The internet is not exactly a good place to go if you are a very private person; just about anything and everything you post is searchable and privy to the prying eyes of anyone who cares to look, and that means people with less than honorable intentions can hijack your stuff and say it’s theirs. It sucks, but it’s the price we pay for going public with our lives.
That said, it’s also surprisingly easy for some people to live under the radar on the web; it’s not hard to set up fake profiles on Facebook or other social media sites using pictures swiped from other pages. Since we haven’t come up with the technology yet for fingerprint authentification on an average PC (or have we? Google, I’m looking at you), it’s a little scary to know that anyone can take whatever identity they want. Ever see the movie Catfish? If you haven’t, you should.
There’s been a lot of talk recently about a girl named Sarah Phillips for this very reason. She’s (allegedly) a college student who writes for ESPN, an attractive young woman who knows “more about sports betting than you do” according to her Covers.com article. Phillips was a messageboard participant on the gambling site before they tapped her to write a weekly column…and then ESPN snatched her up. The swiftness of her rise to internet fame isn’t due to the seemingly dream-come-true nature of her job offer, however; it’s because for over a year, no one has been able to determine if Sarah is a real person.
For one thing, the photos she’s posted of “herself” on Covers.com seem a little shady. One of them is from a site called “Hot Chicks With Douchebags”, and some of the others show a girl who doesn’t look much like the girl in that photo. Sure, she could have dyed her hair–I do it every couple of weeks, and there’s no shame in that–but they all just seem like pictures of different girls. Jon Campbell, editor for Covers.com, said he was getting questions from visitors to the site about whether or not “Sarah Phillips” was the front for a ghostwriter.
“She said those were pictures of her when she was younger and we flat out asked her, ‘Is that you?'” said Campbell. “She said, ‘Yeah of course, but I was younger and I don’t look anything like that now.’ We said OK and she sent more updated ones that probably resemble something closer to what you see on ESPN now.”
Fair enough. But there’s also the fact that Phillips contacted a young man, “Ben”, about an opportunity to work with her on a website she was starting up. “Ben” had just started the hugely popular Facebook page NBA Memes and was making a modest amount of income from advertisers when Phillips contacted him about a job. She said she was creating a sports site and namedropped ESPN, who had just taken her on as a freelancer. She told him he could make really good money providing memes for the site, which sounded too good to be true to a 19-year old college student.
It was. Not only did he not see a cent from the content he provided, he also gave Phillips thousands of dollars to acquire advertisers for the site–which never happened–and eventually had his Facebook page taken over by Nilesh Prasad, a “business associate” of Phillips’. “Ben” has since raised the threat of a lawsuit against Prasad and Phillips and says he has no doubt he was scammed.
The story has a lot more details, some we don’t know the full extent of. One thing that’s clear is that Phillips isn’t being completely forthcoming about her identity, and people want to know why. She recently posted several interesting things to her Twitter account, including commenting on the fact that she “concealed her identity” but she had her reasons for doing so.
A spokesperson for ESPN says they have ended their professional relationship with Phillips.