I am not really much of a blogger anymore, but I still get a lot of unsolicited email. I usually ignore it. When people get in touch asking me to cover stories I understand why they’re doing it, and to some extent I’m flattered, but I just really don’t have the time to respond to everyone.
On Wednesday I got an email that at, at first blush, I took for one of those messages. But for whatever reason I took a closer look and quickly realized it was something different. A woman who I’ll call Ms. X was emailing to let me know that my photo was being used in connection with a house for rent in St. Catharines, Ontario. The photo didn’t appear in the rental ad itself, but when she emailed she got a reply that included this:
Thank you for your interest in our 2 bedroom.
My name is Megan and my husband is Thomas, blessed with 2 Children; Jason and Sara, We have a 2 bedroom house in…St. Catharines, ON
At the bottom of the email was this picture.
Clearly, the idea was that “Megan” and “Thom” and “Jason” and “Sara” were the people contained in that photo. A lovely family that moved and now needs renters for their home. Which, no, they’re not. That’s Amber and Jon and Jacob and Hannah. I can offer that on the best authority. And I have never been to St. Catharines, Ontario, nor do I own property there. Although I’m sure it’s lovely.
Ms. X discovered that I used that image in this blog post: A Canadian Family: Heritage and Identity. She surmised, correctly, that I was unaware and sent me the email she had received. So thank you, Ms. X. I really appreciate it. You didn’t have to go out of your way and you did.
After the first vaguely nauseous feeling passed, I got in touch with a close friend of mine who’s a lawyer. He informed me that this wasn’t just bad Internet etiquette, it was out-and-out identity theft. Regardless of how or where I had shared the image, it is unlawful for anyone else to misrepresent my likeness as their own for any purpose. This made me feel better. People have used my images before, sometimes with permission and sometimes without. But they’ve always been properly attributed, and used in ways I was comfortable with. This felt…different. And it turns out that it is different.
Plus, he told me that in all probability this rental ad is fraudulent in and of itself. The spelling mistakes, the religious references, the fact that they’re sharing my photo when I obviously won’t be around to hand over keys – they’re all red flags. This is what makes it particularly gross – my kids were being used in an attempt to dupe people out of their money.
Apparently, this sort of thing is on the rise. Jon and I have a friend who recently rented an apartment. When responding to ads on Craigslist she got a couple of replies that were very fishy. And I read this story about someone who found a whole lot of furniture in his driveway because a fraudster rented his Ottawa house, while he was living in it and had no awareness of the situation. Of course the person who thought they were renting the house was the real victim, but it sucks for everyone. Except, I suppose, whoever made off with the cash. They’re doing fine, other than the bad karma.
Today I got a Facebook message that confirmed my worst suspicions. Someone I’ll call Ms. Y sent me a message letting me know that someone used my photo to scam her out of over $2000 on renting a house that wasn’t really for rent. I’m going to assume it’s the same person. I really hope it’s the same person who emailed Ms. X, because if it isn’t, well, it means things have gone even farther, which makes a gross situation even grosser.
In truth I’m the lucky one here. I might feel icky but I haven’t lost any money. I was not the victim of fraud myself. My lawyer friend drafted a strongly worded letter and I submitted a report to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre so they’re aware of the situation. My hope is that whoever is using my image decides that it’s more trouble than it’s worth and moves on. But much more than that I hope more people become aware of this type of scam, and fewer people fall prey to it.
My name is not Megan. My husband does not work for Canadian Tire. I do not have a house for rent in St. Catharines or anywhere else. And I am now the victim of an identity theft that fraudsters used to scam people out of thousands of dollars.
Some days it’s harder to have faith in people than others. Today is one of the days when it’s harder.