I-Team: New form of ID theft

October 28, 2010 3:54:50 PM PDT
When you hear about someone's identity being stolen, you probably think it's about money or a Social Security number. But there's a sinister new form of ID theft and it's playing out online.

The ABC11 Eyewitness News I-Team has investigated the nightmare a local woman has been fighting for a couple years now.

We're not identifying her to protect her privacy. For this story, we'll call her Lee.

"I am praying that you can help me," she told investigative reporter Tamara Gibbs.

Lee prays for help clearing her good name online. She's talking about racy pictures posted on the website onlinebootycall.com. She didn't put them there and she has no idea who did.

"It's not an easy fix and it's a time consuming fix," said Lee. "The picture that's on there was a picture that we literally took when we left church - literally took right after church."

Onlinebootycall is a risqué social networking site aimed at singles looking for an easy hookup, not church-going moms like Lee who doesn't know who posted it - or how they even got hold of it.

"There is nothing vulgar with me on any website - period!" said Lee.

But there's plenty vulgar next to her picture online: a fake profile name - "spoiled brat" - that claims she's a Cary native. She's not.

And, she's also not a 5' 5", 42-year-old bisexual looking for a good time. What's worse, she's not the scantily clad and faceless woman posing next to the real, but stolen, picture of her.

Lee says she'd never heard of onlinebootycall until a friend told her she saw her picture there almost three years ago.

"It bothers me that someone has actually taken the time - I don't know if this is someone I know, someone I don't know, or someone I used to work with. I have no idea," said Lee.

And she's had no help fixing her problem despite letters and phone calls to local police, an internet crimes unit, and the website itself. No one has been able to stop the mysterious poster from using her picture.

No sooner than Lee complains, the photo is taken down. But then it returns.

The day ABC11 talked to her, it was up. But, the next day there was no sign of Lee's picture. It's stayed that way since we started investigating.

Calls to onlinebootycall weren't returned, but in an e-mail, the website said:

"With over 5 million users on our site and the ability for anyone to upload a picture to a content based site like ours, situations like this are bound to happen..."

It also claims it has no record of Lee's complaint, even though we have copies of their response, which promises to investigate.

Experts say they've seen cases like Lee's before.

"You become extraordinarily more vulnerable when you post these things online," offered media attorney Amanda Martin.

And that's where we all need to be concerned. One of the best kept secrets of some social networking sites is their privacy policies on posted photos.

Sometimes, your images can be taken and used by third parties like advertisers unless you specifically tell them otherwise.

"You could end up in an ad for Disney World or Victoria Secret or Hustler magazine," said Martin.

But, Lee says she never even posted her picture online to begin with. Now, her only likely legal recourse is a lawsuit claiming defamation of character.

"And that would be a stretch because the courts don't readily recognize things that are not blatantly said and only inferred," Martin explained.

Policing the Internet is still next-to-impossible. So even if Lee and other victims take legal action to reclaim their identities online, there's no guarantee they'll ever catch the culprit.

"You never know where it'll end up. Mine could've been on a worse site than this," said Lee.

For Lee, it's a lesson on the new online world order where privacy seems more like a privilege than a right.

"It's like if I'm walking down the street, you know, someone goes: 'That's the girl I saw.' No, it isn't! I don't want that to happen when I'm out hanging with my grandkids doing my family thing," said Lee.

The good news is Lee tells ABC11 she hasn't seen the pictures pop back up online.

The bad news is she has no idea what other site could be misusing that innocent picture she took after church.

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