I guess it had to happen sooner or later… but back to the point of our story in a moment.stephanie-fierman-identity-theft.gif

I’ve been sitting at my laptop at home in NYC most of the day, getting things done.  Then, about an hour ago, I get an email receipt for a $260 card scanner purchased at the Apple Store in Birmingham, Alabama.  I check Google. The store is real.  Hmm. The receipt has my email address on it, but a dot is missing.  I check Google’s Gmail rules and it says that, even with a dot missing, GMail will usually get your mail to you.  Great.  How many Stephanie Fiermans could there be??  If the receipt is real, the scanner was bought with an AmEx that doesn’t seem to match my number (insert glimmer of hope here), but maybe I’m reading the somewhat fuzzy numbers wrong.  

Even so, the next number hits me like a ton of bricks: a 6-digit number directly beneath the credit card info starts with the first 4 digits of the phrase I use for nearly all my online passwords.  Oh my G*d.  Someone has basically cracked the code for my entire online identity!  I feel my guts clench and – while I’m on hold waiting for the store manager – I get busy changing all my passwords, worried that a thief is working faster than I can call all my credit card companies and check all the other sites.  The store seems like a good place to start, but who knows what could be happening out there in the meantime?!

A very nice store manager named Brad confirms that the Apple transaction number is correct. S**.  My mind is reeling. Identity theft. A stalker. How many credit bureaus are there, again?? Anyway, Brad and I are talking, and sleuthing, and we’re stumped because he says the card was physically swiped at the store, and he’s looking for more info, and we’re talking some more, and I’m wondering if he’s single, and then it hits me: there is another Stephanie Fierman in the United States – and I seem to recall that she’s from the South.

stephanie-fierman-identical-twins.jpgAnd now back to our online personal branding show, already in progress.

While I am certain, gentle reader, that you think there could be no other, there is another Stephanie Fierman in the United States.  I’ve “seen” her on the Web for years.  Since I’ve been blogging and tweeting and writing and guest speaking (and she, conversely, appears to be a normal person), I haven’t seen her pop up on the first several pages of Google for quite some time, but she’s out there. 

And yet we’ve never crossed paths – until today.  So while Brad is running through the possibilities, I type “Stephanie Fierman Alabama” into Google and – there she is.  My doppelganger lives in Alabama.  She LIVES in Birmingham, Alabama!  And the set of numbers that looked like the online password I use? It’s an AmEx authorization code – and pure coincidence. Case closed.

 I’m still a little nauseous, but I figure it’ll go away.

As for you… I decided to write this blog post because (a) the story is too crazy not to share, but also because (b) the part that made it appear as though someone had discovered my “universal” online password scared me straight.  I talk a lot about building your own personal brand (see my series, because you should anyway: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4), but the #1 most important thing about being on the Internet is staying safe – and using the same or close to the same password everywhere is just dumb. Yep – close to the same password on all my credit card sites: brilliant.

Do you do the same thing? Do you use the same phrase or – when you run into a site that needs a letter or a number – do you always add the same letter or number to your basic phrase?  Change them now.  Mix it up. Use truly different phrases.  Especially on all the websites related to YOUR MONEY.stephanie_fierman_dilbert_passwords1.jpg

I have no idea how I’ll remember the strange new brew of passwords I cooked up but – if I forget one – I can always go through the annoying process all the sites have of resetting it.

It’s a heck of a lot better than falling into an identity theft situation that could follow you around for years.

So change your passwords now, and regularly – and please make sure they are sufficiently different from one another.  And check Google to see if you have a doppelganger.  I was lucky, but if yours is an adult film star or, say, in prison, you may have a little online personal branding work to do.

Check out my second blog at www.stephaniefiermanmarketingdaily.com.

 

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