Unachievable beauty standards touted on the internet are enough to make some people want to become someone else.
Increasingly, abuse of social media is making that possible.
Imagine scrolling through Instagram or Facebook only to discover your personal pictures, name or entire life is being used by someone else. It is a scary thought, and not something that you would expect. However, that is exactly what happened to 24-year-old Andrea Christodoulous.
According to Detective Brevet Sergeant Dennis McManus of the South Australia Police, Ms Christodoulous is not alone: “Identity theft is increasing.”
Ms Christodoulous told The Newsroom she had discovered two active Instagram accounts using her photos on “an alias name”.
“At first I was only aware of one of the accounts, which had up to 2,500 followers until my friends looked into it and discovered that there was a second, which I was evidently blocked from viewing.”
Ms Christodoulous told The Newsroom her friends thought ‘catfishing’ was the intended purpose of the account – luring unsuspecting and vulnerable people into fake relationships. That made her feel “a bit sick in the stomach”, she says, “But I knew it was probably a lot more innocent than that and more likely fuelled by some sort of insecurity.” She discovered the false identities had been in use for two years.
The theft was discovered by chance when one of the accounts’ operators liked the business account of one of Ms Christodoulous’ friends. The friend noticed a familiar photo being used by the liker, and drew Ms Christodoulous’ attention to it.
The identity thief portrayed a fairytale life lived between Melbourne and Mykonos, using Ms Christodoulous’ traveling photos. “She was carrying out full conversations with strangers about where she was currently traveling in Europe while posting from a suburban street in Adelaide.”
It seems society has become too trusting of a system that can deceive anyone. “If anyone had bothered to check the location tab she would have been caught out a lot sooner,” Ms Christodoulous said, “but it is evidently an integrated tool that is used too trustingly without thought by many social media users.”
Limit the information you make public
Detective McManus told The Newsroom, “I definitely believe that social media sites and the internet, in general, have increased the instances of identity theft. It is an increasing issue within Australia and overseas.” He urged social media users to limit the amount of personal information they divulged over the internet. “A person may provide personal information such as their address, phone number, and date of birth. This information can be readily used to create a false identity. Clearly each individual needs to take more care in respect to the type of information they post on these sites.”
However according to Detective McManus it is not just individuals who are accountable for their online safety and feels that social media sites should impose stricter guidelines as to what can and cannot be posted. “Social media sites need to take some responsibility as to the type of information posted by individuals on their sites.”
Social media privacy policies can hinder police investigations into online incidents. Detective McManus told The Newsroom “Social media sites also need to allow greater access to stored data by Law Enforcement Agencies once an offence has been committed to assisting the investigation in a timely manner.”
Ms Christodoulous says that she was not necessarily rattled by the experience nor does she harbour feelings of resentment. “All my friends were calling me to ask if I was ok, and I honestly was,” she says, “I don’t feel angry towards the person who did this, rather a lot of empathy and sympathy. This kind of stuff apparently happens all the time but no one ever takes the time to stop and ask why”.
Ms Christodoulous feels that the online world carries a lot of responsibility for promoting insecurities and facilitating the creation of such fictional personas. The harm that could be caused by social media was abundantly clear, she said.
“We are constantly scrolling through a reel of half-truths on social media yet people so easily fall into states of comparison via an incomplete view of reality. There’s no denying or escaping the mental and emotional repercussions if this such as, people forming fake identities for acceptance, social gratification or whatever it is. But people just don’t take the time to stop and figure out why.”
Ms Christodoulous expressed empathy and sadness for the identity thief. “I never wanted to name and shame her,” she says. “That would be contradicting the breach of privacy that I was making a point of.”
Instead she posted a Facebook status drawing attention to the situation, making the thief aware that she had been discovered. “I issued an open invitation to privately come to me with an apology, which she did and she was very grateful that I didn’t reveal that it was her who did this. I could have [abused] her for her invasive actions, but … I accepted her apology,” Ms Christodoulous said. “I agreed to keep our conversation private but what I will say is that her reasons were simply to do with insecurities.”
Miss Christodoulous did not pursue legal action but would have been well within her rights to do so.
According to Detective McManus, any offences of identity theft would be dealt with under The Criminal Law Consolidation Act, and face a maximum penalty of three years.
It is not only social media accounts that compromise your identity.
“Statistically identity theft is increasing, not just through social media forums but by other means such as online banking facilities,” Detective McManus told The Newsroom. That was primarily orchestrated by organised crime syndicates. Such serious offences of theft or dishonesty carried a maximum sentence of up to 15 years’ imprisonment.
Miss Christodoulous told The Newsroom that her experience would definitely alter the way she uses social media. “I will be more cautious as to what I post, and how private it is in the future,” she says.
“It just goes to highlight how saturated these platforms have become, making it even more difficult to differentiate online and offline personas, and to know whether someone is doing it to you.” − Report and inset photo by Kaitlyn Wilson
Top photo by Ben Atkinson-James.