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Will the Real Sam DeKay Stand Up?

Dr. Sam DeKay sent me an open letter via this very blog medium on June 1, 2009. But how do I know the letter is from the same Sam whom I know and admire, and not from some wily interloper who had hacked into the site and was masquerading as Sam? Well, I was able to verify that it was indeed a valid post, since I talked to Sam in person at a NY Metro ISSA meeting on June 10th and he admitted to having actually written the column.

Sam’s November 13, 2008 post had the title: “What is Russell Handorf’s Secret?” I also verified that Sam had written that one in subsequent face-to-face discussions. In that column, Sam describes how he had been stymied in his search for Russ’s personal information, only to discover it was because he had misspelled Russ’s name in his inquiry.

But, even if he had spelled the name correctly, can he be sure that it is the same person? I did a quick search on the Web and soon found another Sam Dekay, only the name belonged to a Samantha Dekay from South Dakota!

I’m reminded of the TV game show “To Tell the Truth.” As you know, the objective of the game is to guess who, from among three candidates, is really that person, where only the genuine person must tell the truth, and the other two lie. After the guesses are made, the “real” person is asked to reveal him or herself by standing up.

Authentication in the virtual world is more complex. Google (or Bing) on your or another’s name and, depending upon whether or not you or the other person share a name with a famous person, your search will be swamped with references to the better-known person (in Web terms). Even if you try to narrow the search by adding some descriptors, the results can still be very unsatisfactory.

I consider myself as having a relatively rare name, but there are at least three or four others of the same name out there on the Web, and likely more in the real world. One is a Cadillac dealer, another the head of a leasing company, and a third is the husband of Kim and they recently had a baby girl. Yet another appeared in some California legal proceedings back in 1961. Then the name has appeared in fiction in a novel by Josh Emmons and an Axelrod appears as a character in a play, where it so happens the prior name was that of actress Jennifer Warren. Moreover there are all those popular books about tropical fish, of which the authors include Warren Burgess and Herbert Axelrod.

Well some of the discrepancies are obvious and can be discarded, but such confusion can certainly lead to problems.

Recently, I was looking up someone on LinkedIn and two individuals appeared with the same unusual name … one in Nebraska and the other in Florida. I asked a mutual friend which one was the person I was looking for. The answer was “both.” One identity was obsolete, but was still out there.

Many may not see this as much of a problem. But mistaken identity can have similar adverse effects to those of identity theft. It can certainly be irritating, and may lead to costly confusion. So be careful what you assume about someone’s real identity in the virtual world of the Internet … you may have the wrong John Smith.