When a Criminal Has the Same Name as You
handcuffs and judge gavel on computer cyber crime concept

When a Criminal Has the Same Name as You

When a Criminal Has the Same Name as You

When your only crime is having the same name as a criminal, this can be frustrating.

We’ve all heard of identity theft, but what about a criminal sharing the same name as you?  That’s what has happened to me and it got me thinking… how many other people face this very same issue.

In my case, if you Google my name Shawn Portmann, the first thing that comes up is a different Shawn Portmann.  The other Shawn is someone who pleaded guilty to fraudulent loans, which resulted in losses of more than $10 million, according to the FBI.

In addition to the news and other information populating through the search engines, we don’t look different enough to make it obvious that we’re not the same Shawn Portmann.  We’re both white males in the same age bracket (or close enough). For those who do not already know me, at first glance you might not be able to tell we’re different people.

If you find yourself in the same predicament as mine, there are a few things you can do to set yourself apart.

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Start using your middle initial to help you stand out from the other person with the same name.
  2. Contact the writers or publishers who have published the information on the other person with the same name and see if they’ll take it down.
  3. Create more content about you! If you have anything new to say about yourself, this is the time to do it!  Anything that might be newsworthy, perhaps new developments in your industry where you have had some involvement or anything else where you have the opportunity to speak out and use your name.  The more news you have to post about yourself, the more you will take over the negative comments about the other person with your name, and the more you will show up.  This is your time to shine and communicate all of the good you’re doing.
  4. This goes hand in hand with #3. Use G Suite, Google+, LinkedIn and other social media platforms to regularly post information.  The more often you post about yourself, the better your chances are to outshine the other guy.
  5. Monitor your name. Set up a Google alert to monitor your name – you’ll get notifications whenever something about you appears online and you’ll be able to address it quickly. This is especially useful for business owners who are monitoring for new reviews and customer comments. Also, this is a great way to get industry news relevant to your field. Setting up alerts is a great way to let Google do the leg-work for you if you don’t think you’ll have the time to manually search-relevant news.

Bonus Section: Online Privacy & Security Tips

It’s unfathomable in 2020 with the number of high-profile security hacks that otherwise savvy internet users still prone bad habits when it comes to protecting their online accounts and personal data. In a recent survey, 55% of IT employees were guilty of using the same passwords at work as in their personal lives. It seems when it comes to cyber-security, we don’t always practice what we preach. According to Verizon, 81% of data breaches used either stolen and/or weak passwords. Use the simple tips below to protect your information.

Set Strong Passwords

The first and most important precaution may sound familiar but it cannot be stressed enough how essential it is to use strong and varying passwords for each site which requiring a login. Use more than eight characters in a non-traditional sequence and never use the same password across sites. Register for a password manager like LastPass to keep your passwords organized.

Don’t Use Predictable Security Answers 

It’s often a natural reaction when setting up security questions to tell the truth. Unfortunately, this leads to a surplus of predictable responses which effectively rolls out the red carpet for would-be hackers and data thieves. As it turns out a lot of other people’s very first girlfriend’s name was “Jenny.” You get the drift. Don’t answer security questions in predictable ways. The first step in bolstering your security question strength is to pick harder questions. Choose something where the answer may not be readily available in data aggregator sites like White Pages or Radaris. Skip questions like “What was the name of the street where you grew up?” or “What is your father’s middle name?” Remember, you don’t have to be truthful here, you are protecting your privacy and talking to a machine. Once you settle on a strong response, keep this information private and inaccessible to everyone except you.

HTTP vs HTTPS

You may have already guessed what the “S” in HTTPS stands for. Yes! That’s right. Secure. When you are navigating the internet it’s easy to lose track of the URL you are visiting. Fortunately, browsers like Google Chrome will let you know when you are visiting an unsecure site. If a site is HTTP  (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) then the language from your computer to the website’s server is uncrypted and prone to hacks. Never enter any information like credit cards or personal data on an HTTP site. On the contrary, the communications between your computer and website with HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) is encrypted. Stick to sites that are HTTPS.

Be Wary of Public Wi-Fi

While the idea of free public wi-fi is convenient and useful, the reality of it’s security concerns often outweigh the benefits. The unsecure nature of an open wi-fi network is a breeding ground for would-be hackers and data thieves. If you have to use public wi-fi with your cinnamon latte, disable file sharing and automatic log-ins to open networks. Since unsecured wi-fi networks require no authentication to create a network connection, this creates a distinct opportunity for hackers to identify and take advantage unsecure devices on the same network. In the most popular forms of free wi-fi hacking, the culprit will establish themselves as a sort of middleman between your computer and the server, and all of your login information that is transmitted will first go to the hacker.

Enable Two-Factor Authentication Where You Can

One of the safest ways to protect your accounts is to enroll in two-factor authentication, where once you enter your credentials on the site you are visiting, you will then be prompted to verify the login through your phone or by other means. Although this is sometimes a real pain, (especially when you want to check to see if you have enough money to buy tacos but your phone is dead) it’s a solid idea to enable two-factor authentication for your most important login details, such as your bank account and main email account.

Don’t Open Suspicious Email Attachments

While your personal inbox may feel like home, it’s important to stay vigilant against potential attacks. Gmail does a great job of filtering spam and suspicious emails but what happens when one of your contacts gets hacked? We’ve all gotten the messages on Facebook or follow-up emails from the unsuspecting victims who have fallen prey to an email hack. “Hey if you get an email from me asking for money please ignore it, my email was hacked. I’m safe and sound in Kennebunkport, Maine.” One of the reason’s why this method of hacking and phishing is so successful is that people have built up trust within their contacts. When you see a familiar email address, more often than not, you assume it is from that person– up until the point where they are stranded in a foreign country and need financial assistance.

A good smell check is enough to weed out most phishing emails. If something seems off, it probably is. If you are unsure, message the person on social media or send them a quick text asking them if they in fact are somewhere stranded in Southeast Asia. They may thank you for this later. In any case, do not download attachments that you 100% cannot verify the sender. You may find yourself opening a Malware attachment and waking up to a massive hacking headache.

Business owners should also monitor the name of their company and any products or services they provide. This is an easy way to keep in the loop and never miss out on important information relevant to you or your industry.

Luckily for me, I’ve built a successful career in an industry where people know me, and these people know that I’m not a swindling commercial banker.  But, imagine this wasn’t the case.  What if I was a young man just getting started in my career?  In today’s age where it’s commonplace to Google someone when they’re in the interview process or just meeting someone for the first time, just imagine the damage this could do.

If you have the same name as someone else and this has caused concern for you, I’d like to hear about what steps you took or are taking now to overcome this.