where someone is, geographically speaking, might or might not give correct information. Many use VPN. Or proxy services. Which keeps identity and real location hidden. But sadly, these services can also reduce your bandwidth. That’s the trade-off. Assuming that might be the case I asked where in the world he/she was located. Got both country and region, somewhere in Europe, all added up with location info in the Instagram profile.

Things seemed believable. But as that person clicked the link over to a given page the location was different. In fact on a different continent. A location I doubt VPN services would use for optimal bandwidth. Based on the conversation, plus the fact that traffic was coming from a mobile device, it was unlikely this person would even know what VPN was.

So I asked for physical proof. A picture of a specific site near the place the person claimed to be located. Even sent a google maps link to suggest a location. That was turned down. Shortly after I was blocked.

Imposters, an epidemic of social media?

Well, since I’ve not used Instagram for ages I may have underestimated the extent. Now it’s easy to conclude the problems is massive. Decided not to let this go until I had found out more. So I created a second account and managed to re-establish communication.

Of all the things that can indicate you’re dealing with an imposter, bad resolution pictures definitely is one of them. Relatively modern phones will take higher resolution images. If you dump larger size images from an Instagram profile the default size seems to be 1440×1080, with resolution 96DPI/24 bit.

Images shared in a chat seems to be 1080 pixels wide, 96DPI/24bit. Anything less than that would mean it’s probably snitched somewhere on the net.

If you are “lucky” and the imposter have used the image/images of someone socially profiled, then AI Face Check will quickly help you determine that. I could make a list of them, but just search for “Free AI Face check” and several will show up.

Some pieces of advice

When confronted by imposters, here are some things worth considering, before or after identify theft has happened.

Precautions for secure online presence (oneself & others)

  • Never use an open, non-encrypted WIFI service. Fortunately those are fewer today.
    • Open WIFI means someone can potentially tap into traffic between your device and the gateway.
    • Make sure your accounts can alert you about anomalienes, many can.
  • Be mindful of device and identify exposure. Especially the last
  • Where possible, use MFA (Multi-Factor Authentication). It’s a bloody nuisance sometimes, but it will both alert and protect.
  • If using a PC, make sure you have optimal protection. One line of defence seldom is good enough.
  • When engaging with others, be mindful of who you engage with. Do some search.
    • By the first sign of something potentially being wrong, report it to the platform.
  • All platforms uses algorithms. If enough people respond collectively, then that increases the chance intervention will take place sooner rather than later. And an abused identity, or account, either blocked or deleted.

If you had your identify or profile stolen

  • Report it, if needed, multiple times
  • Have as many friends in your network as possible report it simultaneously. This can be important to trigger a faster response by either algorithm or admins (or both).
    • The more that concurrently reports, the faster intervention is likely to take place. And the quicker you might be able to restore yourself online.
  • Immediately change all passwords on all services you use.
    • You cannot ascertain what and where the intervention took place. It’s cumbersome, but the sooner you do it, the better
  • When re-establishing yourself, use MFA by default wherever possible.
  • Do search to see if traces can be found of other forms of abuse, of your name, your pictures, anything.

Hope you found this post useful! There’s a Part 2 here.

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