Sophomore Blake Hohlbein received a Facebook message a couple weeks ago telling him that his picture was being used on a Twitter account that didn’t belong to him.
“I’m like freaking out about this,” Hohlbein said. “It’s pretty sketch.”
Hohlbein said he was skeptical to the news until he saw the evidence – a Twitter account belonging to a “Rob Bradford,” but with his own face smiling at him from the computer screen.
According to the Facebook message, which was from an anonymous Facebook user claiming to be a 15-year-old female, Bradford was using pictures of Hohlbein as bait to attract young women to his Twitter account, mostly to solicit sex.
“This guy is obviously some type of predator,” Hohlbein said. “It’s pretty scary.”
Using pictures of someone other than yourself to form relationships on the Internet is known as “catfishing,” a rapidly increasing identity fraud phenomenon.
“Catfish” is also the name of a documentary and a reality show on MTV about people who are in deceptive online relationships. Ironically, Hohlbein said he had watched the documentary just a couple of weeks before the incident.
“It really got me thinking, ‘What in the world? This could happen to me,’” Hohlbein said.
Hohlbein said he has a unique perspective on catfishing. Often, society hears from the predator and the prey but not from the bait.
“I mean, it was nice that someone obviously was admiring me enough to steal my pictures,” Hohlbein said. “It’s a compliment, but it’s kind of creepy. He probably thought that I was more attractive than he was, and it was the best way to get girls or something.”
Hohlbein said he refuses to let it go to his head.
“I’m sure I’m not the only one,” Hohlbein said. “It probably happens more than what we know. That’s my guess.”
Gary Campbell, director of tech services, said the best way to find out if you’re a victim of identity fraud is to periodically search for yourself on Facebook, Google and Twitter. He recommended photo searching as well.
“You need to start searching for yourself – see if you come up multiple times,” Campbell said.
Campbell also said to check your privacy settings to make sure they’re protecting your personal information.
“The whole danger of social media is how much information you give about yourself,” Campbell said. “You’re sharing a lot of personal information.”
However, even with privacy settings at the maximum, identity fraud is possible.
“Someone can still say, ‘I am you,’” Campbell said. “That’s very scary.”
A recent article on WANE TV’s website described how this happened to one of their reporters, Adam Widener. Widener, a 2009 HU alumnus, was researching catfishing for an upcoming news segment when he stumbled upon an alarming Facebook profile.
The profile had Widener’s name and picture, but all of the other information was for someone else.
“For the past few months, there’s been a fake Adam Widener roaming around Facebook,” Widener said.
He reported the page to Facebook trusting they would take care of the problem.
Hohlbein said he is dealing with the problem the same way. He reported the fake profile to Twitter and gave them the information needed to resolve the issue.
“I’m just curious to see what happens,” Hohlbein said. “If this guy gets caught, if he’s a predator … I hope they let me know. Nobody should be allowed to go preying on young girls.”