The following information was supplied by the Livingston County Sheriff's Department. It does not indicate a conviction.
A Howell family fell victim to an online identity-stealing practice of "catfishing" which may have led to an investigation of sexual harrassement by the man's employer.
The term “catfish” comes from the popular MTV show based on the movie of the same name and is defined as someone who creates fake profiles on social media and pursues online relationships under a false identity.
Meeting with the Livingston County Sheriff’s Department to report a case of fraud and impersonation, police say the Howell couple believed a 22-year-old woman and co-worker of the wife, used the family's personal photos to create fake profiles on Facebook. Police say the 28-year-old Howell woman believed that the fake Facebook account led to the investigation by her husband's employer.
Police say that the 22-year-old woman admitted to using photos of the Howell family, including their 2-year-old son, and that she has been making fradulent Facebook profiles since she was 13-years-old.
The 22-year-old woman also told police that she had been speaking with a 52-year-old Florida woman under a fake name and profile using the picture of the Howell man. Police say the 22-year-old woman admitted to having sexually explicit conversations with her on Facebook.
The sheriff’s department contacted the Florida woman, according to the report, who was aware of the fake profiles and admitted to being one of the victims who had a “fraudulent” relationship with the 22-year-old woman.
Police say the Florida woman also discovered 49 other fake Facebook profiles created by the 22-year-old woman, but denied contacting the Howell man’s place of employment.
Police say it was unclear whether the Faceboook fraud was connected to the work investigation but, according to the report, said it was a possibilty.
According to the report, the Howell man was unsure if he would seek prosecution in this case.
Police say that due to the nature of this incident, it isn’t considered criminal, but could have the potential to be civil if it becomes slander or libel.
With the rising popularity of social media sites, Livingston County Detective Gary Childers says so far reports of "catfish" incidents is still rare, but says police do see cases where people are abusing social media “constantly” and people should be “extremely cautious” of what they chose to put online.
“And understand that any information you put online is subject to someone hijacking it and using it for purposes you may not want it used for, including criminal,” he said.