A Thembisa man says he is devastated after a photo of himself, taken from his social media profile, was used by a man claiming to be a prophet. Friends and colleagues called him after they had seen his picture broadcast by the SABC TV News.

Themba Sibiya’s photo was used by the so-called prophet as a WhatsApp profile picture used to solicit sex from his victims.

What was supposed to be a warning to women not to fall for fake prophets who request them to record sexual acts with strange men claiming that it will heal them, has turned into a nightmare for a man from Thembisa on the East Rand.  Sibiya only realised that he had become a victim of Social Media Identity theft when he was called by close friends and family while he was at work.

They urged him to check SABC News where his face was linked to a disturbing story about a fake Prophet.

Sibiya says, “When I came back from work a family friend sent me pictures of myself, telling me he saw me on tv regarding a story about a fake prophet. I thought he was joking and did not really take it seriously. I saw the seriousness of this matter when I began to receive many calls from family and friends asking me why I am on the news. I later confirmed for myself that indeed my picture was on the news about things I don’t know.”

He says he was devastated when he watched the news himself and went to the nearest police station to open a case to clear his name. According to Sibiya, he then went to the SABC offices in Auckland Park with the hope of correcting the mistake.

“That’s when I was shocked about all of this because I am not a prophet and I have never prophesied before. Because I urgently wanted to clear my name, I hurried to the police station to open a case. After opening the case, today I went to the SABC in Auckland Park to go and explain my situation to them. They checked for me and confirmed and I became grateful because my face will be cancelled there. I am a working person, I am a father, a father of children. All these things of being a prophet I do not know them.”

Police have confirmed that a defamation case has been opened.

Spokesperson Colonel Dimakatso Sello says, “The police in Thembisa have opened a case of defamation of character after a complainant alleged that his name and photo were used to disown and tarnish his reputation. The public is advised to be always vigilant and not share their details including pictures with strangers they meet on Social Media. Should you realise that your character and reputation are defamed in any way you can open a case of defamation at your local police station.”

Sharing personal information

Digital Social Media Law expert, Emma Sadleir, advises social media users to be careful when sharing personal information on social media.

“Social media identity theft happens in two major ways, the one is where scammers and criminals out there steal your personal information from your posts on Social media to steal your identity to commit some kind of fraud. They use the information they obtain online. You’ve got to be very careful about who has access to your personal information, which could be used to steal your identity.”

A Mahikeng law expert, Thuso Molifi, says being found guilty of identity theft has serious consequences.

“Identity theft in South Africa occurs when someone steals another person’s information for their own benefit. Sometimes criminals do steal another’s identity to hide their own. Identity theft can also be obtained through basic practices like Social Media and the internet. Such cases are categorised under fraud or forgery. First-time offenders get 15 years imprisonment and subsequent offenders could face the punishment of 25 years. Another leg is to open a civil case then you could sue for damages of reputation or good name.”

The CEO of the South African Banking Risk Information Centre, SABRIC, Nischal Mewalall, is urging people to always be aware that personal details and other information can be abused by criminals to eventually defraud them.

SABRIC also urges people to tighten the security features on their social media sites as to make it difficult for criminals to steal information. They further advise people to not reply to suspicious texts or click on unverified links and to immediately report identity theft to the South African Police Service. Reporting by Kefilwe Moumakwe