Local News

Woman describes 'sheer horror' after online impostor takes photos

Posted February 2, 2012 6:00 p.m. EST
Updated February 2, 2012 10:33 p.m. EST

— As a former model and daughter of a photographer, Lydia Lange has been the subject of thousands of pictures. She posted many of them on her personal Facebook page and fashion blog. Little did she know, someone was copying her photos and posting them online under the name “Jenny.”

The 25-year-old says she first heard about this mysterious Jenny in September after one of her fans, who has been following her career, alerted her to the website.

“At first, I didn’t think it was that serious,” Lange said.

Later that night, she and her husband looked at the website and realized 90 percent of the pictures were taken from her Facebook profile.

“(I realized) it had to be someone that knew me really well,” Lange said, describing her “sheer horror” upon seeing the website. “I just knew it had to be someone close to me.”

When Lange and her family began digging, they realized the person using the name Jenny had been stealing her pictures for more than a year, often copying and reposting them within minutes on at least 10 different social media sites since July 2010. Jenny even had a boyfriend and her own fans.

“I felt completely violated. I felt like, ‘OK, maybe I shouldn’t have myself on the Internet,'" Lange said. The fashion blogger and stay-at-home wife says she dropped 10 pounds in two weeks, felt sick to her stomach all the time, had trouble sleeping and worried about her safety.

“It’s just a very scary feeling … just the fear of the unknown,” she said. “If they’re that obsessed and I find out, are they going to come after me?”

Lange immediately took down her fashion blog, and she and her family became consumed with trying to figure out who was behind Jenny.

“It’s the last thing I think about when I go to sleep,” said Lange’s 27-year-old sister, Rebekah Larraz. “I dream about it all night, and it’s the first thing I think about when I wake up. It’s consuming.”

After investigating on their own, Lange and Larraz said they realized most of the images taken were only accessible by family and friends. The sisters eventually confronted the person they believe to be Jenny.

“I was very calm, and I didn’t accuse her,” Lange said. “I just asked Rebekah, ‘Can you show her what someone has done?’” The woman then put up her hands, said “That’s sick,” and tried to close the computer, according to the sisters.

“(It seemed) like we were showing her a dead body,” Lange said.

Even though the woman denied it, Lange said she noticed some changes to Jenny’s website within 24 hours. Later, a goodbye message was posted, saying “Jenny is no more.”

“I think it should be illegal to do something to somebody like this, to be able to sit behind a computer screen and harass someone and make them feel scared for their life,” Lange said. “It’s just really a terrifying thing to go through and get no help.”

Lange and her family said they contacted two law enforcement agencies, including the Wake County Sheriff's Office, and were told they had no case.

WRAL News asked Rusty Gilmore, a security consultant and computer forensic expert with Risk Management Associates in Raleigh, to look at Lange’s case. He says, with the way the law stands now, taking someone else's images and posting them elsewhere online does not equate to identity fraud.

Civil remedies might be possible, according to Gilmore, but re-posting someone else's online photos does not usually rise to the level of a criminal violation. It would be difficult to pursue legal action since the person had no intent to steal money and only used Lange’s photos to create a new persona.

“It’s not like somebody breaking in your door and stealing or looking through your items criminally, but emotionally, I think it might have the same impact,” he said.

State and federal laws have been struggling to keep up with changing technology. Gilmore says cases like Lange’s are “more common than we’re aware of,” especially for people who are well-known or have a public profile.

“If this happens all the time, why isn’t there something in place for this?” Larraz said. “This shouldn’t be allowed.”

Larraz says she doesn’t think there was anything her sister could have done to prevent her pictures from being used without her permission. “It was somebody that was in our circle, in our friends that would have seen all this anyway,” Larraz said. “It was not like we let some stranger on and they stole all this stuff.”

Gilmore suggests limiting the number of people who can see pictures and information posted on Facebook or other social media sites. If a picture is copied, Gilmore suggests contacting the website and asking its support or security department for help.

“Sometimes they'll just take it down if you show enough proof that that is not you or that is not your name or that you have another account that they've already authorized you to use,” he said. “Sometimes they won't, though. It just depends on the content, whether or not they're using your name.”

Gilmore acknowledges it can be difficult to go through those hurdles, especially when dealing with a large company, such as Facebook. For people like Lange, Gilmore advises them to “just be vigilant” and “just be aware of what you put out there.”

“Try to put as little information about yourself on the Internet when you can when it comes to family life, and if you do put it out there, restrict it to your family,” he said.