You Can Run But Can’t Hide On The Web

One of my favorite cartoons, published in The New Yorker, shows a dog at a computer saying to another hound, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”

In fact that may no longer be true.

With the Internet you can learn all kinds of things about dogs, especially dirty dogs.

By dirty dogs I mean the type of people who should otherwise be kept outside.

I know someone who might fit the description, though I won’t name him. He tells a good story. I was led to believe he was a big winner in the business world who launched many businesses and inventions. I seriously doubt it now and will be suspect about anything this person says.

If you are a successful professional you are searchable on the Web. That’s not true of everyone. If you’re fastidious and Web savvy you can keep a low profile.

But for many people making it big requires having a Web presence, both professional and social. The information grows over time and it doesn’t go away. This is why you should be careful about the personal information you post. And remember, don’t drink and Tweet. It’s not safe.

You can learn many things about people on the Web by typing their name into Google search and adding Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn with it, for example. Even if you’re not connected to that person you can still find general background information. And most public legal documents about you are available, usually for a fee. This incudes criminal records. It’s easy to find their online bio by entering “bio John Doe.” Check the Web section of Google, the News section and Blogs, then follow up on the leads with more searches. Check out the people who recommend them as well to see if they are legit. It’s not hard to find out what breed of dog they are, and dogs sometimes roam in packs.

There’s nothing wrong with having your information on the Web, if you are who you say you are.

Which brings me back to the dirty dog. I looked at his professional bio, his LinkedIn and Facebook site, and tried to verify the information. I did this because I was planning to write a blog post about things he had said at a gathering I recently attended. As a journalist I attend a lot of gatherings and meet many people. I had been duly impressed with his story and wanted to share it as an inspiration.

With the background check everything began to unravel. The person’s current business, as listed on his bio, did not seem to exist. The business did not have a Web site; very strange in that this person is Web savvy and wants to be known. It just didn’t make sense.

As I dug deeper into other stated facts I gradually discovered it was like traveling down a sewer hole. It got darker and smellier, leading me to the conclusion, after about two hours of research, that this person was a fraud, a con artist. Perhaps some of his rather lengthy story is real, but enough of it stinks and I don’t like the stench.

On the one hand I say, “Congratulations, you dirty dog.” You have persuaded many people you’re a big winner. But I now think you’re a con artist, and a good one at that.

I do not hold a grudge against this person and have no plans to out him, unless he was going to defraud or unfairly deceive people I care about.  On the day I heard him speak the message was informative and useful.

But I tell you the story for this reason: If you are not who you say you are, in today’s world it will ultimately come to light. You can run, but you can’t hide.

It’s getting harder and harder to stay private in this world. There are multiple ways your identity can be uncovered. There’s no trick to it. All you have to do is be a little adept at doing a Google search.

There are Web sites that will help you do that as well. Sites like Pipl.com and 123People.com, ZabaSearch.com and Intellius.com make a business out of it. Some of the information is free. For a fee they will dig deeper. I am not applauding these sites, just pointing out they are available. There is also the Better Business Bureau, for checking out a business. You can also find out if someone you know has been busted for an offense. Try CriminalSearch.com.

And if you are really serious about profiling someone, try to find out if they have an alias, or changed their name – common among con-men. If they are really big, see if they have a Wikipedia listing. And though some people use a different name on Twitter to make them difficult to find, if you search enough they are findable. It also helps to know their age and location for some searches

I wrote a comprehensive story about the Web’s band of Big Brothers that you can read here. Remember this: Not everything you see on the Web is trustworthy. Check and check again, from different sources.

Learning about the dirty dog caused me to reflect. He led me to believe he has wealth, and maybe that’s so. Maybe this person has a few million stashed in a bank somewhere for his dirty deeds, done dirt cheap.

I don’t have that kind of money. But I do have my integrity, and that is worth more than all the money he has.

Strength & honor,

Brian

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