About three months ago I completed a major redesign and rewriting of my website. So every few weeks since then, I’ve gone to Google and searched for a few select keywords to see whether my site has moved in the rankings.
Among the keywords I check is my own name, Susan Greene, and I search for both written content and images. When I checked the rankings the other day, I saw something strange.
Most of the links and photos that appeared I recognized from my main website pages. But one link, which included the photo below, didn’t seem familiar, so I clicked on it.
It took me to a page that read, “Top Chinese Translation Freelancers Near Denver.”
Below the headline were photos and brief descriptions of a half-dozen professionals. And one of them was Susan Greene!
I clicked on the “Read More” button and got taken to a page on www.elance.com, which is a site where freelancers can bid on work projects posted by clients worldwide. The first page I landed on looked like this:
Stop the presses! That’s me! And those are my words! In fact, they come right from the About page of my website, //www.susangreenecopywriter.com/btm_about.html.
But the Company Snapshot said I’d completed 55 jobs on Elance.com. I’d NEVER done any work on Elance. What were they talking about?
I clicked on the Portfolio button and saw about 20 different samples of my writing. Some were projects I’d completed for my clients and were part of my online portfolio. Others were pages about my copywriting services copied from my website and blog posts.
I quickly figured out that someone had stolen my identity and was using my credentials, experience and photo to obtain copywriting work. That person was running a freelance copywriting business built on my reputation.
I had that same panicked feeling you get when you think your wallet’s been stolen or you’ve lost your cell phone. What do you do first?
I took a few deep breaths and decided step #1 was getting the stolen profile removed from Elance. I called Elance customer service. They said I needed to put my complaint in writing and include proof in the email.
I wrote the following letter to Elance, minus the links to the pages mentioned because they’ve since been taken down.
Today I Googled my name, Susan Greene, and followed a link that led me to your site. There I was shocked to see that someone has stolen my identity. However, it wasn’t just my name. It is EVERYTHING about me!
A copywriter on your site is using my photo, my credentials (college degree, years of experience, etc.), my portfolio of work, and copy stolen directly from my website to attract customers. It would appear they have done 55 jobs, all using my data to win bids. Below I will post links to all the pages with stolen content.
My website is www.susangreenecopywriter.com. I have owned this domain for over 10 years and been a full time copywriter for 20+ years.
I do not have any connection whatsoever to the individual who is using my name on your website. I have never worked on elance.com myself. Please tell me what we can do to stop this identity thief from using my photo and credentials on your website as soon as possible.
Susan Greene, Marketing Copywriter
Copy that tells, sells and compels
Within four hours, I received the following email from Elance:
This is Juno with the Elance Account Security. Based on the information provided, we’ve found it necessary to suspend this user from the Elance platform due to policy violations. Thank you for helping us to maintain a community of professionals.
Elance Account Security
By the following morning, all of the stolen content including my photo had been removed from Elance.
I wrote Elance to thank them for their prompt action and to ask a few questions.
Thank you for your prompt action in removing the stolen profile.
I would like to contact the individual who stole my identity and send her an invoice for the 55 jobs she acquired on your site by using my name, reputation and credentials. Are you able to tell me her real name, email address and the amount she earned on that account?
After repeated attempts, it became clear that Elance had no intention of responding. They’d removed the offending material and evidently felt that’s where their responsibility ended.
Even though Elance wasn’t much help, I had quite a few leads from the information I’d seen posted on its site, including an account name, “Rhombustech.”
A quick Google search led me to a YouTube video promoting Rhombustech’s copywriting services and listing the owner’s name as Aaliyah Arthur in Bangladesh. I tried contacting Aaliyah (if that’s her real name) through an email address connected to the video but got no response. And much as I would have liked to further pursue the identity thief, I knew trying to go after someone in Bangladesh would be a fruitless venture.
Why would someone who offers copywriting services feel the need to steal another copywriter’s portfolio and professional reputation?
I believe she did so to obtain more jobs. Sites like Elance promote you to clients via your profile and portfolio. The better your credentials and the quality of the work in your portfolio, the more jobs you’ll get and the more you can charge.
Aaliyah knew that if she stole my identity, she immediately had 20+ years of experience, a BS in journalism from Syracuse University and an MBA from Southern New Hampshire University. She also had plenty of high quality work samples to show clients. Instant credibility.
Aaliyah also knew that many clients want only native speakers for their English copywriting jobs. Impersonating an American would open doors that might be sealed shut to someone from Bangladesh. And since clients on Elance never meet with their vendors – most work is done through the site via messaging and email – she had no reason to worry that she’d be found out.
In fact, if the client who found her profile on Elance decided to do a little checking, Aaliyah knew a Google search for “Susan Greene” would lead the client to my website where the picture and information on my site would match what the client had seen on Elance. Everything would check out.
Aaliyah could have chosen any one of thousands of copywriters. Why’d she choose me? Here’s my best guess.
Aaliyah Googled something like “freelance copywriter” and I came up in the search results. My site ranks high for those keywords and other related terms.
When Aaliyah clicked through to my website, she saw plenty of content that she could easily copy and paste onto her Elance profile.
If you’re going to impersonate someone, you might as well choose someone who can help you succeed. On my website, in one nice, well-organized package, Aaliyah found everything a copywriter needs to convince prospective clients she’s the right choice for their project.
When Aaliyah stole my identity, she also put my reputation at risk. She was doing work using my name.
Her 55 Elance clients thought they were working with me and were paying rates commensurate with my experience. But instead of getting a veteran copywriter, their work was being done by a novice.
Aaliyah also hurt Elance. The online business has a reputation too and a commitment to its freelancers and clients. Aaliyah put all of that at risk when she used a stolen identity.
I was glad Elance acted quickly to remove the stolen account from its site. Unfortunately, that’s where their helpfulness ended. No doubt this isn’t the first time they’ve run into this situation.
To better protect myself, I intend to be more vigilant in checking Google to see if my name or photos are being used by anyone other than me. A friend also suggested I create a Google Alerts account so that I’m notified when anything with my name is posted online. That’s great advice for any freelancer.
As for Aaliyah Arthur, I wish there was a way to go after her for the monies she’d made in my name on 55 different jobs. I’d gladly donate it to a charity for victims of identity theft.