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IDENTITY THEFT

Beware twitterjackers

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NOT TWEET: Reality TV star Kim Kardashian's Twitter account was hacked

After India stormed to their second World Cup win after 28 years, most newspapers quoted the tweets of Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni. @mahendradhoni had expressed his joy after winning the trophy by saying, "We are ecstatic! A life-long dream has been achieved. This is the best day of my life. Thank you all for the love and support. "

A few days later, @mahendradhoni tweeted his agreement with Aamir Khan on Anna Hazare's 'India Against Corruption' campaign.

What the Indian media and many of his 57, 279 followers didn't know was that the person behind this Twitter account wasn't the Indian cricket captain. It was someone who was using his name. It was later found that Dhoni does own a verified Twitter account, but he hasn't used it for months.

But this phenomenon - known as Twitterjacking - where a squatter pretends to be a big celebrity and tweets in his or her name, is not wholly new. In 2009, Shahid Kapoor had complained to authorities that somebody was impersonating him on Twitter.
The impersonator posted details about the actor's forthcoming releases and also posted a thank-you note when he was voted Asia's sexiest vegetarian. The updates were so convincing that the account quickly managed to attract over 4, 000 followers.
"In India, there aren't too many squatters. At least, none that are influential enough to cause damage, " says Gaurav Mishra, who has taught social media at Georgetown University in 2008-09.

Here, instances of celebrity accounts being hacked into are also very rare. Though abroad, celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Ashton Kutcher and Britney Spears have had to deal with myriad hack attacks. Indeed, many celebrities have now taken recourse to Twitter's verification system that authenticates bona fide accounts. "The goal of this program is to limit confusion amongst users by making it easier to identify authentic Twitter users, " it says on the microblogging site. This helps fans to follow the real Dhoni or the real Shahid Kapoor.

But fears about online impostors grew once again when Twitter mysteriously abandoned this verification system in December 2010 and announced that it would only be performed in 'special cases'. And while Twitter is currently not accepting public requests for verification, it fast-tracked Charlie Sheen's verification - obviously a 'special case' - when he set up a new account in March so that he could continue his bizarre online rants.

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