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Fake Identities — Not Too Hard to Swallow

Last week Twitter took the unprecedented step of suspending the account of one Santiago Swallow, who was one of the defining contributors to social media in recent years…or was he?

Less than four weeks ago, I was presenting at the FICO-sponsored Fraud Conference in London about authentication as the new currency, and about the ease with which one can create, manipulate and adapt a "digentity" (digital identity). Mr. Swallow is a classic example.

Swallow does not exist; he was created and embellished by British technology expert Kevin Ashton in just two hours. Santiago Swallow was invented to be a compelling and attractive personality that would attract the unsuspecting social media users and analysts.

For less than £60, Ashton created a credible identity on email (Google), social media (Twitter), and the internet (Wikipedia). His fictitious online persona achieved a supposed 90,000 followers and an online influence score of 754 out of 1000 before the plug was pulled.

So which paragon of social media detection "outed" Ashton's creation? None. He was only exposed because Ashton himself revealed his deception.

The key messages here are that one should not believe everything that one sees online, and organizations need to do more to improve their on-boarding or customer authentication protocols to prevent fictitious identities being booked. Because while this fabrication seems to have been a bit of "harmless" devilment, the potential threats are very real — see the case of the famous confidence trickster and serial identity imposter Frank Abagnale.

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