Spotting a Shapeshifter

It’s been weeks and you just can’t shake the feeling. You met with your friend at that party not too long ago but something was different. You can’t quite put your finger on it, but it didn’t sit right with you. They didn’t seem like themselves. Maybe it was the drinking, or the night’s festivities. Maybe it was even the outfits.

But whatever it was, you’re fairly sure, that was not your friend doing that keg stand while a dozen people, men and women, dressed as Wonder Woman chanted their name. They insist they’re still the same person, even tried to prove to you that they knew your secrets – even that one about the dream you swore them to never tell anyone ever again. But, in the days since the Equifax breach, you just can’t be too careful. Sure, you’ve locked your credit. You’ve gotten identity theft coverage. You’ve been doing everything you can to be absolutely secure. But let’s face it, there’s no way to be sure anymore that someone isn’t stealing from you at this very minute – and they could have found all that information somewhere else. So now, as you’ve taken every sane precaution possible, one last thing has to be investigated…

What if your friend’s been replaced by a Shapeshifter?

Hidden In Plain Sight

Once, Shapeshifters were a not too pressing concern. Yes, they would frequently steal someone’s face and then try to take over their lives – but the advent of identification numbers, PINs, and biometrics have greatly impacted their ability to steal from someone. Thankfully for Shapeshifters, and unfortunate for you, these numbers do little to stop them in a day and age where at least 143 million people had their shit broadcasted to the world at large. Sure, you’re more likely to be hit by someone who would have previously claimed to be a Nigerian prince, but now more than ever is a time to be on a lookout for someone who can use that number to do a lot more than rob you blind and take out loans in your name. Now, you’re going to have to worry about the people who can straight up pretend to be you to everyone from banks to the police.

So in days like these, where we clearly can’t expect our information to be secured by the so-called professionals, it’s time to get back to basics. Yes, like the wild west, you could be framed for any number of things if you aren’t willing to take someone out. But, before you can take out the right people, you’re going to need to identify them.

We’ll be honest with you, Shapeshifters aren’t exactly easy to find and even if you do find one it can be amazingly hard to prove. But with time, patience, and impromptu blood samples, you too will be able to find the Shapeshifter among you. And the first step towards this goal is to look for…

The Uncanny Valley

The first thing to do is to ensure that you get a chance soon to see your friend without a mask. You see, the sooner you get to see their face the easier it will be to tell if it’s actually a false front. Though Shapeshifters are incredibly talented at adjusting their body to mimic those of others, it can take days, weeks, or even months to fully adopt the traits of a person they’ve duplicated. The act of filling in muscle and fat, in particular, can take a considerable length of time even with the malleable biology of a shapeshifter, and this means that some of their traits have to be copied with a little bit of inflammation. Essentially, if their face was drastically different, they may look a little doughy.

To be fair, this happens to many people in the later months of the year – it is the season of feasting in the western world and we are experts at stuffing our faces. However, the fact remains that the amount of puffiness to someone’s face and the lack of sharper details will give the person in question something of an “uncanny valley” effect to anyone familiar with the specific face. The uncanny valley, for those unfamiliar, is the notion that there is a point where an attempt to replicate something will be close enough to look realistic but far enough away to still be unnerving.

This is less pronounced in Shapeshifters, with the details often only being noticed by those who are intimately familiar with each other. Still, if they’re a good friend, you should be able to tell the difference. However, if you haven’t been carefully studying them, it may be time to employ…


This is going to be a funny question for some of you, but when was the last time you gathered the fingerprints and DNA of your friends and loved ones? Once upon a time, the very notion of trying to identify people down to their basic building blocks would have been abhorrent. Thankfully, in the modern society corporations have broken the ice by gathering as many biometric identifiers as possible in order to efficiently categorize the consumer class. And, thanks in part to this rampant desire to mark the populace like cattle, it’s never been easier for the security minded person to begin doing some very important identification tests.

Services have become incredibly easy to come by in recent years with the advent of the “consumer genetics” industry. Why, in the days before services like 23andMe, you would have to be in law enforcement or medical research to really crack the DNA of those around you. But now genetically profiling your acquaintances is as easy as when your dad ordered those x-ray specs from the comic book as a child. However, unlike those specs, you can be sure that you’re going to see everything with the help of your friendly neighborhood geneticist.

However, some of you may not be feeling too keen about the idea of grabbing samples off your friend and then lying to a company about who you are as you send the samples in. Fear not, though this sort of naivety may make you a better target, there’s still room for you to find the information you need. Do your friends own a Fitbit? Then fear not, because their weekly reports and biometrics gathering will allow you to figure out if there’s been a sudden change. All you need is your friend’s account information and you can crack into their phone or their e-mail and dig up the progress reports to see if anything changed all of a sudden.

What’s that? You can’t get their phone away from them? They deleted all the reports before you broke into their e-mail? These are certainly fishy behaviors and should definitely raise some red flags. How can you trust these people if they don’t leave a paper trail for you?

Perhaps it’s time to go old school

Have A Secret Handshake or Codeword

At this point, we’re going to have to admit that, if your friend is a Shapeshifter, if you can’t prove it then it’s already too late this time. There’s no shame in this, despite the fact we can do things in the modern day that we never could have imagined before, having your life stolen from you by a doppelganger is an age old concern that’s never been fully addressed. Sometimes they’re just going to win and you can’t stop it. However, the damage a single Shapeshifter can do to your life is limited provided you keep an eagle eye on your credit and any accounts opened in your name – provided they don’t kill you and take your place.

So the key now is to make sure that you have an additional layer of security that ensures everyone around you is on the up and up. It’s time for personal passwords to be dolled out to everyone you know so that you can ensure they’re who they say they are. This could be as simple as a password phrase you change regularly to a secret handshake so elaborate that no one would be able to duplicate it after one viewing. The more complicated, the better. Like the passwords that you’ve been forced to create for years (which actually don’t work as well as they tell you they do), your greeting with someone should have at least one form of physical contact, a verbal phrase, a sound that you make, and a dance move that has to be recreated exactly before you can continue a conversation with anyone.

Sure, it may seem unnecessary to most people, and it will take a lot of your time, but it’s really the only choice you have anymore. Equifax isn’t going to do anything to protect you, and the government handed them another multi-million dollar contract despite their screwups. Clearly, no one who is supposed to be in charge of these databases cares at all about you or your well-being, so what’s left for the little guy? In cases like these, it’s time to literally and figuratively take matters into your own hands. It will take time, and some trial and error…

But we’re sure, eventually, you’ll create something unmistakable.

(I write novels and dabble in screenplays. Someone I know was hit by the Equifax breach, but given how many were hit, most of my twitter followers probably were too.)