I-Team: Web Impersonators
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By Charlotte Huffman
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Tonight, the families of two fallen soldiers are outraged and hurt.
The CBS3 I-Team has learned someone is impersonating the troops online.
Now, the families are speaking out because they want others to be on alert.
CBS 3 Investigative Reporter Charlotte Huffman has the story.
For a moment it seemed like Nicole Vodicka’s brother, Chris Thibodeau, was still alive.
But the soldier who was killed while serving in Afghanistan has been gone for two years.
“You see these images, you want it be them, but you know it’s not,” said Vodicka.
She is referring to recently discovering that someone took pictures from Chris’s memorial Facebook page and was impersonating him on Facebook and another site.
One woman on the site even believed she was “in a relationship” with the fallen soldier.
“We found three profiles created that are not him but with his name and his images,” said Vodicka. “I’m disgusted that someone thinks it’s okay.”
And there are others like Vodicka.
“It’s absolutely despicable that somebody would do something like this,” says Lisa Haglof.
Somebody else is claiming to be Haglof’s brother, Matthew Pucino.
Pucino, a Green Beret, was killed in action while fighting in Afghanistan 4 years ago.
“This is somebody that died for their country, died for everybody in it, put his life on the line and you’re going to betray his name and his memory like that,” said Haglof.
The imposters created the fake profiles on Facebook and on the dating site Meet Me.
“Identity theft in regards to military personnel is an increasing trend,” says Rob D’Ovidio who is the director of Drexel’s Research Program In Computer Crime.
“Just going online and taking someone’s identity in and of itself is generally not a crime,” D’Ovidio tells CBS 3.
He says it could become a crime if the impersonator uses the phony profile for financial gain.
Both Facebook and Meet Me tell CBS3 that impersonation is against their policies and they have removed the phony profiles.
D’Ovidio says that’s the only thing the websites can do.
“But even if they do that, the big issue is, I can just log on the next day and create the same fake account in your name and do that over and over again,” said D’Ovidio.
And that’s exactly what Vodicka says happened on the Meet Me site.
So the I-Team went to the company’s base in New Hope, Pennsylvania for answers.
A Meet Me spokesperson says one-third of their staff monitors the site for fake users and that they’ve removed the page again after the I-Team contacted them.
Bottom line, no one can guarantee these pages won’t pop up again.
Lisa Haglof offers advice to others.
“Google your loved one’s names, constantly have people on the lookout for perpetrators,” said Haglof.
Just this past weekend, yet another fake Chris Thibodeau Facebook profile appeared and was taken down.
The social media websites don’t know who is behind the impersonation of these soldiers.
But both families have hired private investigators to find out.