Identity Theft: Are We Aware of Consequences?

Now a days, social networking has become buzz of the day. People continue to throng social networking sites in more and more numbers every day. There is nothing wrong with social networking as long as it is used for the purpose it is meant for. The problem creeps when one tries to befool others by pretending as someone else after stealing that person’s identity.

I’ll tell you an interesting piece of story on Twitter to which I was myself a witness. A girl named Ritu Walia (name changed to protect identity), a 19-year old teenager from Haryana, created a Twitter account with the name of Nareshgoyal9w, mentioned profile name as Naresh Goyal, wrote in the Bio as Chairman of Jet Airways, uploaded a background design featuring exclusively Naresh Goyal and also used his photograph as profile photo. Since, Mr. Naresh Goyal in reality had no existing account on Twitter at that point of time, anyone could easily leverage it to one’s advantage. Probably, Ritu’s intentions were not in that line and may be she wanted to just exploit it for entertainment purpose.

Gradually, she started tweeting many famous personalities posing as Mr. Naresh Goyal. One amongst them was our dear Mr. Anand Mahindra, Vice Chairman and Managing Director, Mahindra Group. Posing as Naresh Goyal, she tweeted Mr. Mahindra, “I am following you”. Mr. Mahindra reciprocated by mentioning, “And i shall follow u back, Nareshji!” (See the actual snapshot below)

From here started the tussle. After corporate big shots themselves started following Nareshgoyal9w, many ordinary people like us also fell in line with them and as a result, the followers of the user Nareshgoyal9w started increasing exponentially. However, a judicious user named Mr. Kumara Guru (kumaraguru), Associate Director – Dean’s Office at Indian School of Business, Hyderabad, preferred to confirm with Jet Airways if Nareshgoyal9w was the official Twitter handle of Mr. Goyal. JetAirways tweeted Mr. Guru with the following message:

Mr. Guru was quick to retweet it to Mr. Mahindra to bring it to his knowledge that NareshGoyal9w was a fake user posing as Mr. Goyal. Realising this, Mr. Mahindra in turn retweeted this to all his followers to spread the word:

Only after Jet Airways, threatened to sue Ritu for impersonation and reported the matter to Twitter, she realised that she had committed a blunder and the only way to escape was to disclose the full identity and seek apology publicly. She then changed the profile name to mention her name explicitly and mentioned the Twitter account Bio as Fan Club of Naresh Goyal. She also tweeted Mr. Mahindra that she never stated that the account belonged to Mr. Naresh Goyal. Then Mr. Mahindra retweeted this to all his followers taking the sympathetic view.

The problems didn’t end here. How can such an issue remain away from the glare of media? Ritu started getting the tweets from Surender Sharma, a Delhi based journalist. He continuously tweeted Ritu and insisted her to give her phone number or else make a call on his number. Ritu was so afraid by this point of time that she was not in a position to take any step without the guidance of her parents. The journalist was continuously insisting Ritu (through tweets) to share her side of the story. Ritu didn’t call the journalist. But, the next day, she could see her actions becoming news in some of the web media and this was reported by the same journalist – Surender Sharma.

See, how an act, though committed unintentionally, may lead to serious consequences and one may end up not only getting defamed but also find him/her behind the bars within no time. 19-year student old Ritu Walia was a real-life example.

Some people may be lucky enough to not get the attention of their Identity Theft efforts. One amongst them is Mr. Jaydip Parikh who seemingly ran a parallel Twitter account of Mr. Narendra Modi, Gujrat CM by the name thenarendramodi. From first look, the foremost purpose of his creating the account seemed to be directing the traffic to his website from the links posted in Tweets from this account. I was well aware of the official account of Mr. Modi because I was following and was also being followed by Mr. Modi on Twitter. It was only after my tweets to Jaydip that he changed the Twitter Name from “Narendra Modi” to “Narendra Modi Blog” and mentioned in the Bio that the account was an unofficial blog and not real twitter account of Mr. Modi. Otherwise, his case could have been even more complicated than that of Ritu Walia.

Under Indian Cyber Law, Identity Theft on social networking sites is a crime and as such the person committing this act is punishable under the law. It’s high time we understood the consequences of Identity Theft on social networking sites.

Remember that Social Media should improve your life, not cost you your life!!!

18 responses to this post.

  1. Good post and an interesting story. I was surprised to read a story last week about a fake Twitter account for police department in the US that was causing problems. It is a problem that will certainly continue.


    • Thanks! Of course, this problem is likely to continue. However, it’s always better for novice users to know what not to do while using social networking channels.


  2. Posted by Jyoti Singh on March 8, 2010 at 8:36 PM

    Very Nice Jindal…i really liked your first blog.It’s a very good attempt and great effort made indeed…. 🙂


  3. Posted by Varun Verma on March 8, 2010 at 10:27 PM

    Well written Jindal…..seems fun can be dangerous at times!:)


  4. Hello Varun,

    Nice article this- depicting the negative side of ‘non-accountability’ in use of social media.

    I think, i did come across a similar twitter a/c of Junjunwala (A well-known stock market enthu.), but which did not actually belong to that personality. However, that twitter had atleast clearly disclaimed that this was not the ‘real’ Rakesh Junjunwala twitter a/c.

    I feel, at some juncture, a stricter set of norms should be formulated to regulate social media.
    All in all, nice and refreshig article on Identity theft by you.


    • Hi Viral,

      Thanks for your inputs!

      What I feel is that the problem usually doesn’t arise as long as the impersonator doesn’t use his fake account. Whenever, the fake account is used to take advantage of the system, the actual problem starts. The impersonator of Mr. Naresh Goyal was caught and reported for identity theft only because she was tweeting to big shots like Anand Mahindra from this account, thereby resulting in misguidance. There are so many fake accounts of Amitabh Bachchan on Twitter: @AmitabhBachan @amitabh_bigb @Bachchan @amitaabh_bachan @imamitabh @BigBachchan. However, the creators of these accounts have not tried the way impersonator of Mr. Naresh Goyal did.

      Verified accounts on Twitter are one of the ways to overcome this problem. The need of the hour is to create more awareness on this issue which will probably result in far lesser cases with users being aware about consequences of stealing someone’s identity.


  5. Well said Varun! Thanks for putting me not as guilt person. 🙂 Anyways my objective was to get more traffic only. I think you have done a good searching for getting all information. Very well design. Keep it up buddy.


    • Pleasantly surprised to see you comment on my blog. I really appreciate you for accepting the truth openly unlike many others who just try to beat around the bush. Thanks for your complements!


  6. Really informative post :)..had heard abt such things but hadn’t really come across any particular case as such..another way 2 misuse social media completely!!


  7. Posted by aditya on March 10, 2010 at 7:39 PM

    very insightful blog bringing to light the various issues related with twittering.a commendable effort indeed..


  8. Posted by apurv shukla on March 10, 2010 at 10:04 PM

    indeed a very insightful blog .. i am liking it man … eager to have more from you soon 🙂


  9. Posted by sowmya on March 12, 2010 at 12:07 AM

    Good work jindal.. very well framed and written.


  10. Just visited ur blog. . Many fake accounts r being created in twitter on the names of many famous personalities like sachin,dhoni, A probable identity theft attempts.These will lead to severe consequences if not taken care of.

    A better way to avoid up these is mentioning up in the company’s official website (in contact section)saying wether they are having a social media account or not. This will not lead to any misconceptions & can reduce id thefts.

    BTW Liked ur blog very much.Thanx for sharing


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