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Cyber Bullying often involves an all too common problem: a much easier form of identity theft.

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This is Leo Notenboom for askleo.info.

One of the frighteningly common class of questions I get comes from individuals, usually teens, who've become the victims of various forms of cyber bullying.

The situations boil down to two common scenarios:

The first scenario is one that probably won't surprise you - someone creates an anonymous email or IM account, and then uses that account to send inflammatory, threatening, hateful or otherwise offensive messages to the victim. Unfortunately it's often impossible to figure out who's sending these messages unless they make a mistake, or unless law enforcement has the time to get involved.

The second scenario is a lot more common than people think. Someone steals the victim's email or IM password, or somehow takes over their account. The harasser then proceeds to send harassing messages to the victims friends and family, impersonating the victim. The victim must then attempt to repair the damage, which can vary from easy to impossible, depending on the relationships involved.

We often think of identity theft as something that happens to people who have assets or credit cards and other things of monetary value. And certainly not something that happens to kids.

In reality, this form of identity impersonation for the purposes of on-line harassment seems to be frighteningly common. And it's much, much easier. A mistakenly shared or easily guessed password can open the door to many forms of abuse.

Even with the statements plastered over my site that indicate I can't get your account or password back, I still get several questions that boil down to that each week. I can only guess at how many there are in reality that don't ask because they see I can't help.

The solution's not easy.

One part of me wants to caution parents to do a better job of teaching personal responsibility to their children, and to listen with an open mind if a child - yes, your child - is accused of bullying.

On the other hand, I also (vaguely) remember what it's like to be that age. I was bullied as a teen and pre-teen. Kids haven't changed, but the tools they have available most certainly have. In many ways we're giving kids incredibly powerful tools in the form of the internet, email, IM, text messaging and cell phones, way before they're mature enough to understand the ramifications of their actions.

And those tools aren't going away any time soon.

The only advice I have is for parents to be watchful - your child may be a victim, or a perpetrator. And for all, parents, teachers and kids alike, to take these matters seriously. Kids, teens, and even adults, are being hurt and scarred every day.

I'd love to hear what you think. Visit askleo.info and enter 11157 in the go to article number box and leave me a comment. While you're there, search over 1,000 technical questions and answers on the site.

Till next time, I'm Leo Notenboom, for askleo.info.

Article C2929 - February 10, 2007 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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4 Comments
Gary
February 16, 2007 1:30 PM

Hi Leo
Last week someone took over my wifes hotmail account. They used messenger to taunt me and say hurtfull stuff. I ended up with microsofts help regaining the account. While they had it they found an old email containing passwords for my web site which they accessed and took me off line. Email and all. The cost to my business was high. The ISP recoreded the IP, date and time and their ISP. Is there any way I can identify the name of the account from the IP I have obtained?

Chuck
February 22, 2007 11:27 AM

Leo,
I noted 30 years ago while designing security systems that everyone wanted (and still want) security and safety in their lives. But then, as now, MOST people will not spend the money and learning time to invest in their security. And I'm not talking kids, but professional, educated adults successful in their respective fields.
The reality is over three decades I have not seen a realistic change in attitudes toward security, be it cyber, financial, or personal. Most folks will talk the talk, but few actually walk the walk. It's a scammers playground and that will not change substantially for some time -- if ever.

Nick
March 5, 2007 6:58 PM

Leo,
what are the laws concerning email theft? I know who has been committing this against me and have evidence in several forms. Just trying to see all my options before i got to court.

Leo Notenboom
March 5, 2007 7:01 PM

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That's too general a question. It varies on the situation, and even
where you're located. Your best bet is to contact local legal
representation or local authorities.

Leo
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