A Cork student has spoken about the 'horrific situation' of discovering a fake Instagram profile using her name and pictures.
19-year-old Alicia O’Sullivan is studying law at UCC.
Last Thursday she woke up to find someone was using her name, profile picture and other images from her Instagram on a fake profile to solicit money from followers.
Speaking to Newstalk's tech correspondent Jess Kelly for Lunchtime Live, Alicia said: “[Last Thursday] I turned on my phone, and [found] around 100 messages from friends, family and followers on Instagram.
"People had texted me on different platforms as well, telling me there'd be an account made in my name and had requested to follow them or had followed them.
“People were sending me the link to the account, but I wasn’t able to view it. At this point, I’d just turned over and woken up… when I couldn’t see the account, I knew it was something bad."
Alicia was sent screenshots of the images on the account. Several of the posts were nude images of girls without their faces visible, with the account's creators falsely purporting these images were of Alicia.
She observed: "They’d also used some of my photos to promote some link to what I assume is some pornographic website you have to pay for.
“It was just a horrific situation to be in, where everyone you know is being sent a link to something and you’re not even able to view it.”
Upset and disconcerted, Alicia phoned her local garda station to report what had happened. She made an appointment for 2.30 pm that day - but was taken aback by how the interview went.
She said: “One of the people I was going to be talking to didn’t even know what Instagram was.
“To be honest, the conversation was more about me… and what sort of photos I post publicly.
"I wasn’t even asked what sort of photos I post - which, by the way, shouldn’t matter anyway. It was [basically] said ‘well you should not put up photos - when you’re public and have that many followers - that you wouldn’t want out there or taken’.
"I was like 'look, the photos that were used of me are not by any means what maybe you're defining as provocative'... but why does it matter? I don't understand what that has to do with it.
“It got very intense, very uncomfortable. I went in with good intention and good faith to try to salvage something for someone somewhere… not even if it was me, but maybe in the future."
Alicia added that she came out of the garda station "a million times worse than I went in".
'The guards need retraining'
The page was reported numerous times by some of Alicia’s followers and has since disappeared.
However, there is a legal issue here - the use of her name, image and profile in this manner is in breach of Coco’s Law - the recently introduced legislation which criminalises the sharing of intimate images without consent.
The case has now moved to a different section of An Garda Síochana, and Alicia is calling for all gardaí to be trained in taking in complaints of this nature and investigating them thoroughly.
She said she's 'not trying to stir up anything' - but she does feel the response she received is worrying.
She said: “It put a fear in me that the next woman who walks into that Garda station… what is the response going to be?
“I think those guards need retraining. Around 30 of us have pulled together now, and we’re going to be starting a campaign about this - to try to get every garda trained or retrained on how to respond to victims who come in with issues like this.”
Gardaí have confirmed that an injured party had contact with staff in the Garda station in question and that investigators from the Divisional Protected Services Unit are working on the case. As this is an ongoing investigation, they can’t make any further comment.
When asked separately if gardaí have been trained specifically in terms of dealing with queries or complaints relating to the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Act of 2020, the force replied: “There are currently 27 Divisional Protective Service units operational, at least one DPSU in operation within every Garda division.
“Approximately 320 personnel are assigned to DPSU’s including members of Inspector, Sergeant and Garda rank.
“Personnel assigned to DPSUs have been provided with a bespoke training course consisting of a number of modules addressing issues such as - investigation of sexual crime, child protection, investigation of domestic abuse, online child exploitation and sex offender management.
"This training course has been developed by the Garda National Protective Services Bureau (GNPSB), in conjunction with the Garda College.”