Our Private Investigators Answer Frequently Asked Questions About Fake Online Accounts
Unfortunately, the use of anonymous and fake accounts to harass and slander people and legitimate businesses online is common. Our private investigators understand the severe consequences negative content can have on your well-being and reputation. We also understand how difficult it can be to have this content removed from the internet.
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects search engines and other internet service providers from liability for negative content posted on their platforms. Though many providers will voluntarily remove negative content, you may have to jump through hoops to get there.
Below, we answer common questions about fake accounts and what you can do about them.
Fake Accounts: Can You Trace Them?
Our social media investigators hear this question a lot: Is it possible to trace online accounts? Unfortunately, the only real answer is: it depends. While we have successfully been able to trace many fake accounts, it is almost always an uphill battle. But, if it can be done, we can do it.
The people behind these types of accounts create them with the intention of evading identification. There are many easily available tools and techniques that can make tracking these accounts impossible. These accounts are usually set to anonymous and contain little visible information.
Even so, in this digital age, every online action leaves a digital footprint. When this digital footprint hasn’t been expertly masked and/or the perpetrator gets sloppy covering their tracks, we can trace this digital footprint.
How to Find Out Who Made a Fake Account
Our private investigators use advanced investigation tools, techniques and software to locate and identify anonymous accounts online. Every case is different and not every technique can or should be used on each case. Even so, a few of the techniques we regularly utilize include:
- Advanced search tools
- Advanced link analysis
- Metadata tracing
- Engaging the offending party using subterfuge
- Setting up a “honey pot” or “tripwire” to catch the account off guard
- Subpoenas ordering a website or search engine to provide IP address information
How to Deal With Online Harassment
Your options will depend on the unique circumstances of your situation. We recommend that you speak to an internet defamation lawyer about your situation to get a full view of your options.
Your options could include:
- Removing the damaging content from search-engine indexing
- Removing the damaging content from the website or internet
- Pursuing compensatory damages against the individual behind the fake account
Before taking any action, you need to gather and preserve online and social media evidence. This evidence must prove that harassment and damages exist. Our online and social media investigators explore our clients’ situations and gather the necessary evidence needed for their claim.
Online and Social Media Evidence
As case law continues to evolve, we are seeing more and more that you cannot only count on printouts for evidence. You have to show proof of account authorship and authenticity.
In order to prove authorship and authenticity, there are a couple of steps we take. First, we need to preserve the content as it was found. This includes an image or printout of the actual content. Then, we preserve and hash the content’s metadata.
Metadata is the code behind the content. It can show important information such as location, time published and user ID. We also create a hash value, or a digital fingerprint for the evidence. The hash value acts as a digital fingerprint, which can be replicated by the opposing side’s expert to verify it wasn’t altered, which is essential for admissibility.
Costs Associated With Tracking a Fake Account
Conducting an investigation to track down the person behind a fake account is neither easy nor inexpensive. Our work is usually billed hourly. Doing the investigation and gathering the evidence will usually cost between $2,500-$5,000, but it can cost much more.
As the case progresses, we will be transparent about whether or not continued investigation will lead to a successful outcome. As a general rule, using our most common methods, we have about a 50/50 shot of tracking down who is behind a fake account.
Keep in mind that our objective is to track down the culprit and gather the necessary evidence. In order to take legal action, you will need to retain an attorney, which would incur attorney fees and court fees. Typically, attorney costs start between $5,000-$10,000 depending on which attorney you hire.
Can I Sue for Online Defamation to Recover My Costs?
This is a complicated question. You could have a viable claim to recover compensation for damages, but it depends on exactly what was posted and the facts surrounding the situation. Again, you should speak with a lawyer about the best options for your case.
Keep in mind that states have statutes of limitation, or time limits on how long you have to make a claim. For example, in California, you only have one year from the date of the defamatory statement to bring a defamation claim against someone. There are exceptions to this statute, but generally, you want to save yourself plenty of time.
When Is a Fake Account or Online Account Breaking the Law?
A couple examples of criminal activities can include:
- Online harassment. Online harassment encompasses many actions including, but not limited to cyberstalking, cyberbullying, cyberattacks and hacking.
- Defamation. Online defamation is the act of spreading false information to slander or damage a person or business’s reputation.
Do You Need Online or Social Media Investigation Services?
If you need help gathering evidence for an online harassment or defamation case, contact the online investigators at Bosco Legal Services, Inc. We provide online and social media investigations to lawyers, insurance companies and business professionals nationwide.