A hacker’s cruel hoax of seizing a dead man’s dormant Facebook account to play with his profile and “like” brand-name products and services from the grave sent a distraught Brockton woman to the Herald seeking help to end the social-media nightmare that has tormented her family.
The family’s anguish eased yesterday when Facebook promptly did what Susan Cunningham and her four tech-savvy kids couldn’t — deactivate the late Michael P. Marshalsea’s online profile.
“It’s amazing that you got it done when I’ve been trying for well over a week. I’m extremely relieved,” said Cunningham, 52, a hospital administrative assistant from Brockton. “But I still want to know who did it, though I’ll probably never find out.”
Two of Cunningham’s daughters told the Herald they were shocked and dismayed that a ghoulish impostor somehow took over their dead father’s profile, changing the former electrician’s “likes” — which ranged from the Patriots [team stats] and Bruins [team stats] to fishing, boating and barbecuing — to video games, metal bands and Harry Potter [website].
“It’s very disturbing, to be honest. Who in their right mind would go into someone’s Facebook account and change all the information of a person who’s passed away?” said daughter Aimee Marshalsea, 26. “It hurts me really bad. It’s just disgusting.”
Her 30-year-old sister, Leanne, said the heinous hack broke her heart anew. “My dad died suddenly … and this just reopened old wounds,” she said. “My dad was an awesome guy.”
The daughters said their father — a Cambridge native who died at age 51 in August 2010, shortly after moving to Cocoa, Fla., while recovering from a debilitating back injury — was an active Facebook user who depended on the site to keep in touch with his kids.
After his death, the family kept his account open for friends and relatives to post condolences. “Merry Christmas, Michael. Rest in Peace,” read one over the holidays.
But two months ago, the family said, Marshalsea’s Facebook page was hijacked. His birthday was changed from 1959 to 1975, then his hometown, then his status, from “single” to “in a relationship.” Next came the constant stream of “likes” to companies such as eBay, Panera Bread and video game giant EA Sports. It’s a sinister hack that experts say may have had a financial motive by boosting traffic to company websites.
“These brands are probably not behind it,” said David Gerzof Richard, an Emerson College social-media marketing professor. “There are definitely groups for a price that can go out and buy you ‘likes.’ A lot of this comes from areas in India and Pakistan.”
Cunningham said she tried to “memorialize” her ex-husband’s account but kept getting error messages and didn’t feel comfortable sending Facebook his death certificate — with his Social Security number on it — which the site requires to shut down a profile.
Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes confirmed there was an “unauthorized access” to the dead man’s account. The social media behemoth took swift action after being contacted by the Herald and memorialized the account — basically freezing the profile and thus preventing any further mischief.
“It’s very heartless,” added Cunningham. “If somebody is that sick to use a deceased person’s page, I would not put anything past them.”
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