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Internet Impostors at Work

When it comes to dealing with people online, the last thing you want to do is give out too much information.

By Charles Moffat - March 2009.

TECHNOLOGY - This is a long story, but if you've ever been the victim of an internet impostor you know its usually a long story.

Ten years ago roughly I got a series of emails from someone asking about my artwork and my writing on website. Then they moved on to asking me all sorts of probing questions about my past relationships.

The questions at times were a bit insulting, and in an effort to defend myself from accusations and insults I replied to the emails, gave examples, names and way too much personal information about the events during one relationship in particular with a woman called "June" (pseudonym to protect her real name).

That was a big mistake on my part.

The next thing I know I got an angry phone call from June, asking why I am harassing her and sending her nasty emails.

Now obviously they weren't from me. Not only would I would remember sending such emails, but the silly thing is I have no reason to harass June at all. It was a badly ended relationship, I'll admit, but I bear her no ill will whatsoever.

So I explained to her that they weren't from me, and June's husband (who is more computer savvy) and I even went through the task of comparing the IP addresses from the emails she had received, and the emails from the woman who had sent me all the probing questions.

Not a surprise, they matched.

Not only that, when we checked the WHOIS for the IP address it was coming from a public library in Mississauga in Canada (quite a distance from where I lived at the time, especially since I didn't have a car).

The impostor had modified their email settings to make it look like the emails were coming from me, but when you clicked reply it still forwarded to their email account and not mine. They were using either Hotmail or Yahoo, I don't remember which.

Lastly, the info the impostor used in their harassing emails to June was clearly the same info they had managed to trick out of me.

So it was an internet impostor, without a doubt. June's husband and I both agreed we had been the victims of a sick prank.

I thought the issue was over and done with. I didn't give the incident a second thought.

But apparently June had doubts and still had bitterness towards me, so she contacted the impostor back, and the impostor managed to maintain the illusion that they were still me. Furthermore the impostor went on insult her husband and even threaten him.

So for the past ten years June has gone on thinking I had insulted/threatened her husband.

So when I recently decided to contact her on Facebook, just to see how she's doing and how life is, I was extremely shocked to discover that she still thought I was the one sending the harassing emails/etc.

I tried to explain that those emails were completely fake, but I don't think June will ever believe me. It is somewhat upsetting that my good name has been damaged by an internet impostor, but in the grand scheme of things it doesn't really matter I suppose. The past is the past and people are way too obsessed and bitter about it sometimes.

This is not the first time I've been the victim of harassment. See Internet Foolery. And that is just one example... see my problems with Casandra Vasu further below.

What shocks me is that we haven't tried to solve this problem. Internet services like WHOIS by IP are widely available for people to check the IP addresses of where messages are coming from. It is mind-boggling that people don't know how to use it.

Every couple of years I get contacted by a particular impostor, ex-girlfriend Casandra Anne Vasu from Ohio. Unlike June, I will use her real name here because she should be ashamed of what she does.

The first time she did it she pretended to be a gay man hitting on me, calling 'himself' the "Scatmaster4000". I had to look scat up to find out what it actually means and now wish I had not. Her choice of scat confirms to me what a sicko she is.

The second time she pretended to be a teenage female, and she (like the internet impostor above) started asking me about my past relationships and asking me about... small surprise... herself, Casandra Anne Vasu. When I called her bluff, she changed her story and said she was Casandra's step-sister and that their parents were getting married to each other. Completely ridiculous.

A third time Casandra tried to pretend she was in Russia, working for an underground communist newspaper. (Which is silly, because why would a communist newspaper in Russia have to be underground since Russia is a communist country already?) I checked the IP and she was in New York City.

The silly thing is I see through her tricks every time, for two reasons. #1. During the time that I was friends with Casandra Vasu and I exchanged emails regularly and I got to recognize her unique writing style, her sense of wit/sarcasm and the methods she uses to provoke the conversation. #2. Whenever I suspect an email is from Casandra, I check the IP address to see where it is coming from.

Almost always its from the Cuyahoga County Public Library, near Cleveland Ohio. Casandra apparently doesn't have much imagination when it comes to playing pranks on me.

When I got all the emails from the Mississauga impostor 10 years ago it struck me that it could be Casandra, up to her old tricks again. Indeed, I wonder to this day if it could have been her. Its possible she was visiting a friend or family member in Mississauga, and like her previous pranks she decided to go to a public library.

These days I try to avoid putting too much personal info on the internet. As a popular artist/writer (my art website gets approx. 12,000 daily visitors) I am constantly getting emails from fans, business offers, students writing essays on me (I'm not kidding, that happens on a weekly basis now) and of course hatemail from people who disagree with my more controversial paintings/writing.

As I gradually become more well-known as an artist I have had to learn to deal with the attention, and I imagine it will not be the first time I will be the victim of internet impostors or internet foolery.

My advice to other people?

DEFINITELY DO NOT GIVE OUT PERSONAL INFO ONLINE.

#1. Avoid using full names or real names.
#2. Don't tell stories with lots of details to strangers, leave specific/useful details out.
#3. Relationships can come back to haunt you, so when possible make a clean break.
#4. Make it easy to contact your real email address, so that people can contact the real you in the event they suspect an impostor is posing as you. You may get more spam
#5. When you suspect an impostor, contact both the real person and check the IP to see where it is coming from.

You may end up feeling a bit like a CSI detective when you check the IPs, but its really not that complicated.

Using these tips you should either have less problems with impostors, or you'll be able to catch them red-handed.

TECHNOLOGY IDEA: Wouldn't it be nice if internet email services like Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, etc. automated checked the IP and listed the town/city and the country the IP is from? It could easily be done, and could make it easier to prevent internet scams and impostors.

See Also:
College Relationships
Canada a Haven for Internet Spam
Telephone Marketing and Spam should be Illegal

1 comment:

Lorra said...

Hi Charles,

I found your entry because I searched for articles on internet fraud online. I am also the victim of an impostor because they did not agree with opinions that I posted online.

They created a fake blog with my name, stolen information from my original website and even posted a picture of me too.

I have all these pieces of information online because I advertise myself as an art teacher conducting summer workshops and as a freelance artist.

This person created the fake blog on WordPress and I have yet to find a way to locate or identify this person. Friends have been saying that it's nearly impossible to do so because the fake blog is hosted on WordPress and not on a personal server.

Would you happen to know of a way to go around this problem?

If you do, I would really appreciate the help. Kudos to you for handling your impostors well.

Sincerely,
Lorra

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