Jul 15, 2013

Sweeping Up The "Web Crumbs"

Oh my, how time flies. We have allready gone halfway through July. Coming up is August! Fair enough, August can be a very nice month, even here in Norway. Autumn, is one of my very favorite seasons. Still, winter isn't that far away and, that makes my smile cool down when thinking about it. But, for now, I live in the present. I still have a lot to enjoy, before it goes back to the cold and winter. Also, this time of year is the time for one of my annual Internet "sweep-up's"! For three years now, every year around these times, I go my round on the Internet-communities, facebook pages that are public and not my own, or other places where I've been active, with pressing "Likes", commenting, posting pictures, and more. Simply said, I'm sweeping up my web-crumbs. I'm sure most of us have heard the classic fairytale about "Hansel & Gretel". Leaving a trail of crumbs behind them in the dark deep woods, they found their way back to their home. Well, on the world wide web, a simple pressed "Like" on a facebook page that is public, and not your own, is a link for any person to trace it back to You. I'm not saying that this is anything to be concerned about, but, as a matter of fact, if the "wrong" person is looking for exactly a "crumb" like that, this little thing can be enough to start a "wrong-doing". I experienced this, personally! I mean, I wasn't the one person who had my pictures and information and much more, used by a person with an intent to impersonate the owner of the material, or more. But, I busted a person doing this, with another persons material, and even more serious, professional photography work! Let me tell you the story...

In 2009, I started conversing with a woman on an Internet-forum. I liked the pictures she had posted of her self, so I asked who the photographer was. She responded with gratefulness that I liked them, and told me they were "Selfies". - Great job! She then told me that she was very much into photography, and as I told her that this was my profession, we started "talking" more. Se seemed really cool, was down to earth and, she was fun. So, the conversations kept on going, and we found that we had many similar interests, and liked alot of the same stuff. We became "friends", as in how much you can be friends, only by conversing by phone, Internet, and texts. At least she was someone I could "talk" with about nothing, and everything. But, it didn't take long before I had the feeling that something didn't add up...

After a little while, she told me about her family. An older sister. Her husband, that she had lost many years ago, in an accident. Her ex-boyfriend, (also his name), and so on. Living in the US, she had relatives around the country, staying with them during part of the year. She always sent me pictures, up to date with time, and places too, telling me about her day, things she was doing, places where she were, and so on. After some months, things she had told me previously didn't add up with things she told me she was doing, and were she was, or would go. I played dumb. I said, "OK, have a good trip, and be safe", and such stuff. But I realized that she was either lying, or she wasn't the person she had always told me she was. I have almost a photographic memory. Not quite, but almost. It was easy for me to remember what she had previously told me, and details about it. So, I guess when she had been lying so much that she didn't remember her previous lies, she got caught in her own "web". Therefor, I decided to start looking around the Internet to see what I could find. She had several online profiles, facebook, Instagram, and much more, where she had contact with many other people than me. Her name, and pictures matched up what she had been telling me, but still, something was wrong.I knew she was lying alot, and that she was very dishonest. By this time, it had been four years we had been conversing, and been "friends". She had a little girl coming into their family life, that she had told me previously that was really her cousins daughter, but that this cousin was a drug addict, and that she had left the daughter to her family's care, and then disappeared. Sending me many pictures of this little girl, calling me "uncle" on the picture texts. Well, that's really sweet of course, but the story about how the girl came into her life, just didn't seem real. Then, I went by her "sister's" Instagram profile, and I found so many of MY pictures that I've sent her through the times, on her SISTER page. My pictures, that I sent to my "friend" by phone, e-mail and so on. Even picture of my sports-car, where she talked about how much she liked HER new convertible to other users, landscape pictures where she bragged about how she had taken them to people interested in them. So, when I saw all this, I knew something was absolutely wrong. Her older sister, had posted my pictures, that I had sent to my friend.  Then, as the investigating journalist I once was, I started to do more "detective" work online. I know very well how and where to look for things, and I'm not stupid. I knew this person wasn't real, in some way. I just had to find the one thing that could reveal it. And damn, did I find it...

In the middle of all this, I was looking to find a photographer in a part of America that could be able to do a freelance-job for my company. Searching through several lists of photography companies, I suddenly came by a web page, that had pictures posted that I recognized! I froze up, as this was pictures my "friend" had sent me earlier, where she had told me about the stories behind them. As I checked out this web-page more, I found pictures of my "friend"! And her little girl too... I of course put two and two together, and realized this photographer (as this owner of the pictures was), would have to be the real person that my "friend" had used pictures of to portrait her self with, to me, and many others through the years. I went back to my "friend's" Instagram page, and looked through her friend-list, to see if there was a clue to this person there. Nothing. Then, I went to her older SISTER's Instagram profile, and looked through her friend's list. There it was! This same photographer that I had "zapped" in on, while looking for a photographer for the job I needed done. I recognized the picture of this person immediately! The subtext on the persons picture said a different name, but it also showed the picture of this little girl, my "friend" had told me she had taken custody of! CRAZY! And more: It said the little girls name (as my "friend" had told me she was called), but also, my "friends" ex-boyfriend name (as she had told me about) was mentioned in this other persons profile text! It was her HUSBAND! The girl was her DAUGHTER! It was just completely crazy, and I realized of course that I now had found the truth. A link to the persons blog was listed in her profile text, as was her web-adress to her online photography company where I allready had been looking in on, and when I went in on her blog, I think my mouth stayed wide open for five minutes. There, almost all of the pictures my "friend" had sent me through the years, were. Along with stories about her work, that my "friend" had been copying, and telling me about. The same fact was about her photo-company web page. I now knew I had the "smoking gun" to catch my so called "friend" with. Also, if it hadn't been anymore then me she had been lying to, and if she hadn't been using another persons pictures, of life, family and her self, I would just let it go, and never speak to her again, knowing what a liar she really was. But, when it was this extensive use, of a photographers professional work, and also her daughter, and family, I just couldn't let go the thought about how important it was to stop this person from doing this, and using this photographers work and life, to portray her self with, to all kind of people out on the web. 

I have a friend that almost had his photography business torn apart, just because of a case similar to this. A person had been saving his professional work, and using them to make contact with other people. In the end, a person who had been in contact with this "fake", suddenly came by my old friend's company web page. Then, by bad mouthing him around the web, because he thought that my friend was the person that had been "tricking" him with his pictures, the rumour alone led to my friend loosing most of his clients, and customers. Knowing this, I felt so bad about all what had been going on for all this time with this photographer, and woman, that I now was looking at on my computer-screen, that I, after a day of intense brainstorming, made the decision to make contact and alert her about the situation. So, well aware that doing so could just as well backfire on me, if the person either didn't believe me, or even so thought that I could be the one who actually was having a bad "agenda" doing this, I still wrote a short e-mail to her through her blogs listed e-mail address, and simply asked her honostly if she was the person I had been conversing with for the last almost five years. Thank the Maker, for how kind she was, answering me actually almost immediately after I sent her the e-mail, saying, "I'm sorry, but no, I am not the friend you have been talking to". Then, right away, I told my "friend", that I now had been in contact with person she had been steeling pictures from, and mentioned the real persons name. I told her I knew the truth about the little girl, and that her so called "ex-boyfriend" was the real woman's husband. I never heard from her again. That same day, only a few hours after I told her that I knew the truth, all the various web-pages and profiles she had, where she used the fake name and stolen pictures and so on, disappeared, one by one. She was cleaning up her trails... 

Then, I wrote the real person with more or less, (as good as I could at the time as my head was spinning because of all what had happened), the whole story, and what had been going on. I sent her pictures that this "friend" of mine had sent me, that were taken from her web-sites, trying to explain everything in a way that she hopefully would understand that it was all real, and that I only had made contact with her to make her aware of the situation, and to find out the truth. That way, at least she could make her own choice about how she would deal with it. Block the person from her web-sites (as I gave her the impersonators name, and different links to her web-pages etc.), or what she would find necessary to avoid it happening again. Then, as I again wrote her some time back, asking her if there was anything else she needed my help with, or if she had any more questions about the crazy matter, I didn't hear from her. I took that as a sign that she had now finally been able to deal with it in a matter that was good for her and her family, and that everything was OK. I myself, could then, finally delete all the info, pictures and more I had from this "friendship", and move on myself. 

It's like a classic tale of a horror show! Who knows how far it could have gone, if this fake and dishonest person would be able to keep on with what she did. She used this poor woman's pictures every where. On her fake facebook page. On her fake instagram page. She even used pictures that this photographer had done of clients, Boudoir etc, where the face wasn't visible, saying it was her! Nuts... And so, so very sad... I know "hate" is a very strong word, but honestly, I hate people doing things like this! I felt so bad for the woman that was the real person in the pictures, and how she unknowingly had become implicated in it all. It ate me so much, I had trouble sleeping for more than a month after I first told her about the crazy situation. I still think about it, today. 

The reason I couldn't find out sooner what was the truth, is because this person had a whole "piece of life" to pluck pictures from! As the real woman, and owner of this was a photographer, also by being on her friend-list, having access to her instagram pictures, she always could grab and steal pictures up to date with things that was happening, new stories, summer, fall, and the pictures never stopped. If she only had a very limited amount of pictures to use, she would have had a real problem, very soon. But, as she could just almost "grab a picture of the day" from this photographer's different web-sites, and use it as she liked, having no respect for other people's work, property or life, it was difficult, or even almost impossible to understand that it wasn't my "friend" who was in them, and that had shot them. This person had been using this "tactic" even before I started my conversation with her, back in 2009. 

It's important to protect your online activity, and property. Not everything is easy, or even possible to keep safe, but one can do much to at least try to prevent something like this from happening. Sweeping up your web-crumbs, is one way. I, for one, as it comes to my photo-company, don't have an online, public company web page. I only use a locked down, personal web-page, where my photography-clients receive a personal password they have to use, to even enter the page, and to see their pictures. When they become signed clients, the get the web-address, and two different password. One password is for the entry of the page. The other, for their picture-gallery. It works really well, and my clients are content and happy with it, and they are glad I go this far to protect their pictures. Now, my company is very small. I do not accept many clients, and that is exactly the way I want it to be. That being said, it's easier for me, to keep it completely locked down, without having to post pictures in a public online web-gallery. It's not this easy, for those who need more clients, and more work. 

Now, a year of likes and various comments are swept away. I'm cleaning. If more then a year goes by, it's difficult to do a good "sweep", it just gets too much to remember, and clean. A year is alot too, and maybe for many people impossible. That is where my good memory comes in - I'm lucky with it, in this way. I normally remember where I been active, and what places I been commenting, or posting personal content that I don't want to have floating around on the web for eternity. Cleaning is always a good thing! Also when it comes to the digital world. Protect your self - as far as you can. We all think that, "These thing's won't happen to me", but believe me, it can. I was thankfully able to stop the person from using this poor woman, and photographer's work and life. I didn't want anything else, but that. I'm not sure if the woman actually believed me or not, even though I tried my best to tell her everything, and even who I am, as honest and straight up as it was possible, through e-mail's. If she didn't believe me, it's actually OK. Because as I mentioned, all I wanted to do, was to stop the impersonator from doing what she was doing. And, I made it. That is more than good enough for me. Post your things with caution. Think twice before you post anything personal and private. At least on websites and pages that are open for public. I learned my lesson, even though it was not my property that was used. For me, it feel's bad enough to be one of those who been exposed to it, with a "bad agenda". 

 Oh, and WHO was the REAL person, which I thought was my "friend" for five years, that I conversed with every single day? It turned out that, the person never really existed by name. You remember I mentioned earlier, that she (my "friend"), told me about her older sister? Well, there never was a YOUNGER sister. The real person behind it all, was of course the person she had told me was her older sister. A grown woman. That had made up a younger sister, using this woman's pictures, and life stories to portray her self with. People are (or can be) truly crazy! And, the Internet can be so nuts...    

Stay Safe, And Have A Great Week :)

Til next time

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