What is Online Impersonation, and How to Prevent it

  • By Greg Brown
  • Mar 27, 2023

what is online impersonation

Impersonation has thousands of years of history. When we think of impersonating something or someone, at first glance, the intent is typically the act of deceiving someone. Identity and online impersonation are malicious intent crimes that have been around for decades. With new technologies and platforms, criminals find plenty of new victims and hunting grounds.

Online impersonation and identity theft are somewhat similar in the type of crimes. However, identity theft entails misusing a person’s financial information to commit fraud, making it a more severe violation. 

Illegal Digital Impersonation

Online impersonation deals with gaining financial benefits by maliciously using another person’s identity to open fraudulent online bank and credit card accounts. Fraudulent accounts can be opened to enhance a predator’s profile, create fake credit card accounts, and apply for loans. 

Criminals regularly target unwitting victims on the internet and use Social Media to get around. Victims are usually members of more than one social media platform, including very small business owners. Facebook advertising is a vital platform for small businesses. 

Social Media Impersonation

Person-to-person or business-to-business social media platforms are ripe for impersonation and are set up to deceive a large group of people. Good online reputations are challenging to get, and people should protect this asset. Fake personalities cause a lot of online harm to brands and their reputations.

Brand safety checks should be scheduled for large and national organizations. Bad actors and impersonators can spread a lot of disinformation and faulty advice to plenty of people. Most businesses can get by with monthly or once-a-week brand checks. However, large e-commerce and social media networks need constant attention. 

Businesses need to check for repurposed content regularly. Each network has policies against intellectual property infringement and online impersonation. Social Media Platforms have a robust workflow for reporting impersonation accounts and content.

Facebook allows for professional and personal profiles and business pages to be protected from fake profiles. Drill down from the “Find Support” page to Pretending to be Another Business. Report any impersonation to Facebook and Instagram. 

Social Media networks for businesses are finding impersonation a challenging obstacle to combat. LinkedIn is one of those networks with no dedicated reporting tool; members must use the reports option to flag fake sites. If fake sites use your company’s intellectual property, additional options exist. On the imposter’s page, hit the more button and select report abuse. Select “intellectual property infringement or defamation” from there and follow the instructions - Access LinkedIn’s “copyright and trademark infringement” site for more information.

Malicious Online Impersonation

Criminal online impersonation refers to a predator using someone’s online identity to gain wealth and financial benefits. Criminal impersonation can also refer to harassment, intimidation, and threatening another person.

For some individuals and companies, brand reputation means everything. Damaging that reputation could cost a company millions in current business and have long-lasting effects. A positive brand increases customer loyalty and confidence. Over 40% of online consumers do not trust traditional advertising. Instead, 91% search for the product online before making a purchase.

Brand and Market Loyalty have become critical in getting customers to return.

Consequentially a negative brand reputation carries with it long-term hits to the bottom line. Not fixing the problem immediately, if not sooner, can force businesses to close some doors.

Hackers are always innovative in finding new channels for fraud and exploiting identity theft victims. 100s of ways exist for hackers to get into personal online accounts. 

A few of them include the following:

  • One of the more popular social scams is catfishing, in which an online romantic interest is hackers looking to make a connection. Catfishers use fake photos and create complete online personas to trick others into a relationship. In 2022, nearly 20,000 people were catfished, incurring an average loss of $70K.
  • Spear-phishing or BEC (business email compromise) is when hackers know intimate details of a victim’s life and impersonate a person of trust, such as a bank manager or business partner. Spear-phishing is one of the highest-targeted attacks in the malware universe. Phishing attacks are a more crafted approach with carefully selected targets.
  • Ransomware has become highly lucrative in the last few decades, and the attacks are skyrocketing. 20% of all ransomware costs can be attributed to reputation damage. In the early years of ransomware, attacks were few and between, with each ransom attack making a lot of noise. In 2022 there were more than 236 million attacks on a global scale, with 2021 seeing over 600 million global assaults. 

If You Have Been Impersonated

Finding out you have been impersonated can be an alarming, if not scary, discovery. Hackers can jeopardize friendships and professional life if not taken care of immediately. Work quickly to find a solution.

  • The first step is to make sure you know who your friends are on social media. Remember, attackers send thousands of friend requests at a time, trying to find a few unwitting users who will hand over personal information. Only connect on Social Media with people you know. 
  • Inform your contacts what is happening with your account and instruct them to avoid interacting with the hackers until the account is cleaned-up and secure. Tell family and friends they are probably next with online impersonation.
  • Do not interact with the hackers. Do what needs to be done when contacting your social media followers and explain your actions. Hackers only intend to do you harm, so be careful how connections are made. Contact the platform and remain vigilant. Once the account has been shut down, hackers may take over other accounts with stolen information.

Beware of Any Aspect of Online Impersonation

Hacking, malware, ransomware, and the rest are all big business. If it were not lucrative for hackers to get into your account, they would not be there. Unwitting internet users are the victims targeted the most.

There is plenty of online help and security software to keep accounts safe. Only the unwitting user never pays attention to an account and wonders why they have so many problems. Always keep platforms, apps, and software patched and updated. If you do not use a social media account, get rid of it and always keep personal information on the spare side.


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