What if you have been the victim of a scam and someone has stolen your email or identity? How can you prove you are you to friends, family members, and business associates when you communicate with them online, in addition to dealing with the banks, credit card companies, stores, and online services, which may need verification from you?

It can sometimes be very hard to prove who you are, because someone can disbelieve you even if you tell them some facts about yourself. After all, if your personal information is out there on your personal profile in so many places as well as in the emails you share with friends, anyone can know all about you. And scammers try to pretend they are someone else all the time to get other people’s money or personal identity information.

So how do you prove it’s really you?

That’s what happened to me, after a scammer changed my email for my Facebook account, and I wasn’t able to prove to Facebook that I was who I said I was, since the scammer had my email for verification, and I had a new cell phone a new home number after a move. Also, I wasn’t able to properly show my driver’s license or passport so Facebook could take a picture on my webcam. And a day later it was too late to get help in showing my license or passport for the picture. As a result, Facebook sent me a notice that they removed my original email.

So I lost my account, though I was able to use the same email, since Facebook removed it from its system, to recreate the two groups I lost with two new names. One new name was “Cons and Scams” to replace “Scammed,” which ironically was about different scams and how to avoid them. It had grown to over 4800 members, though it had been overtaken by over 3500 scammers offering scams on how to recover your money or account, so the original account probably should have been deleted anyway. The other new group I created was “The AI Revolution and Writing, Art, and Business” to replace “The AI Revolution and Writers and Artists,” with over 500 members.

But then, the saga of trying to re-establish and reconnect these accounts to other individuals and services by proving I was really me is probably fitting at a time when trust is at an all-time low, because this has become the “misinformation” or “disinformation” age, because of all the fakes out there.

I discovered the difficulty of proving I was who I said I was when I contacted one of the frequent posters on the original “Scammed” and “AI Revolution” sites to see if he could post my announcement about the scam and the new sites I created. But the poster I’ll call “Barry” hesitated to do so, because he wasn’t sure if I was who I claimed to be. Initially I contacted him by asking, “Do you have automatic approval for contributing to the group? My email got hacked and I can’t access this account for now. Can you mention this in the site and say I’m trying to resolve this by getting back my account?”

But immediately Barry was suspicious, responding: “I wonder if you are actually Gini. Where did we meet, what city?”

Also, Barry was suspicious that the original site still listed me as a member. So he added another test question, asking me: “Or if that question is too much, then perhaps this is better: in January 2008 you were casting a project, what was its name, the name of the producer you were working with or the city in which you held auditions?”

Immediately, I responded with a detailed explanation. “I was just starting out back then. Maybe it was the Parking Lot. Re the Facebook group — I was the moderator, and while I might still be listed in the group, the hacker took over the group with their email. So I started the new group, and I have no way to let people in the original group know what happened, since I set up the group for the moderator to approve postings, so I could keep out scammers with different hacking recovery schemes. But that means I can’t post anything directly. It may be you are still able to post since some people who were frequent posters gained automatic posting status. If so, can you post information about what happened and why I’m not responding to anyone in the group or posting anything new?”

However, Barry still didn’t believe me and responded: “I want to help, and I also want to be sure you are, in fact, Gini”
Though I replied, “You can check out my website at changemakerspublishingandwriting.com. Also, you can see the films I have written and produced at changemakersproductionsfilms.com.”

That still wasn’t enough, presumably because someone else could get information about me from many sites on the Internet. So Barry responded, “I know Gini has done work. But you have been asked twice what city we met in and declined to answer, and also not accurately said what project Gini was casting back in January 2008. I have little verification to know you are in fact Gini. I know you may be, but there is little to verify that yet.”

So I tried again, giving Barry even more information about me: “I don’t know which of my films you were in, but I did filming in Oakland first at my house on Amy Drive, and then I did some films when I lived in San Francisco. I have a YouTube channel with about 60 short films I made at Changemakers Productions on YouTube. I was in a film group call MMTB, Movie Making Around the Bay, and I made a lot of contacts through that.”

That still did not convince him, and he replied: “Again, without verifying that you are in fact Gini, I cannot wisely trust that you are.”
Not knowing what else I could say to convince him, I finally said: “You can call me at my phone number 925-***.**** in Danville/San Rafael where I live now if you want to check that out.”

Finally, that provided the proof he needed, so he went ahead and tried to post a message in my old group, telling me, “I just tried to post a message to the old group inviting people to the new group, and unfortunately it seems I was not on the pre-approved list.” Barry even sent me a copy of his message which read, “The creator of this group, Gini Graham Scott, no longer has control of this group. This is to invite everyone to join this new group at…” and he indicated the Facebook link.”

But of course, as he noted: “Perhaps the person who seized control will approve my and your posts at some point, though I agree with you that seems unlikely.”
And, of course, the scammer never did. In fact, at this point, about a week after I lost my account, there are almost 50 posts waiting to be approved, since I still get notices on my new account about my old account, though I no longer can control it. However, anyone can automatically join that account, and presumably these posts are from more scammers trying to post announcements about who to contact to recover your money or your social media account.

Yet, while I lost my Facebook account and had to create a new account and two new groups from scratch, the experience had its upside, since it showed me how difficult it can sometimes be to prove your own identity at a time when society is plagued by disinformation, misinformation, fake news, and scammers on the social media. All of this false information out there has made proving who you are and trying to be believed when you tell the truth a real challenge.

And that realization has inspired a new book and documentary film about finding or restoring trust in a misinformation age.

Plus, now you can join my new Facebook groups to stay up to date about the latest cons and scams or follow the news about how AI is affecting writers, artists, and business people. I invite you to join my new groups “Cons and Scams”  and “The AI Revolution and Writing, Art, and Business”. I and other group members are now posting news about these topics from the print and online media.

For more information, and to set up interviews, contact changemakerspublishingandwriting.com.