BRADFORD COUNTY, Fla. - Careful what you post on Facebook. Women -- even children -- in our area are being targeted at some of their darkest moments, and when they least expect it. Some of the content in this story may be offensive.
Attacked on Facebook
A local woman says she fell victim to unspeakable harassment on her Facebook page. Amanda Sterling describes it as a nightmare.
“It hurt me, and I was very hurt because this was my personal Facebook page," said Sterling who claims she was cyberbullied during one of the most painful times of her life.
Sterling says her father died of cancer recently, and she looked to Facebook for support from her friends. That’s when she says she received a friend request from a man named William Wayne Bigel.
“He started talking about having cancer, having brain cancer and he was going to kill himself, and I said you don’t need to do that your know, that’s not the way to go," Sterling told the I-TEAM.
Sterling says she consoled the man -- claiming to be Bigel online -- but quickly learned he didn’t actually have cancer. She says the messaging became odd, with Bigel asking to see her in person. When she refused, she says Bigel began sending nasty messages.
“He just got really mean and hateful towards me,” she said.
In a digital message Sterling saved from a Facebook account registered to Bigel, he writes:
“I showed all your friends the messages between us about you cheating on your husband..." "...You are nothing but a piece of $#%# and you’re going to die of a heart attack from being so fat and lazy..." ...Don’t talk to me anymore old fat ugly slut.”
Sterling says she's never met Bigel in her life.
“It’s sick, it’s very sick, I mean why be, why do that, why be a predator like that” said Sterling.
Sterling says she immediately unfriended the 23-year-old, but the following day her Facebook account was shut down because someone reported her as an imposter. Facebook eventually reopened her page, after Sterling proved her identity.
But, she then realized -- someone other than her -- had started a Facebook pager under her name.
”It had just a picture of me, my husband and my daughter that I had just posted. And, it said something to the fact that my husband was doing something to my daughter,” said Sterling.
On Sterling’s imposter page, there were allegations of incest, infidelity and obscenities we can’t say. She had to personally reach out to her Facebook friends to let them know it wasn’t real. She told her friends her identity had been stolen. The harassment brought Sterling to tears.
“He used my daughter’s picture, she’s underage, and I had just posted that picture, so it bothered me a lot,” she told the I-TEAM as tears fell. “And it bothered me because he tried to send both my daughter's friend requests.”
Bradford County’s Sheriff’s deputies tell the I-TEAM there’s no specific Florida law governing Facebook and identity theft, but investigators can only press charges if they can prove a pattern of harassment or stalking.
The Sheriff’s Office says Sterling didn’t have enough evidence to build a case against Bigel. But Sterling says deputies told her to document the harassment, and contact them if it continues.
The man accused of cyber attacks
The I-TEAM did some digging and discovered a long history of criminal charges for the man Amanda Sterling claims is behind her cyber attack on Facebook.
According to police records, 23-year-old William Wayne Bigel of Interlochen, is on felony probation for aggravated stalking and making credible threats.
Police say Bigel assumed the identity of a Facebook page owned by a 15-year-old who died of brain cancer in 2014 in Winnebago County, Illinois. Police say after the teen’s death, Bigel posted on the deceased teenager’s Facebook page that she’d been sexually assaulted by her father -- adding to the family’s grief.
In early October of this year, three women in Putnam County filed offense reports with the Putnam County Sheriff’s office against Bigel.
In an October 4 offense report, the mother of a juvenile contacted the Putnam County Sheriff’s office alleging that Bigel disabled her son’s Facebook account, and made threats towards her son’s family.
In an October 17 report, the victim alleges she accepted a friend request from William Bigel. The victim claims Bigel wanted to meet up in person, and have her spend the night, but when she refused, Bigel allegedly threatened he would show up to her job and “kill her.” The victim also claims Bigel hacked her Facebook account.
And in another report made on October 17, a female victim reports “disturbing contact” on Facebook Messenger with Bigel.
Criminal records show authorities have charged William Wayne Bigel 10 times for charges ranging from stalking, online harassment between 2012 and 2016.
We confronted Bigel at his home in Interlochen.
”According to the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department and several other women say that you have been harassing them on Facebook. Is there a reason why you are still doing this to women?” the I-TEAM asked Bigel.
“I’m not doing nothing,” Bigel replied.
“There are several people who have come forward and said that you have been harassing them, saying obscenities to them, people who say you’ve been cursing at them on Facebook, talking about deceased people. Do you have anything to say for yourself, William? Aren't you on probation for this right now?" the I-TEAM asked.
Bigel denies being on Facebook and harassing women, and moments later, a family member asked the I-TEAM to leave the property.
William Bigel is currently on probation in Citrus and Putnam Counties. The I-TEAM spoke with one of his probation officers who can only say that he is aware of the new allegations.
Cyber attacks are hard to prove
The I-TEAM went to Bradford County Sheriff Gordon Smith, who admits Florida law doesn't adequately address Facebook cybercrime. Smith says authorities are having a hard time keeping up with the evolution of social media.
“It becomes difficult sometimes, it gets real difficult, because one is we don't know who's doing it. You have to come in and file the complaint. Once you file the complaint, the investigator got to go, ok, now I have to send this request to one of the social media sites and give them something to work with,” the sheriff explained.
Smith says with these types of allegations, investigators typically pursue stalking or harassment charges. But, the victim has to prove a pattern of online abuse over a period of time.
Protect yourself on Facebook
Here’s how you can protect yourself from being hacked on Facebook:
- Enable what’s called “Login Notification” on your Facebook account, you can find it in your settings, so anytime someone logs into your account, you’ll be notified on your cell phone of where you logged in.
- Check your active sessions. If you notice an unfamiliar location or device, your account may be at risk.
- And if you’re already friends with someone, and see a new friend request from that person, more than likely it’s a fake.
If someone has already assumed your identity on Facebook, here’s what you should do:
- If you’ve been hacked or someone has created an imposter page, through Facebook’s own website, go to the help page and click on, “I think my account was hacked or someone is using it without my permission.”
- Click "secure it."
- Facebook will then walk you through the steps of securing your account. And they may ask you to prove your identity.
The I-TEAM wants to caution everyone to use Facebook’s official website. Don’t just Google “Facebook help” or “I’ve been hacked on Facebook.” Unfortunately there are a lot of fake pages out there pretending to be Facebook.
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