June 17, 2008

“Wait, That’s My Face!”: Identity Theft, Social Networking Style

Not Monica RocklePaige H. got a huge surprise this week. The 20-something Midwesterner had attempted to keep a low profile online: “no MySpace, no Facebook, no blog” — indeed, she’s long had a “distaste for the world of social networking websites.” And yet, thanks to a marketing schemer, she became one of the most popular girls on Facebook… but under the name “Monica Rockle.”
I blogged about the “Monica Rockle” charade back in March. A T-shirt marketer had created a fake Facebook profile and used it to start a Group for a “Psychology Marketing Project.” The Group attracted nearly 400,000 users its first week alone en route to over 800,000 members overall. The picture the guy used to represent Monica? Paige’s, which he found on the U.S. Census Bureau website.

And Paige had no idea this was going on.

After being exposed by my blog, T-shirt guy dropped the Monica Rockle profile, changed the group’s purpose, and invented a few other faux profiles. Whatever rocks your boat, homes.

Fast forward to earlier this week, when Reuter’s Solarina Ho blogged about “Being Rude on Facebook.” A commenter linked to my Monica Rockle article (thanks, Galen!), which got a new wave of readers — including one of Paige’s former sorority sisters, Laura B., who wrote me:

“I was totally dying this morning when I saw the picture, then convinced myself it couldn’t be her since someone referenced something about everyone claiming to know this girl. Then I couldn’t get over it, so I returned to the article just a bit ago and forwarded it out to some other sorority sisters, who all confirmed it appeared to be our friend Paige. I then sent it to Christina, who lived with Paige in college and has stayed close friends with her. When Christina replied that she had Paige on the phone and it was confirmed, I had to write you! I guess Paige is a little freaked out (rightfully so I think!) but we’re guessing the picture came from some promotional photos taken while we were students at the University of Iowa.”

Small world, ain’t it? I then heard from Monica — I mean, Paige herself:

Paige Now“I am the elusive girl in the photo. Amazing really, that this all came full circle.

The photo was probably taken 7-8 years ago at the University of Iowa. However, I have no recollection of ever signing a waiver or participating in promotional photos for the University. Stranger still, it appears that the photos were not used for the University, but rather the US Govt. Census. I certainly could have signed a waiver and just don’t remember, but it seems strange that classroom stock photos would make their way to the US Census Bureau. I tracked down their phone number and plan to follow up out of curiosity.

It’s not the stock photo of me taking notes in a classroom that’s bothersome, but rather the fact it appeared as someone’s Facebook photo. I don’t have a Facebook account, and in lieu of this experience will hold firm in my distaste for the world of social networking websites. I will say I think it was a poor choice as far as Facebook photos go — aren’t they generally more scandalous? artsy? emo?

The photo is not Monica Rockle. It’s me with a bracelet given to me by a college boyfriend, a ring made by my mom’s friend, and an 08 micron pen. Still have the ring, still love the pens, thrilled I ditched the boyfriend. Oh the stories a picture tells…

To think, I’ve worked so hard at keeping a low profile online — no MySpace, no Facebook, no blog, etc., and end up championing this marketing scheme. Technology is both brilliant and disturbing.”

Yes, all that brilliant and disturbing stuff is why bloggers like me will never run out of material.

I greatly appreciate Paige giving me permission to share her story with you along with a current photo. Fascinating how someone can go out of her way to avoid this wicked Web we weave, yet still gets snared because of one photo she doesn’t even remember. And yet millions of other people clamor for publicity and recognition, and find it hard to even get noticed.

Guess you gotta know the right marketing guy — or the wrong one.

Related Article: This Way To The Egress: The Pros And Con Artists Of Marketing

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Freddy is the Founder & Creative Strategist of Atomic Tango. He also teaches at the University of Southern California (go Trojans!), shoots pool somewhat adequately, and herds cats. Freddy received his BA from Harvard and his MBA from USC.

5 Responses

  1. The harder you try the more you fail? I find it interesting that people are too cheap to take pics of people they know or hire a local model. Instead they steal a photo and it comes back to bite them. I am almost tempted to contact CafePress and attempt to get the LaLaLand account dropped/banned for such crappy marketing. It borders on spam in my opinion. But still the guy at LaLaLand is probably counting all the cash hes making/made and quite happy with his zero cost marketing approach. Until people recognize spammy marketing and boycott it we will continue to see abuses like this. That’s why spam email still exists. 0.00001% of people will still buy something that claims to do all sorts of things and since most spammers are stealing CPU cycles and what not from someone else’s computer the marketing costs them $0. Of course the best part is that a huge percentage of the items marketed via spam email are never delivered anyway. At least if you order a LaLaLand T-Shirt you’ll get it. I also have to wonder how many of the LLL t-shirt designs violate copyright laws. I have a friend who operates a business selling t-shirts with school ball team logos on them and she spends a fortune licensing the logos so she can legally have them printed on her shirts. She also makes a fortune but that’s beside the point. Over all I think that taking a shortcut like using a random internet photo on a fake profile or spamming your product will come back to hurt you so why bother?

  2. Horrific.

    This makes me want to take down every photo of me and my friends on the internet.

  3. Amazing.

    What a small, digital world we exist in.

    Did Monica’s profile indicate “single?”

    [I kid.]

  4. I’ve always wondered where the photos come from for the obviously fake myspace profiles that try to add me as a friend. I guess this begins to answer my curiosity. And along the small world lines, I went to Univ. of Iowa myself–maybe a photo of me will pop up somewhere unexpected on the interweb.

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