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Lessons learned from social media identity theft

MOOSE JAW – Kathy Cassidy has over a dozen followers in her grade one classroom at Westmount Elementary School in Moose Jaw.

Online, she has over 8,000.

But that popular identity was stolen.

“The first feelings are panic and betrayal,” Cassidy said. “You feel so vulnerable.”

An imposter quickly gained hundreds of Twitter followers, while posting crude and offensive things that Cassidy – a classroom technology advocate – never would.

“It had the same photo, the same header, same background picture, the same biography, the same links,” she said.

“The only thing different was the username.”

Duplicating an online profile only takes seconds, according to Alec Couros.

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The social media expert and University of Regina professor says a well-known identity on the web not only fuels impersonation, but is also the solution.

“To be able to say, ‘I know this person, I know that’s not this person who is online, that you’re being impersonated,’ is the number one skill to have,” said Couros.

Using the same images isn’t enough to get an account suspended. Twitter’s Impersonation Policy says it must also portray someone in a deceptive manner.

Cassidy says that took over two months to prove.

“You have to submit links to where else the photo might be online and you also have to submit proof of your identity, which (may) include a copy of your passport,” she said.

Tips for preventing an online imposter

1.  Set up an automatic web search for your name or pseudonym, such as Google Alerts. Any time it’s used online, you can receive an email.

2.  Reverse search photos you commonly use online. Google Image Search or Tin Eye will reveal exactly where similar images are being used on the web.

“Sometimes that might be intentional,” said Couros. “You’ve used it or other people you know have used your photograph. But it also allows you to see people who have used it in other ways.”

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3.  Ask someone if their profile doesn’t match their personality. If you see something out of character, don’t be afraid to contact them and question it.

As devices play more of a role in the classroom, it’s a lesson Cassidy says needs to be learned.

“Children are going to be going online, even as young as six years old or younger,” she said.

“I think it’s vitally important we teach them how to do that well.”

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