When imitation is not the best form of flattery
What to do if you find someone impersonating you on the internet
Picture these scenarios:
Scenario 1 - You catch up with a group of old school friends at a neighborhood pub and one of them tells you that your pictures on Tinder look ‘killer’. You’re taken aback. Not because you don’t think your pictures deserve the compliment, but because you aren’t on Tinder in the first place.
Scenario 2 - Your distant uncle, whom you haven’t spoken to in a while, turns up at your doorstep. He enquires if you’re fine and what exactly you needed to borrow so much cash for, at such short notice. You don’t remember asking him for any money and come to know that he’s received a call from a ‘friend’ of yours earlier that day, informing him that you’ve had an accident and needed money to pay the hospital bills urgently.
In both these scenarios, you’ve been impersonated - someone’s pretending to be you to derive some benefit from either you or your close ones. In the former, they were using your identity to most probably catfish potential matches on the dating app and in the latter, they were looking at earning an easy paycheck out of someone you were related to.
We’re all online
As more and more of our lives move online, our identities do too. Nowadays, every other app, website, business or government portal we interact with, requires us to input our personal details - right from our phone numbers to our addresses and phone contacts. Our social media profiles contain dozens of our pictures and videos, and those of our family, friends and co-workers. All of this makes it increasingly easier for those with ill intentions to fake our identities online. And no, it doesn’t just happen to celebrities and public figures.
Impersonation is a crime and legal remedies are available to address such cases. If you think someone is impersonating you, you can approach the police to file a criminal complaint. The primary Act dealing with cybercrime is the Information Technology Act (2000). Under Sections 66C and 66D of the Act, one can be punished with imprisonment for up to three years and be fined up to ₹1 lakh. Other sections of the Indian Penal Code, such as 415 (cheating), 416 (cheating by personation) and 499 (defamation) can also be invoked.
In an effort to help ease cybercrime reporting, the National Cyber Crime Reporting Portal was set up in 2019 which can be used to file a complaint. The website has thorough explanations about the legal provisions available to cybercrime victims, the necessary documents to be submitted and information on collecting screenshots and other evidence.
Twitter is one of the few platforms to have an extensive Impersonation Policy. If the impersonation complaint is found to be genuine, Twitter may temporarily suspend the stolen content or even permanently ban the account. Instagram and Facebook, unfortunately, only act on a report, if filed by the person who is being impersonated or their authorized representative. This makes reporting fake profiles slightly cumbersome in case the victim does not wish to be filing the complaint.
Acting quickly counts
The first reaction to you finding out an instance of your impersonation online should be to report or flag it immediately. Most platforms take time to review these reports by a person, hence your impersonator’s account might still be online till then. In the meanwhile, you can post about the fake account across your social handles to inform as many people as possible, so that no one will mistake its ownership and in fact may assist in reporting the account themselves.
There might not be hard and fast guidelines to follow to avoid your impersonation online in the future, but there are a few steps one could take just to be more vigilant. Review your privacy settings every once in a while. See what information you’re giving out publicly and consider if it is actually important to do so. Most platforms only have a few mandatory requirements in terms of your personal information and the rest are optional.
A NordPass report released recently revealed that the most used password in India was “password”. As per the report, passwords like these can be cracked in under a minute. Ensure that you are using a strong alphanumeric password and that you change it frequently.
Be smarter online with Doosra
A Doosra number is a virtual secondary number that can be used with the help of an app on your phone. Doosra only allows calls from numbers that you authorise and auto-blocks the rest, sending them to voicemail, so you decide who can call you and who cannot. When signing up on social media platforms as well as other apps and websites, you can use your Doosra number instead of your personal number. Even if your number lands in the wrong hands it is not likely to be misused or lead to the miscreant gaining access to information associated with your number.