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Stolen Pictures, Fake Account, Stun Victim of Online Catfishing

Stolen Pictures, Fake Account, Stun Victim of Online Catfishing

(Lara Mossa, Jan. 20, 2020)

Ferndale, MI  –  Last Tuesday Hailey Zureich was surprised to get a message on Facebook from a woman expressing romantic interest who had recognized her from a dating app called Bumble.  Zureich was confused, as she had not logged into Bumble for nearly a year, and because her profile had not been set up to attract women.

After a bit of back and forth, Zureich learned that there was an account set up using her pictures and some details from her life, but it wasn’t her that had done it.  It was an imposter!  And she still has no idea who would do that, or why.

“It’s incredibly violating,” she said. “It’s really scary. It’s frustrating. I feel really heart broken, because I don’t know why someone would do this. If someone did it to hurt me, it would be painful.”

A screenshot of the account showed not only her pictures but the fact that she teaches yoga and is a stand-up comedian. Being misrepresented could be damaging to her career, she explained.

“That was what was so unnerving,” she added. “The photos were of me and included my name, my age, the university I had gone to, the year I graduated. The opening line was not what I would say.”

Zureich believes she was a victim of catfishing, which is when someone steals another person’s online identity for financial motives, or other reasons like harassment, revenge, identity theft, or to embarrass them, or for the thrill of tricking others and starting drama.

Both women reported the incident to Bumble, and the account was taken down by the end of the day.  Zureich is also planning to talk with police.

Oakland County Times contacted the Ferndale Police to find out what their advice is for those who have been catfished.  Sgt. Baron Brown said “If your picture is used to open a fake social media or on-line account report it to the entity as a fraudulent account.  It may take a few reports or a letter from an attorney in extreme cases, but be persistent and persuasive.

“Generally, if there isn’t an injury (financial or physical) the police can’t do too much to help.  Identity theft is a crime and we will take that report but it doesn’t usually cover things like you describe.  Once you put your picture and information out there, and most of us have, you lose all control over that digital property.

“Right now just taking someone’s info and opening an account on a social media or on-line dating account isn’t necessarily a crime in Michigan.  If someone uses that to commit a crime then obviously that changes things.”  The problem is one that affects people throughout the state, and Brown said there is talk in Lansing about potential legislation.

In the meantime, Ferndale Police suggest:

Lock down your on-line profiles.  Once you post it you lose all control over it.

Don’t accept friend requests from people you do not know.

Periodically search you name and image in a search engine, for example https://images.google.com/

If you find your image or name being used report any suspicious activity to the social media site or application.

If you find your image or name being used notify your friends, family, and business contacts about the fraudulent use.

Since Zureich posted the experience on Facebook, dozens of people came forward to say something similar happened to them. She hopes to rally some support for creating laws to provide consequences for people who steal the face another and misrepresent them on the internet.

Zureich is relieved to receive so much support from others, she said, but stunned to learn that so many people have been victimized as well. “Catfishing is a huge problem,” she said. “It happens often.”

In some cases, people have formed relationships and long lasting friendships with people online who are completely fake.   “Some people will create an entire fictitious universe,” she said, adding that It’s possible it was someone she knew or could have been a complete stranger.

“They’re not looking for money. They’re looking for attention, acknowledgment and romance. They pursue relationships with people virtually, because they don’t think they can connect in real life.”

As far as her experience, Zureich said,  “I can only hope that that is the end of it.”

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