I was recently contacted by Gill Cardy who outlined her surprise at a comment I had made on the New Model Adviser forum. I was equally staggered as the remark was fairly rude, but (more worryingly) made in my name without my knowledge.
Further investigations showed that more than 20 comments had been registered under “Fiona Sharp” over a 3 month period but not via my CityWire login. All were impolite and could border on offensive, depending on how broadminded you are. All contained language I would not contemplate using.
This came as a shock to me. I make sure, as we all do, that my online persona (and my offline one to be fair) is never anything other than polite. To discover that there is some unknown party out there prepared to damage my reputation was quite un-nerving. Who would seek to resort to such underhand tactics?
There is no other “Fiona Sharp” on the FCA register, and even other contributors genuinely thought the unprofessional comments were made by me and commented as such. I thought I was on my own, but Martin Bamford & Philip Wise have suffered similar trolling experiences. Today, an administrator at Almary Green also had his comments hacked on the NMA forum.
I phoned New Model Adviser. Martin Bamford emailed. We had responses from Daniel Grote & Lawrence Lever. To cut a long story short, all of my supposed comments have been deleted, but that’s as far as my protection goes.
I know all posts were made by a “user” who set up deliberate email accounts and linked my name to them. However, under data protection rules, New Model Adviser are currently unable/unwilling to disclose the impersonator’s identity. I have sought legal guidance and I could have grounds to apply for a Norwich Pharmacal Order which would force CityWire to produce evidence of who it was. I have not yet ruled that out as reputation means more than money. I have kept evidence of most of the posts and the police would be the next stage.
Am I over-reacting? I don’t think so. Some of the comments were bordering on libellous, and how long before I find myself unjustifiably on the wrong end of a writ?
NMA have blocked the account and written to the user stating that they must refrain from such behaviour in the future. “They” have apologised to NMA saying they had no idea that “Fiona Sharp” existed. “They” apologised for any offence caused, that the choice of name was random, and indicated no personal malice intended. So if that’s the case, I would receive an urgent and unreserved personal apology from the imposter, wouldn’t I? Do they have the bottle? Well no, not so far. A lacklustre slap on the wrist and they are on their way, ready to create havoc elsewhere. It’s also coincidence that another party at Almary Green should be targeted in the immediate aftermath of all of this. Random? Who knows.
This is a potentially serious issue for anyone who has a media presence of some sort. Ironically, I had been reducing mine for some time but someone has chosen to resurrect it for me in the worst way possible.
If any of this worries you, then sign Martin Bamford’s petition regarding anonymous and unmoderated comments if you haven’t already. The more the merrier.
Further advice would be
There is no point changing your NMA password as the hacker did not gain access via any personal logins- they created their own.
Keep an eye out for abusive comments and continually report them.
If you don’t post often, then at least scan the comments columns from time to time. I did not pick up some of “my” posts for over 3 months, by which time quite a bit of reputational damage had already been done.
I would have hoped that NMA would publish an article highlighting all of this as an issue, but taking a positive spin, concentrating on what they are doing to improve matters. However, this is not newsworthy and is unlikely to happen. They sent me flowers which was a lovely & appreciated gesture, but it does not put things right
New Model Adviser state that they are tightening their terms and conditions, but monitoring all postings is difficult to police. I understand but it’s woefully insufficient. How can they not wish to fight to protect the profession which keeps them in business? I suggest that we all police NMA ourselves and vote with our feet if necessary.