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Tools and Techniques Used in Unmasking Online Identities

Tools and Techniques Used in Unmasking Online Identities

As we collectively increase our social media interactions with strangers, more and more of us may create fictional online identities. For those with benevolent intentions, fake identities can allow us freedom to be ourselves, protect our personal information, and express our thoughts and beliefs on hot-button social issues.

However, malevolent users may use bogus identities to shield themselves from the backlash of hate speech, or to deceive others on social media platforms. It’s easy to take others at their word, and let your defensive walls crumble if you enjoy your interactions with other commenters and posters.

Let’s take a look at the different tools and techniques that can be used in unmasking online identities.

What you need to know about online identities

If you’re using an alternative online identity in hopes of boosting your cybersecurity, it’s vital to know that there are available methods that could expose your confidential personal information. 

If you believe a fake online persona is taking advantage of and deceiving others, you may want to know how you can report the authentic user behind a fictional account. Protecting yourself from online predators is paramount when it comes to using or unmasking identities, too. 

Understanding the tools and techniques used in uncovering these online facades can help protect oneself and others from potential risks.

Why people create fake online identities

According to a 2022 survey, bots aren’t the only fake accounts utilized on social media. Over half of the active Internet users polled reported using at least 2 fake online accounts. 

Gen-Xers were found to hold more fake identities than their younger counterparts, and over 70% of those surveyed use X, formerly known as Twitter, and Facebook to generate multiple identities.

However, the reasons behind these duplicitous accounts aren’t always for nefarious, catfishing purposes. Some of the reasons people create new personas online include:

  • To appear more attractive on dating profiles
  • Freedom of expression without judgment
  • To increase follower numbers
  • Increasing odds for winning online contests
  • Spying on ex-romantic partners
  • Scamming other platform users
Investigate the individual's social media profiles and look for connections, posts, comments, and photos that may reveal more about them.

Ways to unmask online identities

There are many tools and techniques to use in unmasking online identities. You may find that unmasking the identity of a user who has bad intentions can help prevent them from wreaking havoc in your online world and real life.

However, it’s important to remember that the tools at your disposal are also available to cybercriminals intent on revealing your true identity. Here are some of the tools and techniques you can use to unmask an online identity:

Reverse image search:

Image search tools such as Google Images or TinEye can help you to identify fake online identities by tracing profile pictures or photos posted to an account to their origins.

Reverse image searches can reveal image theft or discrepancies in a portrayed identity. 

Synthetic Identity Fraud Mitigation Toolkit:

This tool from the US Federal Reserve helps anti-fraud and payment companies to identify fraudulent, or synthetic, online profiles, and can help to enact preventative identity fraud measures.

Digital footprint tracing:

You can use online records including public databases and Internet archives to help establish the authenticity of an individual’s online identity. Accessing search histories, revealing digital footprints, and analyzing discrepancies can unveil false claims and may reveal a person’s true identity.

Social media analysis:

If you suspect someone you meet online is using a fake identity, analyze any social media accounts they hold under that persona by perusing their content and connections. Inconsistencies or sketchy patterns may unmask a fake persona, and could lead you to their real identity.

People search tools:

People search sites such as BeenVerified, PeopleLooker, or TruthFinder can access public and private databases, conduct deep dive Internet archive searches, and access public records to unmask online identities.

How an alternate online identity can protect you

For some people who spend a significant amount of time interacting with others online, fake personas may offer a sense of protection and security. Some of the reasons average users give for creating alternate online identities include:

Anonymity

The freedom to express one’s point-of-view without repercussions ranks highly with those who hold accounts with multiple user names. People may fear being targeted in their offline lives based on the content they share online, and thus, may choose an alternative identity.

Privacy concerns

Although it’s possible to unmask online profiles, many people may use a fake identity to add an extra layer of protection to their real life personal information. A veil of anonymity may help to contribute to a sense of cybersecurity.

Separation between online life and private life

For social media users who amass a large following, a fake persona might prove especially beneficial. Even if you aren’t using a platform to weigh in on controversial topics, you may find using an alternate identity allows you to live your life without any overlap from your online content. 

Professional writers who make a living online may use a pen name for similar reasons. 

Protection from stalkers

The online world allows you to interact and bond with total strangers from all walks of life. Although this Internet feature can prove beneficial, it may also mean you rub elbows with people who are not mentally well.

Online stalkers can present themselves via threats of violence, hacking into confidential information, and doxxing, and can even end in tragedy. The Pew Research Institute found that at least four in ten U.S. Internet users have experienced some form of online harassment or stalking.

Freedom under authoritarian rule

International users who live under authoritative dictatorships may create protected, alternate online identities to express viewpoints that could be illegal to share in their country.

How a fake online identity can harm you

Fake online identities can also prove incredibly harmful for unsuspecting Internet users. By trusting that another person is authentically representing themselves online, you can fall victim to numerous hackers or even more nefarious predators.

Some of the ways another user could maliciously use a fake online identity include:

Catfishing

Catfishing schemes are often prevalent on dating websites, but can crop up in direct message scams and fake profiles as well. Perpetrators will often create elaborate profiles to con others out of money, sensitive information, and love.

For example, the popular podcast, Sweet Bobby, exposed a catfish scheme where a British journalist was conned by her own cousin into thinking she was in a romantic relationship with a man she’d never met in person. 

The victim spent years thinking she had made a love connection with a man who didn’t even know she existed.

Identity theft and fraud schemes

Fake online personas can use their fictitious profiles to lure you into revealing your personal information or defraud you as well. These bad actors may hack into your banking account or use your identity to open fraudulent credit cards.

Destroying reputations

Even if you’ve never wittingly wronged another person, someone (or a group of people) could make you the target of a smear campaign via fake online identities. 

These cybercriminals use fake accounts to post negative business reviews and comments, and may even launch personal attacks against you that take years to recover from.  

Misinformation bots

Bots are bogus social media accounts with the focused goals of stoking division and spreading misinformation. Bot accounts tend to crop up around political situations and global issues, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Grooming

Often, adult predators will pose as children online to gain the trust of minors via online games and chat rooms. These criminals may even try to convince children to send them explicit photos or try to meet them in person. Online groomers are dangerous and could lure kids and adults alike into tragic, real life situations.

Report harassment, threats, or illegal activities to the platform or service administrators.

How to protect your identity online

In order to protect your identity from being stolen by another Internet user, or to protect your fictitious online persona from being unmasked, there are several steps you should take. 

Here are some of the ways you can protect your identity online:

  • Use strong, secure passwords for each of your online accounts. You can use a safe password storage website such as LastPass to ensure you don’t forget your passwords. However, you should still use unique passwords and minimize the risk of unauthorized access to your accounts.
  • Enable two-factor authentication as it adds an extra layer of cybersecurity for your online account access. Even if your password is compromised, two-factor authentication can help prevent hackers from obtaining your sensitive account information.
  • Limit the personal information you share online. Avoid disclosing identifying details that a digital criminal could use for identity theft. 

It’s crucial to understand the motivations behind fictitious Internet identities and the potential benefits and harm fake personas can cause. Learn the tools and techniques used to unmask online identities to protect yourself and your personal information.

You can utilize the cybersecurity tools on the What Is My IP Address homepage for additional protection, and be sure to check out our blog for the latest insights, trends, and tips in the online world.

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