Internet identity theft on the rise in Russia

Social networking may be one of the fastest growing trends on the Internet, but it also appears to be the source of one of the biggest online dangers: identify theft.

Ekaterina Nektarinova is an amateur photographer who recently discovered that her own image and online persona have become the focus of unknown identity thieves. Cyber-clones have obtained Ekaterina’s photos and personal information from the Russian social networking site Vkontakte (InTouch) and created a fake online life for themselves.

You cannot fight this problem, because you do not know where it’s from. You do not know who to write to in order to sort the problem out, because you don’t know who’s behind the screen – a 13-year-old girl or a 40-year-old man,” said Ekaterina.

In one of Ekaterina’s fake online diary entries, the identity thief wrote that her parents had died and that she was mourning their deaths. Ekaterina’s online profile also features conversation with her friends that she never had.

Ekaterina says the confusion and intrusion are causing relationship problems and fears that what is currently only a frustration could lead to something far more dangerous.

You can’t know what this may lead to, what they talk about with other people in your name,” said Ekaterina. “I may get into trouble and be attacked – and I wouldn’t know why, because it had not been me who wrote the clone page. But how can I prove it was not me?”

Yana Kulikova, on the other hand, had the proof she needed by watching the evening news and seeing an image of herself broadcast on national television. Bailiffs admitted using her image as part of a sting operation. They did so by taking a picture from Yana’s social network page without her knowledge and using it to create an imaginary profile to lure in tax-evaders.

I understood immediately this could be dangerous for me,” said Yana. “I knew the debtors were not aware that the girl they were looking for online actually had nothing to do with it. I was afraid I might run into them. I was scared they would want to harm me for revenge.”

Yana says that the incident led to problems at work and at home, which prompted her and her husband to take the officers to court. The defendants refused to comment on the issue, but internet expert Vasily Terletsky says the law could indeed be on Yana’s side.

Commercial use is always illegal,” Terletsky said. And a situation “where bailiffs took the girl’s picture off the website and used it for the benefit of the state could be ruled as illegal.”

Tarletsky also suggests that domain owners do the policing on their sites when it comes to copyright laws and insuring that all activities are legal. However, until that happens, it should be a priority of Russian web users to guard their identities.

“I think there should be a more specialized law on the use of materials on the Internet and more specialized liability provided for these particular cases,” Margarita Zakiyan, associate attorney from the Legalife law firm, told RT. “There is general liability provided in the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation and in the Civil Code Part 4, newly adopted in 2008, which regulated intellectual property issues. However, these are general principles. There is no specialized law, so it is hard to prove cases in the court and to bring evidence.”

Watch the full interview with Margarita Zakiyan