Facebook hackers are stealing the identities of our loved ones and wearing their faces

Former Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart was already in a bad mood. He'd been dealing with a variety of aggravating family issues.

And then he got a Facebook friend request from Larry Stuckart. There was a time when a message from his dad, a deeply empathetic champion of the poor who profoundly shaped Ben's worldview, would have been a blessing.

But Larry Stuckart died five years ago.

Ben told Facebook long ago his dad died, but it hadn't mattered.

"Somebody hacked in and resurrected his account," Stuckart says. "It was actually kind of fairly disturbing."

Countless diatribes have been written about the damage Facebook has done: sabotaging democracy, spreading lies and conspiracy theories, cannibalizing journalism, warping our psyches. It's easy to overlook the smaller, more personal injuries that the site has inflicted: When the Facebook faces of our loved ones are stolen, and we have little recourse to do anything about it.

"Hello," Diana L. Walters messaged me last month on Facebook. "Hope things are going well with you and the family and also Did you receive any text or email about the National Relief Fund?"

Even setting aside the typos, a strange message for my mom to send. I didn't have to be an Impossible Mission Force agent to know that someone else was wearing my mother's face. It was probably a ploy to steal my money or my account.

"You're not my real mom!" I replied.

My mom — the real one— was flooded with phone calls and emails from friends letting her know she'd been hacked. But she was helpless to do anything.

She tried to reset her password, but the hacker had changed the email on her account. Even more deviously, the hacker had apparently assigned my mom's old email address to a phony new account, making it impossible to use the email to recover the account.

Unlike other huge corporations like Comcast or Amazon, Facebook has no call center agents, no chat support lines, no real people to contact. The only thing she could do was to start all over again — create a new account, with a new profile.

So now, there are two "Diana Walters" on Facebook. One's a recently created account with only a handful of friends and photos and very few comments. It's the one that looks fake.

Then there's one that looks real, but isn't. One with a history, dozens of photos and posts across years, one that shares 84 friends with me, the unkillable digital doppelganger who will continue roaming the internet, begging for you to be its friend. ♦

Cats @ First Interstate Center for the Arts

Wed., Oct. 20, 7:30 p.m., Thu., Oct. 21, 7:30 p.m., Fri., Oct. 22, 7:30 p.m., Sat., Oct. 23, 2 & 7:30 p.m. and Sun., Oct. 24, 1 & 6:30 p.m.
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About The Author

Daniel Walters

A lifelong Spokane native, staff writer Daniel Walters is the Inlander's City Hall reporter. But he also reports on a wide swath of other topics, including business, education, real estate development, land use, and other stories throughout North Idaho and Spokane County.He's reported on deep flaws in the Washington...