You know the world can be a relatively strange place, but it gets real strange when someone steals your face. It’s the kind of thing you only think happens in films or to people in the newspapers and it’s slightly scary when it happens to you. But for the past five years, it seems someone has been pretending to be me. They haven’t used my name, but they’ve been taking my photos – they’ve created social media accounts all over the internet and they’ve emailed my people all around the globe. Apparently neither is a criminal offence – you’re absolutely allowed under the law to steal someone’s face and use it to groom people.
You don't really expect someone to pretend to be you, do you?
It doesn’t seem right to me that in 2014 – almost 22 years since Al Gore created the internet (that's a joke by the way, before anyone says anything...) – that someone can use your identity and that that’s seen as okay. If they’d used my name apparently it would be another matter, but legitimately there are other Jon Chambers’ in the world – in fact there are other Jon Will Chambers’ in the world and we get on fine with each other – we even got each others’ emails once or twice and passed them on. We shared our name, got on with the fact.
But we didn’t share a face. I believe it’s scientifically impossible for there to be someone who has exactly the same face as me, happy to be proved wrong though. But I don’t have an identical twin and I’m pretty sure that it’s my face. Yet – apparently you can steal it, use it and that’s fine.
Back in December I had a random email on an old account. Someone wanted to know if I was the “real” Jon Chambers. Due to the fact I believed I was the real Jon Chambers, I stood up. I emailed back – believing that I was about to be asked to transfer £2.9 million to a random bank account for some scam. I don’t have £2.9 million – I also clearly don’t have much faith in people. This young woman emailed back and seemed grateful for my response. She was glad I was the real Jon Chambers. I didn’t realise at this point there was another Jon Chambers – but she was glad none the less. It turns out there wasn’t another Jon Chambers but there was a chap. This other chap had a different name but turns out he had the same face as Jon Chambers. He had the same face as me, because he stole it.
The young woman who had emailed me is pretty clever. She felt something – someone – was strange when she was talking to this other chap online, so she did some investigating. She used the reverse image search on Google – which is a handy tool to know about. She uploaded the photo of this man and low and behold it returned a photo of me from my website as a match. Google worked out that this other man and I looked alike. Strange. But of course we didn’t just look alike, we were the same person. I’ve got Facebook, so did he. I’m quite an addictive Tweeter, he was less so – but he had an account anyway. Well no, screw that – he had two. Greedy. He also had returned to the early 21st Century and had also picked up a Myspace account. Oh yea and two of those awful Google+ accounts. Who uses Google plus?
But unfortunately it wasn’t just the social networks that were populated with my face. Dating website profiles like ‘OKCupid’ sprung up with my face on. Oh and teenage-focused forums like ‘Teenhunt’ and ‘Teenspace’ – websites I’d never heard of. But he had, so he put my face on them. Now I understand that taking someone’s photos and creating a social media profile using them must happen all the time – particularly if you’re a celebrity. Fan websites, fan posts – those people on Twitter who set famous people as their profile image. Fine. But you have the option to verify which account is really you – if you choose. But unfortunately I’m not rich, and luckily enough I’m not famous. So in theory I should be able to live a relatively peaceful life, right?
Turns out I was living quite a busy life. Because this guy was using my photos to try and speak to young people – I guess if you’re a 16-17 year old, photos of a 16-17 year old are pretty handy. So he used them. No idea how he came across them – but somewhere, maybe through Facebook or my old website – he downloaded and used photos of me from five/six years ago. He used them five/six years ago. When this started. Five/six years ago. The file names changed quite naturally. A photo of me making a silly face with a musical keyboard on my head became ‘markwithcomputer.jpg’.
He called himself Mark.
From jpg to just creepy
Mark is now 21/22 years old so he kept on using my photos. Handy, because I’m now 22. He’d even cropped out my five month year old niece from one of them most recently. Oh and one of my mates had also acquired a new identity as Mark’s friend – when Mark sent a photo of me and him to one of the many young women and girls he’d been speaking to. Over the past few years.
Turns out Mark Fox wasn’t just creating random profiles for no reason. Unfortunately it wasn’t because he was fangirling over me like people do celebrities – what a shame. No, a message I received from one of the young women that Mark had been speaking to told me that he’d been joining teenage forums – collecting email addresses of young women, mailing them my photos and then pretending to be ‘me’. I grew slightly creeped out when I read of “gifts” that he’d apparently mentioned. Did he want photos back? Who knows. But why hide your identity when trying to speak to young girls on the internet?
I now know of 16 or 17 young women who’d been contacted by Mark. All who were led to believe that Mark had my face. They thought they were speaking to someone who had my face. That Mark was 14/15/16/17 years old just like they were, delete as appropriate. I felt a bit ill and creeped out to be honest when I read that some of the emails added up to “a good couple of years” and a “couple hundred pages” of messages between two people alone. But he hadn’t sent her the romantic poems he’d ‘sent to the other girls’. How many ‘other girls’ are there? The OKCupid account alone would suggest hundreds.. the forums, the social media sites, the emails. It’s definitely far more than the 16 we know of that’s for sure.
Having seen some more of the messages I don’t think Mark and I were on the same page. He writes in a very particular way. He’s very clever with language. He’s clearly very well educated.
He spoke multiple languages. I don’t. He wrote poems – I don’t. He plays accordion and oboe, apparently. I play keyboard. He said his father lived in Spain and his mum lived in Birmingham. He was a student at Durham, but to others he was just 16. That’s not me, but he had my face and it’s safe to say there were a lot of lies. But there were a lot of messages. Hundreds, probably thousands to just sixteen or so young women who managed to find each other and then find me. They’d spent years of their life talking to Mark Fox, thinking he had my face. They thought he was 21. They thought he was me.
Now I won’t, nor can’t, get in to every detail because this post would be some twenty if not more pages long. But over the past four months it’s been a living hell to try and get my face taken off some 15 social media profiles. Facebook said it didn’t break their “community usage policy” – apparently it’s not impersonation if they don’t use your name. Google never replied. Daily emails to multiple companies, trying to make my case – each ignored and social media enquiries that I might as well have never written.
I’ve posted about my ordeal on Twitter and Facebook occasionally over the past four months and Mark must have seen – because he was watching my accounts. He’s been watching them for five years to take my photos. But strangely Mark’s ‘doctor’ Peter emailed me. To my work address, from Spain according to the IP address. Apparently Mark was very sorry for the ‘inconvenience’ he had caused but he, Peter, was responsible for shutting down all the accounts at Mark’s request. He was a ‘doctor’ with a Yahoo account without a signature. Believable, not. Some of the accounts still remain up to this day – because Google still ignore my emails and the Police sent me to ActionFraud – the dead end of policing if you’ve ever wondered.
Just because it happens online, it doesn't mean it's not okay
If Mark had stolen my name, Facebook would have done something about it. If Mark had taken my bankcard, the Police might have been worried. If Mark had been standing outside my door for the past five years to take photos of me, I probably could have got someone to do something. But because Mark was “just doing it online” – that’s fine. Because Mark “only took my face” that was okay. Because Mark was only “messaging” these girls nobody’s worried. But imagine if I’d never found out about it – how long would it have continued? What if I’d ignored the email, what if one day someone thought it was me they’d been speaking to for years when they walked past me in the street one day. What if their dad thought I was the one that had been messaging their 14 year old daughter putting about 14 kisses on the end of my emails for two years?
Just because it’s online, it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. It doesn’t mean it isn’t connected to the real world. Victim Support gave me a text message where they suggested I just close down all my social media. Helpful. Let’s just leave the other man with my face as the only legitimate representation of me online. Nobody did a risk assessment, nobody still has. Nobody knows why he stole my face – and we only know a little of what he did with it – but he did.
The fact is my face is me. It’s who I am. And it’s dangerous and outrageous that it’s so difficult to protect your identity online. It’s unbelievable that nobody will help you and it’s scary to think that this is just the tip of the iceberg.
A very clever person managed to track Mark down. He lives in Spain, he’s married and he’s 66 years old. He’s apparently very sorry and he hopes I find this “matter closed.” I can assure you I don’t. You’re probably reading this anyway. *waves* But it’s not funny, I don’t find it flattering and I don’t think you would if it happened to you. Because I don’t know what he did with my photos but he’s certainly not done nothing. I’ve discovered the tip of the iceberg and it’s already quite sinister.
Why and how I don’t know, but about five years ago someone stole my face and I’m just incredibly lucky that I found out about it and that I might just have been able to stop it.
Now, can I have my Twitter profile verified please?
I promise I’m the real one…