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It was finals week of my first semester at Kent State University in 2011. Naturally, I was creeping on Twitter and doing everything I could to not study for exams. I clicked on a hashtag in a tweet I had posted earlier in the day (for no apparent reason) and was shocked to see the exact text from my tweet posted from another account. The account had my picture and the name “Lauren Ashley Cook.”

At first I thought my computer was switching names and images, that Twitter had a bug, or that I accidently duplicated my account somehow. It never crossed my mind that someone had made the account with my image on purpose.

I clicked on the profile, which had hundreds of tweets and a significant amount of followers. Looking through the account, I could see that all the tweets were copied from my account. The Twitter bio had a link to a Facebook account under the same name, also using my pictures and information.

Things got even weirder when I saw “Lauren” and her “friends” posting on one another’s walls. Her friends were using pictures of my friends. Not only did they talk to each other, but the conversations were identical to posts and comments my friends and I had left each other. I called my friends and told them what I had found. Five of us gathered around the computer and looked through all the different photos, statuses, and comments on the pages. Finals were the last thing on our mind at that point. “Who would do something like that?” and “Oh my gosh, how does she know that inside joke?” were some of the questions flying around the room. My friends and I were all beyond creeped out. I decided to Google the name “Lauren Ashley Cook.”

Lauren Ashley Cook had multiple websites using my pictures, and she had created quite the life for herself. She was very social on Facebook and Twitter, but posted dark and depressing things on Tumblr. “Lauren” would post pictures of my ex-boyfriends and me and post about how much she hated them. Most of her posts were made-up scenarios or stories revolving around one of my photos. One post that stood out to me was a blog entry about her “deceased brother.” Lauren posted a photo of an old friend and me. Underneath the photo she wrote about how much she missed her older brother and how she would see him again one day. The boy in the photo is not my brother, and he is very much alive. Many of her posts revolved around depression and death.

As if this wasn’t alarming enough, I came across a blog under Lauren’s name that had been active since 2007. I was only 14 when this started. How had I not known someone somewhere was taking my information and pictures for five years? To my knowledge, my social media accounts were private, and only people I approved could view my information.

One name popped up on every website, talking to Lauren and comforting her when she was depressed. His name was Mike, and it was very obvious he and Lauren had feelings for each other. Although nervous about what his reaction would be, I reached out to him under my real name. I wrote him a very long Facebook message explaining that Lauren was not real and that someone was taking my pictures. At first, Mike thought I was impersonating Lauren and wanted me to prove I was real before talking to me. He asked me to take a photo holding up a sign that said, “Hi Mike.” Once I did this, he messaged me things like, “I can’t believe this” and “she lied to me.” I told him I was so sorry that someone had done this to him, but I wanted to find out who was behind this and I needed his help. He started telling me all about Lauren.

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Lauren and Mike had been talking for a year online. “We say ‘I love you’ to each other. She sends me pictures of herself all the time,” he told me. My heart broke for him when I realized how hurt he was. Mike was in his early 20s and lived in New Jersey. He was in the process of launching his own clothing line and loved creating music. “What’s Lauren like?” I asked him. He typed me long paragraphs, describing Lauren with great detail. “She is a freshman at Kent State, she graduated from Medina High School in 2011, and she worked at a nursing home for the last two years of high school. She loves ballet, and has a little sister and a lot of dogs.” As he rattled off more and more facts about Lauren, I realized just how much Lauren knew about me. I was a freshman at Kent State, I graduated from Medina High School in 2011, and I worked at a nursing home in high school. All the things she had told Mike about “herself” were actually facts about my life.

I asked Mike if he could give me the number that she texted him from, and he did. As I typed the number into my phone, the name “creep” popped up, and I instantly remembered who it was.

Rewind six months earlier. It was June of 2011. My friend and I decided to go grab some late night food when I received a text from an odd number. When I opened it, I was taken aback to see it was a nude photo of a man in a mirror. Thinking it was someone playing a joke on me, I asked “who is this?” The number replied with “it’s your secret crush, gorgeous Allyssa. What are you doing right now?” I decided it was probably one of my goofy guy friends playing around. I ignored the text and put my phone away. The number kept texting me, though. The person said things like, “what are you wearing right now?” and “I’d love to hear the noises you make.” I kept ignoring them until I couldn’t handle the messages anymore. I responded with only, “Leave me alone. If you don’t, I will call the police.” The person apologized and didn’t send any more texts. I saved the number in my phone as “creep” in case something ever came up, and that moment had now arrived.

I decided to go to the police with a list of more than 20 websites using my pictures and information. I explained the creepy texts, that this person had been doing this since 2007, and that I was genuinely worried about who this person might be. Why would this person send me a picture of a guy in the summer if he or she was pretending to be a girl named Lauren? Why had this person followed me for five years? I got goose bumps when I thought about someone I didn’t know looking at my pictures and saving them to their own computer every day for so long.

I became even more concerned when the officer said there was absolutely nothing anyone could do to stop this person or find out who he or she was. I was told that when it came down to it, I had allowed someone access to my pictures, and it was not illegal for that person to take them. I could only pursue the stalker if he or she used my name or threatened me. It didn’t matter that “Lauren” knew everything about me, or how long “she” had been doing this. I was told to stay off the Internet and forget about it.

Needless to say, I was beyond disturbed and couldn’t just forget about this. The websites were so well thought-out and detailed, updated every day with new posts. The stalker had pictures from my Myspace account, which was deactivated years ago. I couldn’t figure out who would have access to not only my pictures, but to my friends’ online accounts as well.

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My friends and I started going through our Facebook friends, picking out anyone who seemed fake. “I think I found the Facebook,” one of my friends texted me. It was a profile named “Lisa Jones.” This person hadn’t updated their Facebook in months, but was friends with more than 300 people from my high school. It didn’t take long to figure out how “she” was gaining access to our information. “Lisa Jones” added hundreds of friends, including us, and we accepted since we had a ton of mutual friends. None of us even thought twice about it. She just logged in and went under the radar by not updating, only using the Facebook account to get our pictures and information.

 

I broke down and decided to text the number myself. I started off with, “You know exactly who I am and I know what you’re doing. Take the websites down.” When the stalker responded, the mood of the text changed from apologetic to angry. The stalker’s identity constantly changed. First the stalker said “she” was a sixteen-year-old girl, only to say later that “she” was a young mother.

I was so confused and angry, but I couldn’t help but feel sorry for this person. The stalker admitted that he or she had found me on Myspace years ago, then followed me from Myspace to Facebook to Twitter as I created my own accounts. “Lauren” also managed the seven Facebook accounts of my friends, admitting that she would duplicate our conversations on their profiles. “You just have the perfect life,” the stalker told me. I couldn’t believe this person thought I had the perfect life and had been stalking me for five years. According to her, she came across my Myspace at random. “It’s easier to talk to people using your pictures. I’m not happy with my life at all,” Lauren texted me.

Something in me felt sorry for this person, but I tried to stand my ground. She agreed to take the websites down, saying she knew it was a problem. “I know what I’m doing is wrong. I need to start focusing on myself,” she told me. I was relieved, but I felt she agreed a little too quickly to really mean what she said.

She proved me right when she deleted the current websites, created new ones, and sent them to Mike, still pretending to be “Lauren.” She even told Mike that someone was stalking her after I texted her. She had no idea I had been in contact with him. Every time she created a new site, Mike would let me know. I would text her, she would delete the websites, then she would create new ones. It was a never-ending cycle. I was extremely frustrated and angry, but realized I couldn’t stop this person from creating websites. The only thing I could do was stop the stalker from having access to my information from now on.

I deleted hundreds of friends on Facebook, blocked people on Twitter, and monitored what I posted. After deleting Facebook friends, I received messages from Facebook accounts made hours earlier, saying, “Can you please add me? I heard you’re the girl Lauren was pretending to be.” I knew it was Lauren trying to gain access to my information again. This went on for weeks. I couldn’t believe she wanted access to my information and pictures that badly.

Lauren still creates blogs using my pictures. Most of the websites and Facebook accounts have been deactivated, but I’m unsure of how many websites she has that I haven’t found. I try not to let it get under my skin. I’ve accepted that there is nothing I can do to stop her legally, but I want to be proactive. My goal is not to scare anyone out of using social media, but to help other girls make positive changes in how they use social networks to better protect themselves. If I had known back in 2007 the huge impact social networking would have on our generation, I would’ve been more selective about adding friends or posting photos. My hope is other girls can read this story and learn from my mistakes. While the show Catfish is truly entertaining, it’s a lot more fun to watch it than to feel like you’re living in an episode.

If looking to contact me, e-mail allyssagriffiths@gmail.comTwitter: www.twitter.com/lyssfashionblogFacebook: www.facebook.com/lifewithlyssInstagram username: www.instagram.com/allyssaslookbook
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