Beware of Byline Snatchers: How to Protect Your Freelance Writing Identity

Beware of Byline Snatchers: How to Protect Your Freelance Writing Identity

Freelance writers and bloggers, beware. At the deepest pits of the internet, unscrupulous internet spammers lie in wait.

I recently received a tweet from a website I’ve contributed to in the past, tagged as the writer of their most recent article. I didn’t remember writing that article, but to be sure my mind hadn’t eliminiated the article from my data banks I triple-checked my email and computer for any traces of the piece. Nothing.

I clicked through to read the article, and found sub-par writing and a few obvious commercial links. A fake Samantha Staf stole my name and photo to build links for his or her clients.

Not cool. I couldn’t help thinking, “Why steal my face and name?” I worked hard to build my authority. I didn’t need a lazy writer destroying everything I built.

Identity theft is the most common type of cybercrime. But here’s the mind-boggling part: very little can be done legally unless the impersonating individual has committed a crime with your name or face. Right now very few states — New York, California, and Texas are among this enlightened group — have laws that protect their citizens from online impersonation.

Otherwise, you’re on our own. And that means writers need to take measures to prevent and stop individuals who want to profit from your name, pictures, and credentials.

How to protect your online identity

As a writer, you’re constantly flirting with the possibility of identity theft. Why?

Because to be a freelance writer or blogger, you must ignore the best protection against identity theft there is: not posting your picture, personal information, and articles on the internet.

But these personal details are what you use to build a professional reputation online. Since many writers are self-employed, your instinct to protect ourselves can be overpowered by your instinct to promote your work.

Despite this very fatal flaw in your online protection, you can still take measures to protect our name. Create complicated passwords for your email and other online accounts. Change the passwords for these accounts every month or so. Then, create a second layer of authentication (typically a security code sent to your mobile phone) to those online accounts to prevent others from changing your password.  

Having a password that’s easy to remember is nice, but having one that’s secure is powerful.

Here’s an uncomfortable truth: there is very little you can do to prevent an unscrupulous individuals from hijacking your authority.

The fake Samantha Stauf created their own email address, with just a single letter different than mine, to reach out to editors under my name.

There was nothing I could do about the theft until after it had taken place.

How to stop authority snatchers after they’ve stolen your identity

Mitigating authorship identity theft requires constant vigilance. I caught the spammer five hours after the article was published. By the sixth hour, I had already started to ensure the individual would not be able to continue to use my name.

How can you stop these name thieves in their tracks?

Spot identity theft by:

  • Conducting online searches for articles with your name or picture. Set the search tools to only show the last 24 hours or week, depending on how often you search. If you’re name isn’t a common one, setting a Google alert for your name may suffice.

  • Keeping an eye on articles attributed to you via social media platforms.

  • Looking out for any unusual email account activity.

Once you discover identity theft, it’s time to eliminate the possibility of the individual continuing to utilize your hard work for monetary purposes. One of the core reasons unscrupulous individuals utilize this tactic it to save time. Therefore, to stop authority snatchers, you should ensure they will have a very hard time utilizing your name.

Here’s a four-step process to smash the spammer:

  • Contact the editor of the blog the spam article was published on. Explain the situation and demand that the article be removed. If you don’t already have a working relationship with this editor, be prepared to supply proof of your identity. Ask the editor if they’ll forward you the correspondence they had with the thief.

  • Contact every other editor you work with, preferably by email, to inform them that an identity thief might make contact under your name.

  • If the editor gives you the email the thief used to contact them, send an email to the thief. Here’s a quick snip of my email to fake Samantha Stauf:

I just wanted to let you know that I have warned every editor I work with about your scam. They know that you might contact them. But wait, you might be thinking, I still might be able to salvage this…I just wanted to let you know, that I will find every single article you get published under my name. Do you know what will happen after? I will gleefully get every article removed.

  • Repeat the process to remove any other articles the thief gets published in your name.

Unfortunately, writers need to protect themselves from unethical thieves who try to profit from your name and authority. Since the law is not typically on your side in these situations, you’ll need to proactively protect yourself.

I managed to eradicate my authority snatcher issue in a few hours. If you can take steps to prevent a similar situation, you’ll be able to derail potential theives quickly while protecting your professional name.

Has your professional reputation ever been threatened by a spammer or scammer? What did you do to overcome the situation?

Filed Under: Freelancing


  • Samantha Stauf says:

    You might be able to try. For the most part though, the law hasn’t caught up to make suing people for online defamation of character stick (not unless they committed a crime under your name). Read an article recently about a guy who had someone steal his name and picture to contact women on dating sites. When he went to the cops, they told him there was nothing they could do since the dude who stole his picture hadn’t actually committed a crime yet. Stealing someones name is ethically and morally repugnant, but in most cases not yet a criminal act in its own right.

  • Wendy says:

    You’d think you would be able to go after them for “defamation of character.”

  • A very useful post Samantha,
    All these scammers will always do everything possible to profit from where they did not sow and this is really absurd.

    Had it been that the site didn’t send you a notification about the published article, i guess you might have not been able to find out and therefore, the fake Samantha will be enjoying your heard work.

    This is really a wake up call for writers because if you can be targeted then, that means such things has been happening on the internet.

    Thanks for sharing.

  • Samantha Stauf says:

    I was definitely shocked when the article showed up. Google alerts is a great way to keep an eye out. Another sign, you might want to keep a sharper eye on things is someone contacts you to publish articles on their behalf under your name. The spammer finally responded about half a week ago to my slightly irate (OK very irate) email. He had apparently contacted me a few weeks before to publish articles under his name. When I never responded, he decided he would just do it for himself. I explained to him that stealing someones name was not a solid reaction to someone ignoring his ethically dubious request. Who knows with those types if it will actually make a difference.

  • Alicia Rades says:

    Gosh, that’s scary, and it seems like it would be all too easy for someone to do this (though I don’t know why they don’t just build their own authority).

    This hasn’t happened to me (that I know of), but I do have Google alerts set up for my name, so that’s another thing you can do to keep an eye out for your recently published articles.

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