Today I received an email from Facebook telling me that the bogus page created in my name by an impostor had been deleted. Thank you to those of you who offered suggestions on how best to handle that situation. They were greatly appreciated. For others out there facing a similar situation, I have some information to pass along that might prove useful. First of all, kdavis30 suggested that I trademark my name which I found to be a very good suggestion given my other alternatives. The problem with that is that the feds don't allow you to trademark your surname since someone else could have the same name which, of course, wouldn't be fair. In my case, there is a Lenny Russo Band in New Jersey (Go figure. Where else would it be?). If I trademarked my name, the other guy wouldn't be allowed to use his own surname. That's obviously unfair. However, I could have trademarked "Chef Lenny Russo" which was the title of the Facebook page. That would have cost me $325 and taken 10 to 18 months to complete so I am glad that Facebook finally responded to my plea. Another alternative had me hiring a lawyer friend who is skilled at tracking down the sources of nonsense such as that, and he would have gone bulldog on that person. I seriously considered that option before today. At any rate, it is likely now that I will have to create a Facebook page for both me and our restaurant in order to avoid a similar situation in the future. It's not something I relish doing, but it might be the best course of action.
When it comes to new communication technologies, I have
always been more than a little bit behind the curve. I don't own a cell
phone, and my participation in social networking sites is extremely
limited. Some of you might laugh, but I still had a rotary phone until sometime in the late
1980's. That's not to say that I am completely ignorant when it comes to
these things. After all, I created our restaurant website just two months
after we opened, and I have been updating and maintaining it for the last seven
As most of us are aware, the rapid proliferation of new communication technologies including the various social networking sites, chat rooms and blogs is showing no sign of slowing down. Rather, it appears to be gaining more momentum. As a result, I have developed the habit of putting my name and the name of our restaurant in my computer's search engine every couple of months in order to see what might be making it's way around the worldwide web. While that might sound a little weird, I have come to understand how much potential there is for misinformation to be disseminated and for that misinformation to gain traction on the internet. For example, I often receive phone calls from individuals and businesses seeking to rent out our private room. The problem with that is that we don't have a private room. It is also not unusual to have people show up at the front door asking to be sat on our nonexistent patio. These folks have been misled by one or more of the various restaurant search sites that have guides to dining establishments that list amenities, hours of operation, locations and contact information. Many times those details are incorrect necessitating that a restaurateur track down the site administrator in order to correct or update a listing. In similar fashion, there is much written about our industry that those of us in the business never see. More than once I have seen articles written about Heartland purporting to quote me when all that was done by the author was to extract a quote from another article and insert it out of context. It's very helpful to be aware of this stuff so I try to stay as current as possible with what is floating around out there.
So imagine my surprise when a couple of weeks ago while I was performing my intermittent web check that a link came up for a Facebook page in the name of "Chef
I had to use a friend's Facebook account in order to view the entire profile and all of my so called "friends". Besides the fact that I would never identify myself by utilizing the title "Chef" before my name, the profile contains all sorts of crazy stuff with which I would never connect myself and shows a contrived birth date that lists me as four years younger than I really am. I didn't know whether to be flattered or freaked out.
While reviewing the page with my friend, she said that at least I could take solace in the fact that I am well known enough that someone would take the time to want to impersonate me. Yeah, right! At last check, my impostor has total of twelve "friends". Not all of them are people. A quick check of the only "celebrity" over whom I supposedly fawn showed that Bobby Flay has 34,835 "fans". I know Bobby Flay. He and I did a dinner together in Miami almost twenty years ago, and he recently dropped by the wine bar to say hello when he last came through town; but I wouldn't exactly call myself a "fan". I'm not real big on celebrity worship, but apparently that hasn't stopped over 35,000 others from registering as Bobby's "fans". I think that makes him slightly more popular than I.
So I was left wondering what exactly someone could hope to gain from impersonating me. I could see no real benefit from it. Whoever he or she is can't show up someplace pretending to be me. My photo is posted on the page which would render the scam useless if this individual was to attempt to represent me in a public forum. After contacting Facebook to report the abuse and after asking them to no avail to remove the page, a recent web search might have offered some insight into what some impostors might hope to achieve by impersonating people.
I began my search by seeking laws that might govern identity theft as they relate to social networking sites. What I discovered is that no statutes currently exist that make it illegal for someone to impersonate another in this way. In a ConsumerAffairs.com article dated March 17, 2008, David Wood reports that both MySpace and Facebook have been notoriously slow at removing pages that have been reported to be impostor created. Individuals who have attempted to have these pages removed have found that they have no statutory recourse to force these sites and the impostors to remove these pages. In fact, under something called the "Safe Harbor Provision", most websites are immune from prosecution as long as they can show that they exercised some sort of reasonable effort to cooperate in identifying impostors. Instead, the only avenue available to them has been through civil litigation against the alleged impostor utilizing the so called "false light tort" wherein a person misrepresenting another person doesn't necessarily have to do harm to an individual but must merely be portraying that person in a false light. What is needed in a case like that is for a lawyer to hunt down the impostor and bring a civil suit against him or her seeking monetary damages.
Besides the obvious misrepresentation and theft of my persona by this person, my main concern is for those who have signed up to be connected to this page.
Online reporter Bob Sullivan reports on internet consumer fraud and other such scams for MSNBC.com. As recently as last October, he published a piece entitled "Facebook impostor scam a growing concern". In it, he talks about how some people have had their identities stolen as a means of conning others into sending monetary assistance in response to false claims of duress or as a means of spreading malicious software. Anyone who has signed up to be a friend of "Chef Lenny Russo" already believes that he or she is corresponding with me. It wouldn't be very difficult under such circumstances to attempt to sell nonexistent products and services through that web page. In my opinion, the potential for nefarious behavior on the part of this individual is quite high. This person has already revealed himself or herself to be a liar capable of going to at least some lengths to deceive those who are signing up as "friends". There is no mechanism in place to protect those who might be further conned.
On Thanksgiving Day, my wife's cousin Stacie told me that she found me on Facebook. Of course, I revealed it to be a scam. Being fairly savvy when it comes to online social networking, she was able to obtain the email address that is connected to that account. Apparently, the impostor went so far as to create an email account using my name. The email address, which is firstname.lastname@example.org., reveals that this person utilized the new email server for Windows 7. Since Windows 7 is in the middle of its maiden launch, the Facebook account can't be much older than a few months at best. It is my hope that by blogging about this that I can save some folks from potential harm.
I have already sent a threatening email to the person responsible for this in hope that he or she will do the right thing and remove the page from Facebook. If not, I will do whatever is necessary to track this person down and force removal of the page. If that means hiring a lawyer and bringing a civil action against this party, then so be it. In the meantime, I would encourage anyone who is connected to that page to sever any such connections and to report the abuse to Facebook by using the reporting tools provided by them. Furthermore, anyone who is reading here while having any advice for me on how to better handle this situation please take the time to respond with a comment on this blog. Your help and insights would be greatly appreciated.