Allyssa Griffiths' 5-year battle with social media stalker

10:24 PM, Oct 14, 2013   |    comments
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MEDINA, Ohio (WKYC) -- Parents, how many Facebook friends does your teen have? Or a better question is, how many do they actually know?

It's something a local woman wished she had considered more carefully in high school.

Allyssa Griffiths joined Facebook in 2007, when she was a student at Medina High School. Like many teens, she embraced the site with endless social possibilities.

"We posted a lot of pictures; you know, football games, homecomings and graduation. Vacations. You know the common things that you like to put on when you are in high school," Allyssa said on the day we visited her at Kent State.

When it came to Facebook friend requests, Allyssa said she accepted most of them.

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"When I'd receive a friend request, and I would see 50 mutual friends or 100 mutual friends, I would just assume 'Oh, well this person that I know well is friends with them. They must be real.' And I would accept it. And that was something that my friends and I did and we never thought twice about it. That's where I went wrong with this," Allyssa admits.

Fast forward to 2011 and Allyssa has moved on from high school and is now wrapping up her first semester as a freshman at Kent State University.

She was taking a break from studying for finals and went to Twitter, another social media site she had joined. On a whim, Allyssa searched a hashtag she had tweeted out just hours earlier.

"Another account popped up with the exact same tweet, same hashtag. It was my picture, just a different name," Allyssa recalled. The name on the account that bore Allyssa's own photo was Lauren Ashley Cook.

Studying now abandoned, Allyssa searched Lauren's account and dug deeper. Allyssa soon found more Facebook, Tumblr, Google accounts, and blogs dating as far back as 2007.

All had Allyssa's personal pictures attached to fake names and fabricated stories.

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"The pictures were all put in a different context from what I posted. I would post a picture from prom, and underneath there would be this long post about being depressed. Or one picture of a friend, and how it was a picture of her dead brother. And that person's not my dead brother. You know, it was almost surreal to look at these pictures and imagine them thinking of these scenarios," Allyssa said.

The imposter also preyed on Allyssa's close friends too. So together, they looked closely at their Facebook contacts and compared notes. One name and profile stood out. It was of a young woman whose friend request they all accepted. But no one could recall meeting her.

"She created a fake Facebook using the name Lisa Jones," Allyssa said.

Determined to find out more, Allyssa dug deeper and eventually connected with a young man from New Jersey who was social media friends with the fake Lauren Ashley Cook.

He had fallen victim to so-called "catfishing." The term is coined from the documentary "Catfish," which also became a regular MTV series.

"Catfish" is defined as using false information and fake pictures to pretend to be someone you are not. Often, it's done to attract romantic interests via social media sites.

After learning of the ruse, the young man offered to help. He had spoken with Lauren Cook on the phone and offered up the number.

It was from a Kentucky area code and immediately familiar to Allyssa.

"I started typing it into my phone and that's when the contact 'creep' popped up. Just a few months before her internet ordeal began, Allyssa got lewd texts and photos sent to her cell phone. She didn't know the sender, but threatened to go to police. The texts stopped, but Allyssa saved the number just in case.

"I just saved the number in my phone as 'creep' in case they ever did text me again," Allyssa recalled.

Armed with the Lauren Cook/Lisa Jones/Creep connection, Allyssa went to police.

"I was told that until Lauren makes a direct threat toward me or uses my name that it is not illegal because I allowed this Lisa Jones access to my pictures and information," Allyssa said.

There was little police could do with the phone number, too. It came from a pre-paid cell phone. Allyssa stripped her social media accounts, blocked contacts and for a time stopped posting pictures.

It might help protect her privacy in the future, but couldn't help what had happened in the past. A lesson learned too late, not just by Allyssa but by social media users young and old.

"They will friend people they don't know and that will, in essence, disable those privacy settings. You are in essence opening the door and saying 'what I have, I will share with you,' " said David Frattare, lead investigator of the Ohio Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.

Allyssa tells us she has communicated with the imposter, who has apologized and has promised to stop. She's hopeful the ordeal will finally be over, but she is determined to move on with her life and focus on what she can control.

"I definitely have my faults in this. I'm just hoping that someone from somewhere can learn from my mistakes," Allyssa said.

Today she speaks to college groups and has launched a Facebook page dedicated to raising awareness about Internet stalking.

She works to educate people on how to protect their privacy and mistakes to avoid. Her experience hasn't soured her on social media. She hopes one day to find a career in it.

Written By:  Sara Shookman, WKYC-TV

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