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How I Traced a Fake Facebook Profile and Salvaged My Reputation As A Father

Cyber bullying – it’s not big, it’s not clever, and it’s really, really unpleasant if you are the victim of it.

When I was in school, social media didn’t exist. I know, I’m old, I’m from a time before time, social media didn’t exist. I had issues with bullying in school – I’ve got scoliosis, which means my spine is curved in two places. It’s in the shape of a letter “S”, a rather unfortunate-looking x-ray. I once had when I was 15 and it frightened the life out of me, because I thought it was somebody else’s and it turned out it was mine. As a result of that, I would walk with a little bit of a, shall we say, a pronounced bounce, and I was the victim of some pretty bad bullying in school as a result of that.

Kids are wonderful, aren’t they? Kids are wonderful. I didn’t have social media back then, but if social media had existed back then, it would have been horrendous. If you’re the victim of social media bullying, particularly on Facebook, it’s the kind of thing that you can’t always get away from, because it’s there it’s 24/7. It’s in your face all the time, and I had some involvement with social media bullying a few years ago, when I got the opportunity to be the hero.

You see, it’s no secret that I’m divorced. I’ve got three children from a previous relationship, and when I got divorced, it was 2006 and my wife at the time disappeared. She took my three children with her – my youngest was two or three at the time – and I wasn’t sure I was ever going to see them again.

I had an agreement with the solicitor –any father who’s been through this will know – for regular contact every two weeks, I think it was, and quite often, I would turn up for contact with my three children and they wouldn’t be there, or one of them would be there, or two of them would be there, but quite often, none of them would be there. Excuses were given – one of them had a party to go to, or one of them went around to their granddad’s – it was just basically things that would stop them coming to see me that they were offered in exchange, and eventually it stopped altogether.

I didn’t see them and it looked very much like I genuinely was never going to see them again. I’d resigned myself to that fact because the solicitor effectively said to me that “yes, you can take this to court, you can get an official contact agreement in court from a judge, but it’s not really enforceable, because all your ex-wife has to do is just say the kids didn’t want to come this week, or they were ill, or they want to do something else, and that’s that”.

Effectively, you’re spending all this money for nothing, and I genuinely thought “that’s it, I’m never going to see them again”. I made the decision to move away from where I was living and just basically start my life again. That’s why I’m here now, running a digital marketing agency in the North West, based up in Ellesmere Port, near Chester, and helping clients throughout the world with their online marketing and generally annoying people.

However, what happened was – which was why I now have a relationship with my children again, a fantastic relationship with my children – is because completely out of the blue, maybe five years after I thought I’d never see them again, I had a phone call from my ex-wife.

She phoned me up and asked me – without any sort of, you know, “how you doing, how’s it going” –“do you know anything about Facebook?” Well yeah, I do, I run a digital marketing agency, we do a lot of work with Facebook, and I’m fairly okay with the platform, why are you asking me, why are you phoning me?

And she explained to me that our eldest, who wasn’t on Facebook, was the victim of online bullying on Facebook. Someone – they believed it would be somebody at the school that he was at – had set up a fake profile in his name with a comical picture of a cartoon character, presumably something they used to pick on him and call him, because they thought he looked like it. That’s what I’m guessing at the time, anyway.

Somebody created this fake profile with this cartoon character with his name, and they’d been sending abusive messages to other kids in the class in school, and the only reason they became aware of it was because the teacher had come to them and approached my son thinking that he’d been sending these abusive messages, which of course he hadn’t, because he wasn’t even on Facebook. He didn’t know anything about it, and that was the first he’d heard of it.

So she said “there’s a fake Facebook profile being set up of my son, is there any way I can find out who’s behind it?” I said well, yeah I can do that, and to be honest with you, as horrible as it sounds, this was kind of like the moment I’d been waiting for.

For about five or six years, this was the moment I’d been waiting for – this was my opportunity to get to be a dad. I get to be a dad who can actually help one of my children who has a serious problem, and this is exactly in my wheelhouse, this is the thing I know about and I am going to deal with this.

I was in a lucky situation, as I did run my own agency, and I had people here who were, let’s just say massive nerds. There was one nerd in particular, and there was nothing he couldn’t do from a coding perspective. So I said “right, drop everything, this is the problem.” We knew there was a fake profile, and it was in my son’s name, and we knew that it had been sending messages to his classmates. We had the names of his classmates because I took this information down on the phone. So let’s find this fake profile.

First of all, we searched on Facebook for his name. Obvious choice, and it didn’t show up. Clearly, the person that had created this fake profile sort of thought they knew what they were doing and they’d set it so that it wasn’t discoverable in search. However, his friends’ profiles were discoverable in search, so we found a list of them, and I created a spreadsheet with all of the kids’ profiles in it.

It sounds a little dodgy, but it was all for a good reason. So, we created a list of all the kids’ profiles in search, and then we went through their friends lists, because even though this fake profile of my son wasn’t discoverable in search, it was still connected with other people in the class, because it had been messaging them, contacting them and sending them friend requests. Now, that’s where they fell down.

You see, the profile was still findable by going through the friends lists of the people it was contacting, and we found it – we found the fake profile.

So, we’ve got the profile, and I can see it had a cartoon character profile name, just as they said, it had my son’s name, and it had lots of supposedly funny updates that were meant to be posted by my son – which, of course, weren’t, because he wasn’t on Facebook and he didn’t know anything about it. So, what are we going to do about this fake profile?

Well, the obvious thing to do is report it to Facebook as a fake profile, but if we do that, the best result we’re going to get is Facebook is going to delete it. Then, all that’s going to happen is someone’s going to create another one, and it’s going to crop up again, so you’re going to get rid of the problem for about a day or two. That’s not really going to work, and that’s also not really my style – no, I needed to know who’s behind this profile.

As luck would have it, one of our nerds that worked with us – as I say, he was a huge nerd – coded this capture script, so that all you need to do was to land on this particular page and it would scrape all the information from whatever device you were using at the time. It would pull down your mobile phone device if you’re on a mobile, it would pull down your IP address, operating system, the browser – it would pull down sorts of user information, and all I needed to do was to get someone to click on this link and it would store it into a database.

So, how was I going to get them to click on a link? How was I going to do that? Well, human instinct says that somebody’s going to click on something if they think they’re going to get something out of it, and because whoever created this account had done it because they wanted to bully my son, what they wanted was more opportunities to bully my son. So, I also created a fake profile.

I can’t remember what even profile picture I used. I think I created it with a girl’s name and I created a face for it, using another email address. I sent a message to this fake profile of my son with a link to a page for them to click on. Now, the clever thing about this was I put a thumbnail image measuring one pixel by one pixel in this page with a picture of my son, so that when that link appeared in Facebook messenger, it appeared as though it was a picture of my son. So I sent it to them saying “if you would like more photos of Robbie you can use for your profile, you’re to find them here.”

They clicked on it within about three minutes of receiving it.

They had no idea who I was, they’d no idea who the profile was, they just got this opportunity to get some pictures for the fake profile to continue bullying this person.

So they clicked on link, and they landed on this page, which did its thing and pulled down the browser they were using, the operating system, the mobile phone make and model. It was an unusual phone, an Alcatel OT800 mobile phone, and I’d never even heard of one of those. Had it been an iPhone, it might have been trickier to track them.

The page also pulled down the IP address that they were using, and a simple search on that IP address also showed us that they were on the O2 network. So, we knew their mobile phone model and the mobile network they were on. We discovered while doing this that some mobile phones will actually drop the phone number as well. While this one didn’t, some model phones will, so anybody who is a Facebook or social media troll doing this kind of stuff, be aware that if you do click on a link like the one that we created, you could even be giving away your phone number – you are not safe, you are not secure, you are not hidden behind your ivory tower, as we can find out who you are.

So, what do we do with this information? Well, at the time, Facebook had something called “imposter account information requests”. I’m not sure at the time of writing this that it still has those, but back then, it did. The way it worked was you submitted a request of an imposter account, and prove it was an imposter. Afterwards, Facebook will give you the information on who created it.

Now because Facebook’s American, and it assumes everybody’s American, Facebook wanted you to prove it getting a notary public to sign to counter sign your ID. Of course, in the UK, or even outside America, we don’t have notary publics – it’s an American thing. So, I managed to find a solicitor I know to just sign a piece of paper to say that I was who I said I was and that my son was who he said he was, and that he didn’t have a Facebook account.

I gave Facebook all the information it requested, and it gave us – and I still can’t believe, to this day, that it gave us this – a three or four-page pdf showing all the dates and times that people had logged in to this fake account, and it gave us all the IP addresses that they used to log in, the mobile phone number used to verify the account, and the email address used to set it up.

We had everything we needed, so I phoned the number straight away. They didn’t answer, but that wasn’t necessary, as we had all this information. So what did we do with this?

Well, we gave it to the school and said “this is the person who’s created this fake account of my son, has been messaging obscene messages to all the other children in the class and has been bullying my son for god knows how long. This is their phone number, this is the model mobile phone they’re using, this is the IP address they’ve been using, this is the network they’re on, this is everything about them, this is the email address they’ve been using, these are the other two mobile phone numbers that have been used to log into this account (because it actually had three different phones log into this fake account, so either they’ve switched their phone twice or there’s more than one person accessing it).”

Unsurprisingly, it didn’t take the school very long to work out who that was.

But what is surprising – and this shocked me, as there was a few people that we thought it might be – there were a few kids in the class that were, shall we say, known bullies towards nerdy kids, the sort of people you think “yeah, it’s probably that one”, it wasn’t them at all. It turns out that it was actually a girl, and I’m not going to give the name or any information because that’s not fair, but it was really surprising and quite upsetting, because that girl would have been pretending to be his friend as well, which quite frankly is despicable. It shows the level that people will go to to bully on social media, to attempt to hurt others on social media, and it also shows that if you are one of these people who do this, you’re not safe, you are not anonymous. There is no such thing as anonymity in social media – people like me can find out who you are, can track you down.

What this also did, as well as being a horrible thing for someone to have to go through, is it did actually allow me to reconnect with my son and both of my other children as a consequence, because obviously I was the hero that came in and saved the day. I was the one that came in and found out the person behind this, so you know, I got to be the super dad for probably the first time in my life, and it did mean that I was able to form a relationship with them again.

I now still have very, very strong relationship with them. My daughter, for example, is up here in Liverpool in university right now, and I see her every couple of weeks, so there was some good to come of this.

I still see fake accounts now on social media, they are hugely prevalent, and whenever I see them, I report them. Whenever I get messages from a fake account, I report it, and Facebook is getting ridiculously slow at actually dealing with them, ridiculously so, and it’s also getting to the point where Facebook’s saying “there’s nothing wrong with this account, this account isn’t fake, it’s not creating spam, it’s not sending obscene messages, there’s nothing wrong with it”, when clearly it is. You know, I can see that it is, I’ve got evidence that it is, so Facebook is getting overrun with spam at the moment and it’s just a situation that’s getting worse and worse.

So, what I would say to anybody who is suffering this this problem, is that you can click here for a guide I’ve written where you can actually go through and do this for yourself. You can follow that, and it works – it’s this exact same process that we used to get this information for yourself so you can find out who is behind all of this.

For anybody who’s doing this themselves, anybody that is doing online bullying and trolling online, thinking that you are anonymous because you are behind a computer screen or phone, make no mistake – you can be found. I could find you if I wanted to, it’s not that difficult.

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