What are some ways that an abuser might use technology for impersonation?
There are many ways that abusers misuse technology to help them impersonate someone.
Abusers might create fake social media accounts in your name, log into your accounts by having or guessing the password, or manipulate technology in a way that makes it seem like a communication is coming from you. Through impersonation, abusers may gather confidential or personal information about you from your friends, family, or employer; spread harmful information about you; or even create false “evidence” that casts doubt on your courtroom testimony or on your version of events that you included in a court petition or police report. Some abusers have even created fake messages to make it look like they are the person who is getting harassed. Additionally, an abuser may try to impersonate you or someone else online as a way to learn information about your location or trick you into meeting him/her somewhere.
Abusers may create “fake” email accounts (accounts not connected to their own name) for various reasons. They may use the accounts to send harassing emails that look like they are coming from someone else or that mask their identity as the sender. In many cases, however, the original sender can still be proven with the help of law enforcement.
Abusers may also send an email from these “fake” accounts to trick you into opening a message that contains a virus or spyware that would then allow them to spy on your computer. Abusers may also create an email account in your name in order to send emails to others while pretending to be you. This could be done because they are trying to embarrass you, discredit you, put you at risk of harm, or cause some other negative consequences in your life.
Spoofing is a term that means masking or hiding one’s actual phone number so that another phone number (chosen by the user) shows up on the recipient’s caller ID. Abusers may use spoofing to pretend that they are someone else so that you will pick up the phone (especially if you wouldn’t pick up a call from the abuser’s number). For example, an abuser could use spoofing to make you believe you are receiving a telephone call from a family member or from an advocate or lawyer.
Another way that an abuser can use spoofing for impersonation is that s/he can call others and enter your phone number as the “caller.” The abuser may pretend to be you to cause problems with your personal or professional life or to create a false record of you calling him/her multiple times in order to report you to the police or courts for harassment. If an abuser does this, however, it can easily be proven that you did not make the phone calls since they will not appear on your phone bill in your outgoing calls.
Some of these spoofing services allow the users to not only change the caller ID number but to also alter their voice so it appears to come from another gender or another person, to add background noise, and/or to record the call. However, it can be illegal to use caller ID spoofing to defraud someone or to cause harm. See What laws protect me from impersonation? for more information.
There are ways that spoofing can be proven in court. Law enforcement or a lawyer who is familiar with technology abuse should be able to help you track down phone records or other documentation that will prove Caller ID spoofing. You can check your state’s Finding a Lawyer page for legal resources.
An abuser may also use your private information to pose as you on the Internet and invite others to harass you or put you in danger. For example, an abuser may create an advertisement (posing as you) directing others to contact you for escort or massage services, or inviting others to come to your home or call your home for a specific purpose.
Some abusers could even use impersonation to encourage others to sexually assault you. An abuser could include information in the advertisement or online post that states that you have a “rape fetish” or “rape fantasy” and asks for someone to carry out this “fantasy.” The purpose of these types of online posts is so that the third party who is sexually assaulting you thinks that your protest or resistance is part of some type of “role-playing.” (Note: In these types of cases, the abuser who makes the post will often be charged with rape or solicitation to commit rape, in addition to whatever rape charges are filed against the person who actually commits the sexual assault).