When a woman in her 20s in Tokyo tried to sign on to Twitter in September, she saw a message that her account had been made inaccessible.

That made it impossible for her to upload new posts in which she offers advice via the social networking site to a range of people working in her industry. 

Seeking the reason for the suspension, the victim spotted a false account with her name and her profile.

Though it was a fake, the account shows the verified badge given to those recognized as authentic through Twitter’s screening.

After seeing the fake account, she recalled a strange message that she had received a few hours earlier from an unknown user. 

“We will form a labor union for our industry,” the user told her in the direct message accessible to only the sender and recipient. “Will you offer your support? We will take action against you unless you abide by our request.”

As she felt suspicious of the comment, the woman posted a tweet about the personal message, writing, “I do not know this guy. Threatening to take steps sounds horrific.”

After that, she had her account suspended. The user with more than 20,000 followers complained of her problems with Twitter after being hacked.

Being unable to communicate with those seeking her consultations for three weeks before her account was reopened caused much trouble to the woman.

“That might have been done in revenge for my not abiding by the request,” said the victim. “But it went too far as a prank.”

The sender of the direct message has yet to be identified.

Others criticizing the suspension of the woman’s account as “inappropriate” have seen their own ones frozen as well. Among them is a 49-year-old man who runs a restaurant chain in the capital.

As he uses Twitter for his business, the man said he struggled to reopen his account. The male user afterward learned that nearly 20 individuals were subjected to similar harm.

“I contacted Twitter for advice but no response came,” the man said. “I could not handle the issue by myself as an individual.”

A source knowledgeable about the workings of Twitter outlined why counterfeit accounts can appear identical to their genuine counterparts.

Twitter accounts are sold in e-commerce marketplaces and elsewhere on the internet on a broad scale, with some of them even sporting verified badges.

If such confirmed accounts are purchased and their names and profiles are changed to those of real ones, fake accounts with verified badges can be created.

Asked about the case, a representative of major computer security firm Trend Micro Inc. said it was “apparently the first-ever instance” of that kind.

“Users with many followers will likely be targeted on more occasions,” said the representative.

Ken Ogiso, who is well-versed in digital literacy and teaches internet safety at elementary and junior high schools nationwide, said he had never heard of such an occurrence under which verified badges are misused to give dummy accounts credibility.

“Twitter is currently part of a powerful information infrastructure,” said Ogiso. “Full-fledged countermeasures are seemingly needed.”

In response to an Asahi Shimbun inquiry, a Twitter official declined to comment on individual cases but acknowledged that “reports come from all over the world every day about misconduct.”

“We may not be able to take measures in a timely manner but we want users to actively notify us of irregularities,” said the official.