Forging a New Identity Online

By Shawn Dougherty August 18, 2014

Shawn DoughertyIn the film The Shawshank Redemption (warning: spoiler alert), a wrongfully imprisoned accountant named Andy uses a typewriter, some postage, and a little imagination to forge a new identity. He creates the new identity to help launder the corrupt warden’s constant flow of bribes. But when Andy escapes prison, he adopts the forged identity, beginning life anew with more than $300,000.

The concept, at first, seems unbelievable. How can Andy create a person out of thin air just by writing letters? I’d like to say that it’s still a very complex proposition that only people in the movies can achieve. But the reality is that with the growth of the Internet, developing fake identities has become easier than ever before.

An article last month in The Atlantic describes the author’s experience searching for anonymity and creating a new identity online. The beginning of his journey was far from simple and involved a lot of sneaking around. First, he bought a new computer from someone on Craigslist, wearing a hat and keeping his head down during the exchange to avoid electronic surveillance. Then, he reformatted the computer and spent some time hanging out in the anonymous area of the web referred to as the Darknet.

But soon, he found that anonymity was not fulfilling. He decided to come up with a new name, a new composite photo, and an assortment of new physical and online identifiers. He bought all of this using bitcoins, which have become the currency of choice for those who want to make anonymous purchases. He then allowed other people online to use his fake account to visit websites and post updates on Twitter. Eventually, that Twitter account was suspended because of spam, and the fictitious character was said to have gone missing. But the message is clear: It’s easier than ever to form, change, and manipulate an online identity today.

So be careful online, no matter who you are.

To learn about ISO’s various cyber offerings, visit the ISO Cyber Risk Solutions website,www.verisk.com/cyber, or e-mail me at sdougherty@iso.com. You can also follow me on Twitter @doughertyshawn.


Shawn Dougherty

Shawn Dougherty is the assistant vice president of ISO's Specialty Commercial Lines Division. He is responsible for providing the overall direction, leadership, and client service for ISO's cyber liability (e-commerce), D&O (management protection), businessowners, crime and fidelity, financial institutions, employment-related practices liability, and professional liability (other than medical) insurance programs. He is also the ISO product manager for the Lloyd's Wordings Repository, an electronic database of policy wordings and clauses regularly used within the London market. Mr. Dougherty has worked at ISO since 1988.