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Robert Siciliano

Robert Siciliano

Posted: July 10, 2009 11:26 AM

Sarah Palin Victim of Social Media Identity Theft, LaRussa Drops Suit


Since the beginning of the presidential campaign, Sarah Palin has used Twitter and Facebook to communicate with the public. Impostors have taken every opportunity to jack her persona, even hacking into her personal email account.

Now, hackers and impostors are chiming in on Sarah Palin's resignation. The Twitter profile for ExGovSarahPalin snags and reuses graphics, photos and tweets from Sarah Palin's "Verified" Twitter acount, AKGovSarahPalin. This fake Palin account is still live as of this writing. In one tweet, a Palin impersonator invited followers to her home for a barbecue. Her security staff was reading these tweets and quickly dispatched security personnel to her home to intercept unwanted visitors.

Twitter has a "parody impersonation policy" that permits impersonation, as long as the parody is clear to readers. It's puzzling to me that they would allow this, particularly in the case of the fake Sarah Palin account, which is plastered with Governor's likeness.

Social media is not prepared for this type of use. And Twitter should rethink its policies.

Meanwhile, USA Today reports that St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa, who has also fallen victim to social media identity theft and has sued Twitter, claiming damage resulting from "cybersquatting" and misappropriation of his name, has now dropped his lawsuit. One report mentions an out of court settlement that compensates LaRussa for his legal fees and includes a donation to his favorite charity. Twitter co-founder Biz Stone blogged a denial of such a settlement.

Financial identity theft is impossible to prevent 100% of the time, and so is social media identity theft. However, there are ways to lock down your name and protect yourself, or at least to mitigate the potential damage to your name and reputation.

As we spend more time online, meeting people, posting photos and offering glimpses into our personal lives, here are some action steps to keep Social Media Identity Theft at bay:

1. Register your full name and those of your spouse and kids on the most trafficked social media sites, blogs, domains or web based email accounts. If your name is already gone, include your middle initial, a period or a hyphen. It's up to you to decide whether or not to plug in your picture and basic bio, but consider leaving out your age or birthday.

2. Set up a free Google Alerts for your name and get an email every time your name pops up online. Go to iSearch.com by Intelius and search your name and any variations of your name in what would be a screen name.

3. Set up a free StepRep account for your name. StepRep is an online reputation manager that does a better job than Google Alerts does of fetching your name on the web.

4. Consider dropping a few bucks on Knowem.com and other sites like them. These online portals go out and register your name at what they consider the top social media sites. Their top is a great start. The user experience is relatively painless. There is still labor involved in setting things up with some of them. And no matter what you do, you will still find it difficult to complete the registration with all the sites. Some of the social media sites just aren't agreeable. This can save you lots of time, but is only one part of solving the social media identity theft problem.

5. Start doing things online to boost your online reputation. Blogging is best. You want Google to bring your given name to the top of search in its best light, so when anyone is searching for you they see good things. This is a combination of online reputation management and search engine optimization for your brand: YOU.

6. If you ever stumble upon someone using your likeness in the social media, be very persistent in contacting the site's administrators. They too have reputations to manage and if they see someone using your photo or likeness they would be smart to delete the stolen profile.

7. Despite all the work you may do to protect yourself, you still need the Intelius Identity Protect service I'm working with and recommend coupled with Internet security software.

Robert Siciliano, identity theft speaker, discusses scams.

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