Web scrapers threaten Valley woman's online reputation

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By Jim Carr By Jim Carr

PHOENIX - Martisa Vignali is a part-time math teacher looking for a little extra income.

So, when she was on the internet recently looking for a job, she searched her name in Google to see what potential employers would discover about her.

“So I went and I put quote Martisa, space, Vignali unquote in there,” she explained.

At first, Martisa says the results looked normal.

Until she came across a link to a pornographic website with a disclaimer stating the site is, “Paid for, maintained, and designed by Martisa Vignali.”

“My reaction was, ‘How did this get there?’” she said. “Someone lifted this!”

Martisa says her name isn't really common and at one time she did have a legitimate website that she used to communicate with her students.

However, it had nothing to do with porn.

Still, she says the porn site has taken her information and associated her with them.

“This is important to me to clear my name because I had nothing to do with these two sites,” she said.

Ken Colburn is a computer specialist who owns Data Doctors.

He tells 3 On Your Side that Martisa's situation is because of an online technique known as web scraping.

That's when someone uses software to scan the internet looking for personal information, and then uses that information to make their own website appear legit.

“They're just trying to encourage people to pay them because they think they're going to connect with real people,” Colburn said.

Colburn says it can happen to anyone and that getting your name taken down is almost impossible.

That's why he says managing your online reputation is important, and recommends creating as much content about yourself as possible.

“If you put enough information up, those first 10 things that people see when they search for you will be the items that you put up there,” he said.

Since 3 On Your Side got involved, the pornographic website using Martisa's name has removed it.

While there's no way to know what kind of effect this has had on her job search so far, Martisa says as a teacher, she hopes to never be the victim of web scraping again.

“That's it. They don't believe the gospel, but they do believe the Google. And if you can lie to kingdom come, and people have said to me, ‘I don't care it’s not my name.’ And I say I hope it never happens to you,” she said.

If your information is scraped and used on a website that you believe breaks the law, Colburn says you should report it to police or the Federal Trade Commission.

Colburn also suggests performing an “ego search,” or a web search of your name, often, on websites like Dirtsearch.org, addictomatic.com, or Pipl.com.