How To Protect Yourself From Identity Theft On Twitter (And Everywhere Else)

In case you hadn’t noticed, Twitter is in the middle of a boom. User accounts number some 20 million, all around the world, and you can hardly pick up a newspaper on magazine without somebody talking about the network.

I monitor my new followers fairly closely and it’s amused me of late how many folk are being reduced to fairly desperate usernames, simply because most of the good ones are already taken. This is especially true of spammers – I’ve seen about a hundred variations of the term ‘internetmarketer’, all complete with underscores, hyphens, unnecessary pluralisation and other foolish oddities. You ain’t foolin’ anybody, sweetheart.

While I pause for a second to double-check that pluralisation is actually a real word (it is), this situation with the ‘good names’ on Twitter rapidly running out is, of course, essentially an identical problem that we all face when trying to come up with great domain names.

I was incredibly lucky with – one, that it was available at all, but two, that it absolutely suited my purpose. It’s worked incredibly well. I was also fortunate that I got involved on Twitter early enough that my choice of username – Sheamus – was not taken.

The Sheamus account is where I do all of my tweets. If you want to keep up with Sheamus, that’s who you need to follow. I like it because it’s short (only seven letters) which is great for re-tweeting, but it’s also memorable. I’m known as Sheamus pretty much everywhere on the internet, and most of my friends think of me that way, too. It’s almost become my brand.

Indeed, according to Google, I’m the second most famous Sheamus in the world, behind the wrestler Sheamus O’Shaunessy (whose real name is Stephen Farrelly). It’s enough to make a guy’s head turn, but I don’t take it too seriously. Do note though that my Twitter account is the top link.

The Other Me On Twitter

I also have one other account on Twitter. It’s not a sock puppet, it’s not for spamming, and it’s not for testing purposes.

It’s the account that contains my real name. That is, the name I was born with, and also the one that cashes the cheques.

Note the details in the image above. Under this alias I have written only one tweet, which provides information on where I do all my updates on Twitter. I provide three ways you can click through to this data – an @Sheamus link, plus the full URL to the page (, which is also in the Web link on the sidebar.

I further explain this in the Bio on the sidebar.

This account follows nobody, is followed by nobody, and will likely never be updated, at least in the immediate future.

So, Why Did I Do This?

I created the sheabennett account for a number of reasons.

  1. It Helps Friends Find Me. When a new person joins Twitter, they are offered a variety of ways to search for follows using the Find People feature. But sometimes we all try and track down people on the network by simple typing the Twitter domain and their name into the URL bar. By having my real name reserved and providing convenient details on where you can find my tweets, I save a lot of confusion.
  2. I’ve Reserved It For The Future. Who knows how big Twitter is going to get? It has a fairly large userbase now, but what if it continues to get bigger and bigger? What if it has 100 million users by 2010? And 500 million five years from now? By reserving my real name now, I’ve protected it from being used by somebody else.
  3. I’ve Protected Myself From Identity Theft. Chances are there are a few ‘Shea Bennett’s out there. I’ve already been contacted by one over my Gmail account, and a sum of money was offered for me to release it (I did not). This was a legitimate enquiry, but who knows where I will be in one or two years from now. Let’s say I suddenly become famous. Like all the celebrity imposters on Twitter (and elsewhere) my real name will suddenly become a prized possession. Because I’ve booked it ahead of time, it cannot be taken away from me, as I own it.
  4. What If Twitter Domains Become Valuable? I touched on this slightly in the point above, but one other reason to consider reserving domains on Twitter is the possibility of future value. Now, much like domain names, there’s not much point trying to steal a brand’s identity, as Twitter is likely to take that right off as soon as the company complains. But let’s say Twitter continues to get really big and we have things like pro accounts or various fee-based services in 12 months from now. What if they start charging you for vanity URLs? If you reserve your real name now, it’s very difficult for them to later tell you that you have to pay.

I’m in good company with this decision. Darren Rowse of Problogger fame has his real name booked, too, as does Tim Ferriss.

Don’t Stop There!

Social media is a big deal. It’s so big, in fact, that pretty soon all media is going to be social, and the term is going to become an oxymoron. Once you’ve ensured that your identity is registered with an account on Twitter, it makes sense to check if it’s available on all the other social networks, too.

An easy way to do this is provided by Knowem. Visit the site, enter the username you wish to check, and Knowem scans dozens of social media networks and informs you where your name is taken and where it is still available. It also provides one-click access to registration for each of these sites.

My advice is to register your username, and also your real name (you will need two email addresses for this), in every single one that you’ve heard of (assuming it’s available). No need to do them all – 90% of these sites won’t exist five years from now – but absolutely make sure you’re registered on all the big ones (Digg, YouTube, Reddit, Sphinn, Tumblr, Disqus etc), or any you are likely to frequent.

And whenever you see one of these sites getting a lot of hype, register immediately. Even if you never visit the site again it’s something that takes a minute or less to do but can have significant value in the future.

(Tip: When you register, go to your options and deactivate any emails from the service; this will prevent you from being bugged when you’re not using the site.)

Incidentally, I also own the domain name (as well as – the .com of that is and always has been, regrettably, taken). This is something you should consider as well. Registering domain names is very cheap and easy and provides you with the same protection and advantages I outlined above.


Obviously if you’re posting on Twitter with an account that is already your real name then there’s no need to take this any further. But you may want to consider pre-registering your company name, or any other potential company or idea you are planning for the future.

Don’t go mad and try and grab everything in sight – anything to which you do not own the rights is likely to be removed when Twitter is made aware of the theft – but if it’s something you own, or may own, it makes sense to take care of that now.

Certainly, if you’re posting under an alias, get your real name booked. By following the steps above, not only can you make sure all your friends can easily find you on Twitter, and all the other major social networks, but also go a long way to protect yourself from the future, and the big unknown, today.