February 7, 2013
Identity Theft, Online Reputation Management
With the recent media surrounding Manti Te’o being catfished (fooled) by a man posing as a woman he virtually dated for over 2 years without ever meeting, along with the growing popularity of the movie turned Television show Catfish, we decided to divulge a few tricks of how to
stalk research someone online using a few free tools and some creativity. So have you found your soul mate online? Let’s see if we can make sure they are who they say they are so you too can avoid being catfished.
Social Media Profile or Instant Messenger Address
Does this person chat with you using a screen name other than their real name? For instance let’s say you use a chat client that allows for usernames (take AIM for example) and the person that you are chatting with has a screen name of SallySmith82. It’s very possible that this person might use the same name across all of his/her social media personas. This is what I like to call someone’s “PUB”, or “Personal Unaware Branding”.
A great way to take a deeper look into what this person’s social media footprint might be is to run his screen name or username through our free social media Username Search tool. You might find that his or her PUB links to an old MySpace profile where there could be pictures that differ from the ones you have seen. Let’s assume you are a man (don’t worry ladies, we know this also happens to you often) and SallySmith82 claims to be a 30-year old woman with a modeling career who is sending you some amazingly beautiful and almost risque pictures of herself. Imagine your surprise when you check out the MySpace profile and you find that SallySmith82 is not at all who she claims to be! Don’t panic! It is always possible that someone else could have the same name and has already claimed the profile; however, if the locations of both SallySmith82 match and you are seeing some completely different pictures, you might want to ask about the profile. Always continue to dig deeper because there could be several profiles across various sites that could all be the same person (or perhaps different personas this person has created).
Do they own a blog, website or domain?
So for another scenario we ‘ll check out one for the ladies this time. Let’s say you meet a very smooth young entrepreneur on Facebook that claims to own a bunch of websites that make him tons of money, and he even emails you with an address from one of his personal domains. I’ll use myself as an example here – if I am constantly emailing you from “email@example.com”, take a look at streko.com. You’ll find a personal blog with a little information about myself, but no pictures or anything personally identifiable. To make sure my name is actually “Michael” a simple thing to do would be to perform a search on the WHOIS information of the account – this can be done easily by using Domain Tools, http://whois.domaintools.com/streko.com. So this proves that I own the domain and my name is Michael Streko. It may even provide my mailing address as long as I didn’t mark it as private. But what you also want to check out is what I highlighted in red, the link that says that I own 4 other domains. So let’s say that I have been telling you I own hundreds of domains and they are a large network of all different kinds of sites that have to deal with shopping. You can purchase a full domain ownership report from Domain Tools, or for a quick (and much less reliable) search you can query Google for pages which may have already been indexed:
site:whois.domaintools.com/ “PERSONS NAME”
This might give you a rough idea of what’s out there, but for a truly accurate report you will have to purchase the report, which starts at about $49.
Just as someone’s Instant Messenger ID can be used to disclose a name, at times people will use their email address as their profile name on various social media sites. A great post on this topic can be found here on labnol.org – this gives you a good example of how to do a reverse name search using an email address and a few simple steps. If they are constantly emailing you with firstname.lastname@example.org, again you can use KnowEm’s Social Media username search and simply search for candygrrl85 and use the same techniques outlined above to see if you can find any Social Media profiles for that person.
Sometimes a person a using fake profile will slip up and make another Facebook account using that email address.
So if you’re speaking to Candygrrl85 via email and their Facebook vanity URL is different; i.e. http://facebook.com/KnowEm (KnowEm being the vanity URL), you can perform a simple email search on Facebook or any other social media site that allows you to search via email for members. With Facebook simply drop the email address into the search box.
Are they a criminal?
If you and your online friend decide to finally meet face to face, it might be a good idea to take a bit of a deeper look into this person’s background. Just about every state in the United States offers a free online offender search for convicted felons Simply go to Google and search for your states “Department of Corrections” or “DOC” website. As an example here is New Jersey’s DOC website which does everything from list present/past inmates, their crimes, their picture, and a list of wanted felons that have escaped.
This isn’t really a bonus tip, its more like common sense – search them! Google & Bing it up! Search their email addresses, vanity URL’s, instant messenger addresses and any other information you might have about them. The search engines are there for searching, so search away, you will be surprised about the information from one’s past which gets indexed.
To sum it up, catfishing has been going on for years and most likely will continue for quite some time to come. Years ago it was MySpace; spammers would take a picture of a pretty girl, create a fake profile, gain thousands of friends and then comment on all their profiles with an affiliate link to get a “Free $50 Macy’s Gift card”. Today there’s a new trend called catfishing – what will they think of tomorrow?
This commercial sums it up … just because it’s on the internet, doesn’t make it true:
catfish, CatFished, catfishing, facebook, Identity Theft, username check, vanity URLs
Great post! It’s a great first-stop on the way to knowing who you’re talking with.
Great tip to safeguard one’s Online Identity and the steps to do so.Keep up the good work.
Excellent article Michael. I’ve used several of these ideas in researching someone when performing a crisis management engagement. You would be surprised at what we find about someone who has targeted a company – their past extortion attempts, arrests, you name it.
I have been talking to this girl online , we had a short phone call but she ran out of minutes , we text all day long too. Shes very beautiful and shes a nursing student. Shes falling for me really quick. I like her too if shes real? I get a feeling shes not because she seems to good tro be true? I don’t know how to prove it? I don’t want to sound stupid and question her if she is real?
I met this guy online about 8 months ago we’ve dated many times. He says he loves me, and i like him. He says he’s 17, and lives in Australia. But he says his parents were killed when he was a kid and that the FBI is trying to find the killers because they’re coming after him. So he cant call me or send me pictures of himself. He describes himself as a hot fit guy. I accused him of lying about his parents being dead but he got mad and really upset and he said he couldn’t believe i would think he would lie about such a thing. It is hard to believe and he says the state of Australia gives hi money to pay his family house bills. And i just wanna know if he’s cat fishing me or not ):