Identity theft on Facebook?

I’m a little surprised you don’t hear about this sort of thing happening more often: 

A Roncalli High School administrator is asking a judge to force the Internet site Facebook to identify the pranksters who hijacked his identity for a phony Webpage.

Tim Puntarelli, Roncalli [High School]’s dean of students, and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese is suing Facebook and the anonymous creators of the false Webpage the suit claims contained false, embarrassing, and defaming information about Puntarelli and Roncalli High School.

The page creators used the Facebook page to pose as Puntarelli and send emails to Roncalli students, according to the lawsuit filed Thursday in Marion Superior Court.

Facebook officials removed the page when they were notified of the site on April 18, but refused to disclose the identity of the creators without a court order, according to the lawsuit.

Puntarelli and the Archdiocese are asking a judge to order Facebook to identify the creators of the page. The suit indicates they want the pranksters to pay triple the attorney fees and court costs.

I’m also somewhat surprised that Facebook is so reluctant to hand over the identity of the kids (presumably kids, at least) who set up this phony web page when they freely admit that the page is phony and the administrator’s identity was hijacked. Why should you need a court order for this? 



Filed under High school, Social software, Student culture, Technology

12 responses to “Identity theft on Facebook?

  1. virusdoc

    Why *should* they divulge the identity of the individuals? Private companies are generally under no obligation to divulge customer information without a court order, and the Facebook privacy policy probably states explicitly that they will not.

    And does impersonation of an individual on a website constitute “identity theft,” which is generally defined as a financially motivated crime? Perhaps defamation occurred, but Facebook makes no attempt to verify the identity of anyone who creates a page and there’s no reason why they should. The onus is on the viewer of a website to verify its reliability, which has always been the case.

    The Archdiocese should learn to take a joke. Or at least learn to google itself frequently to see who is saying what about them.

  2. Charles

    I’m not sure how I feel about the Facebook not handing over the identities. I guess the judges are best equipped to decide whether someone’s privacy is exposed. It seems the pendulum swings both ways. I just found this video to a court in Riveside California that exposes all of its records on the Internet. Apparently, tens of thousands of social security numbers are there. Really scary in my book

    Here’s a link to the video:

    Best of luck.

  3. @virusdoc: The wikipedia article on identity theft takes a somewhat broader view of what that term includes. The US law, at least, seems to include any kind of *fraud* as identity theft, whether or not that fraud is financial in nature. So for example, if the pranksters are using the dean of student’s identity to, say, send an email that purports to be official school business, and the student recipients take it seriously and something bad happens, that could be considered fraud and therefore identity theft.

    However, IANAL and so that could be off. But it’s not merely financial gain that defines identity theft.

  4. virusdoc

    Let me rephrase the issue: perhaps the students will argue that their page and emails represent mere satire, farce, parody, and practical jokes. These are protected first ammendment expressions and don’t generally constitute fraud unless the individuals perpetrating the act seek material gain by their actions.

    Oh, and did you just admit you were anal? We already knew that…. 🙂

  5. IANAL = I Am Not A Lawyer. But I don’t deny that I am anal.

  6. virusdoc

    Yes, I know what the acronym means. But it was too delightful an opportunity to pass up.

  7. This happened to my wife, with a student creating a fake MySpace page for her that was generally mild fare, if possibly mean-spirited. I thought it was sort of charming that they’d bother, but she didn’t like it.

    I emailed MySpace, expecting to hear nothing back, and was surprised at how quickly they removed the page. And that was the end of it for us.

  8. Virusdoc : “The Archdiocese should learn to take a joke. ”

    Why should they? Nobody would dare joke about any other church than catholic.

  9. virusdoc

    Blanka: you clearly didn’t grow up in the south, where the Southern Baptists are the butt of nearly all religious jokes. As a former Baptist myself, and one who attended the largest Baptist university in the world, I’ve heard them all and even invented some of my own.

    And the reason the diocese should learn to take a joke is because they are in a position of power. Christ (who they claim to follow) embodied and preached the message that if you are in a position of power, and you are wronged, you respond with grace and forgiveness–not litigation.

  10. CdnMathTeacher

    Something similar happened here in Manitoba and came to light last week. When my husband told me about it I thought “I’m glad that I have a Facebook page so that should students try to do this to me it will be apparent that it is not legit.” I know that some teachers are afraid to have social networking accounts in case something nasty happens. I’m afraid to not have a web presence! I check my facebook account daily and remove any questionable content. In fact, I removed the superwall application because I was getting content that I wasn’t comfortable having students thinking that I thought the content was appropriate.

  11. Jami

    “if the pranksters are using the dean of student’s identity to, say, send an email that purports to be official school business, and the student recipients take it seriously and something bad happens, that could be considered fraud and therefore identity theft”

    I really think this is the only relevant topic on this matter. If nothing came of the fake emails, or whatever, then I agree with Virusdoc. Learn how to take a “joke”, and dont forget that you work at a high school. I dont know the full story, but it sounds to me like the dean is just a little perturbed at what they said and he wants some sort of payback. But come on, when you work as a school administrator, you should expect a little of this. Its just like being a politician. Not that I’m saying that the kids were not in the wrong… 🙂

    As for facebook not handing over any information. I say they are completely correct in asking for a court order. They would have probably been sued by some one else had they just handed over that info.
    I know that identity theft can be a very serious matter, but honestly, I find myself laughing at it sometimes. Or at least laughing at how paranoid some people get about it. I’m sure I wouldnt be laughing if it happened to me…

  12. There are many ways that people can steal our identity. One, many people don’t own a shredder. Use it. And second, be carefull about who and where you place your information.