Social media fraud happens all the time. You’re probably aware that it happens but aren’t too concerned – until it happens to you. Individuals and companies alike are open targets. You might find that someone has downloaded photos of your family and kids and have created their own identity, or it could be brand-impersonation where an impostor impersonates an entire company.

Most of the Social Networking Sites (SNSs) have methods to deal with the consequences of hacking and impersonation. Unfortunately this may not be enough for you if the impersonator has severely damaged your personal or company reputation.

When you know who the impersonator is

Even if you know who has been impersonating you or your company, it’s not very easy to have them charged. According to Minter Ellison Lawyers “it is difficult to pursue identity theft as it is not a federal offence or an offence in the majority of Australian states and territories, unless it is used to engage in particular criminal activities”. If they have engaged in criminal activities then you have a case.

Depending on the nature of the comments, you may be able to file for defamation, passing off, breach of trademark, misleading or deceptive conduct, injurious falsehood, or breach of section 474.17 of the Criminal Code.

When you don’t know who the impersonator is

Well, that’s a bit harder. Facebook, Twitter and Google have terms and conditions and privacy rules that say it will disclose personal information about its users in response to legal processes and law enforcement requests. Facebook will hand out required information if an Australian court has made an order.

Even if the SNSs are subject to the Privacy Act, they still have terms and conditions and privacy statements that may let them ‘contract out’ of their obligations under the Act. In some cases it may also be unclear whether there is a contract at all. There will be cases where the person being impersonated on a SNS is not a member of the SNS – i.e. someone has set up a false Twitter account in your name even though you don’t have a Twitter account. In this case, the victim has not agreed to the site’s terms and conditions.

To make a claim

As soon as you find out you have been impersonated, contact that SNS directly and make a report about the fraud. The more information you have about the false activity the better, so take screenshots of what you see and make a note of dates and times of impersonator postings. From there you can request to have the duplicate account removed and proceed with any legal orders. If you have the funds, you could also hire a Licensed Private Investigator or Detective Service to achieve a desired outcome, both financially and ethically.

Prevention is better than cure

In any event, getting a court order or subpoena may be an issue, and it can also be time consuming and expensive. The best strategy, therefore, is to minimise the opportunity for others to impersonate you or your company in the first place.

Here’s how to do it

  • Have a regular and unique online presence so that people will know when an account is fake;
  • Use a different username and password for each SNS and keep your email address password secure;
  • Change your password for all SNS accounts, and your email, frequently;
  • Log off from each site when you leave your computer, tablet or smart phone and regularly review and customize your security settings;
  • Read the privacy policy of each SNS regularly – these policies do change and update frequently;
  • Limit the amount of personal information you post on the internet, particularly for a company page;
  • Make sure your wireless network connection is secure; &
  • Be careful who you accept as a ‘friend request’ on your personal pages.

If you still find yourself facing an identity crisis, remember it’s not the end of the world. Explain to your loyal fan base what has happened, and make sure they are all visiting the true and correct page. Once the fake pages have been removed or merged with yours, you can hopefully get on with business.

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