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catfishing

By Amy Donohoe

Catfish has been used as a phrase since 2010. Catfish: The Movie is credited with coining the term catfishing: a type of deceptive activity involving a person creating a fake social networking presence for nefarious purposes.

Nev Schulman became the subject of the documentary Catfish, it showed Schulman on the journey of falling in love with a girl he meets on the Internet, but later finds out that she may not be exactly who she claimed to be.

His Catfish pretended to be a woman much younger than herself in order to build a relationship with Nev. She did this to mentally escape the confines of her marriage, in which she is mother to two disabled children. She stole pictures from a professional model and photographer she’d never met and she was also running 15 other equally fake profiles on Facebook.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Nev Schulman (@nevschulman) on

In 2012, Schulman became the host and executive producer of the follow up show Catfish: The TV Show for MTV, with his filmmaking partner Max Joseph, where he introduces couples in real life who have fallen for each other online but have yet to meet.

Catfish typically create fake online profiles designed to lure you in. They may use a fictional name, or falsely take on the identities of real, trusted people.

Catfishers use the accounts to give off a persona they wish they had – with plenty of friends, photos and attractive qualities.

Some people become Catfish because they are insecure and want to be loved, other people use it to take advantage of people looking for romantic partners to get money or gifts.

As our lives become ever-more social media dependent – the mysterious side of online relationships grows. It is most common on social media and dating apps such as Tinder.

Paddy Galloway, a DCU student matched with a girl from Fermanagh called “Saoirse” on Tinder who later followed his other social media accounts. He later discovered that she wasn’t who she claimed to be and tweeted pictures of her to warn other people.

“So this Irish Twitter girl, "Saoirse" has been messaging me for over a month. Turns out she (he?) is using a YouTuber's pictures and is a certified catfish. If anyone comes into contact with this account, block and report.”

He told me that his Tweet made him look naive but he knew that the person he was texting was a very clever Catfish. He was texting her for about 3 months but then he found out that the girl he was texting was using a Youtubers photographs.

The Youtuber has over 50,000 subscribers and the Catfish even pretended that she went abroad and used this Youtubers holiday photos.

When I spoke with him he described the whole situation as “weird” because there was originally “no red flags” because she had a lot of Twitter followers and was apart of the an Irish community online.

Paddy assumes that this girl is “probably insecure and doesn’t get any attention in real life.” Once Catfish have gained your trust and your defences are down, they may ask you for money, gifts or your banking details.

They may also ask you to send pictures or videos of yourself, possibly of an intimate nature.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Urszula Makowska (@urszulala) on

I also spoke with Urszula Makowska who was on season 5 of MTV’s Catfish.

When I asked Urszula does she have sympathy for her Catfish she said: “I feel sorry for us. Unfortunately, I was not the only person he catfished. He catfished over 400 girls. He received intimate photos and videos from hundreds of girls, had intimate phone conversations with women for his own pleasure, and called us a social experiment.'

'I honestly sorry for us. We were used and sexually violated.”

Her Catfish received intimate photos and videos from over 400 women and had intimate phone conversations with them. He kept folders on his Google Drive of the intimate photographs of the girls and he included what level of relationship he was on with the girls.

A lot of us turn to dating online these days and Urszula did the same. “ I matched with my catfisher on Tinder and he started to initiate a conversation on Tinder. At first I ignored him, but going through a tough time in my life, I was vulnerable and needed someone there for me.”

As their conversations got deeper, they exchanged many texts and phone calls for four months. She tried to visit him so he told her over the phone that he was a Catfish. She immediately took a screenshot of some of the girls that were following his catfishing account right before he blocked her.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Urszula Makowska (@urszulala) on

“This life changing experience had a big impact on me. I really did develop feelings and the effects of this was that I was extremely hurt by him. Aside to that, personally, for over a year I had trust issues. I was sceptical of online dating and dating in general. I was extremely scared to open up to any male.”

Now, if Urszula meets someone online,she does her research on the person because “at the end of the day you really don't know who you are talking to on the other end.”

If you think you're being Catfished ask yourself these questions:

  • Why does they refuse to video chat?
  • Why are they never able to meet in person?
  • Why does it seem just too good to be true?

And keep an eye out for these signs:

  • Bad grammar and spelling in messages
  • The person asks for money
  • The conversation becomes romantic too quickly
  • The person claims to have an illness or is struggling in some other way
  • They won’t speak on the phone or webcam chat
  • The person has very few or no friends on Facebook
  • They claim they do not have a permanent address

Victims of Catfish could end up losing a lot of money, which may be impossible to recover and they may feel long-lasting emotional betrayal at the hands of someone you thought loved you.

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We hear a lot about people who have been the victims of the trickery of online catfish, lured into online relationships under false pretences.

But what about the people who have their identities stolen by these online phonies?

The people who have their images, and sometimes the details of their entire lives, stolen and re-purposed for use by a potential predator are at risk.

People who have their images stolen online are put in an awkward and also very dangerous situation.

Accounts using their faces could have been used for anything without their knowledge, from tweeting embarrassing or even defamatory things, to luring people into online relationships. 

This happened to one victim, who wishes to remain anonymous.

The model went viral earlier this year, after the catfish who had virtually stalked her for years photoshopped her face onto the body of popular Instagram model Jessica Hunt. 

She began receiving torrents of abuse and ridicule as people assumed she was the one behind the catfish stunt.

The attractive Irish model noticed that her pictures were being stolen for use on dating sites under the false name Amy Roberts years ago, but the problem quickly spread across all social media platforms. 

"The first I was aware of this user was a few of my followers on twitter and Instagram around two years ago sending me pics of various fake profiles on Tinder and Plenty Of Fish using my pics and the name Amy," she told SHEmazing!. 

"At first I didn't think much of it as they weren't the first to do it and they usually move on and use someone else's images after a while."

However, she later realised that this optimism was sadly misplaced. 

A number of months later, she discovered that multiple Snapchat accounts were stealing her stories and re-uploading them to catfish accounts, which she quickly managed to have deleted.

Then came Twitter, where she discovered an account using her images, which was soon shut down by Twitter moderators as well.

However, Instagram was where the real issues began. 

"I was made aware by so many followers of so many Instagram accounts of this Amy person, all of which when I was notified of I got Instagram to take down."

"The user has gotten smarter over the years, blocking me from their fake accounts and keeping their profile private."

"I now put my social media handles on my images to try to prevent them from taking my images but they just remove them from the images and in doing so blur half the image out or blur the whole of my ear which makes the image look odd but it still doesn't stop naive people believing that it is them."

She has even had someone recognise her in real life, thinking that she is the elusive Amy. 

"I've had DMs from minor celebs trying to talk to me like they know me because this catfish Amy sent them a DM with my image in it and had chats with them pretending to be me."

"I have even had one talk to me in a club like they knew me and called me Amy because they had been fooled by the catfish, they were pretty sheepish once I explained they were duped."

While these ordeals are creepy enough, the worst moment came when the catfish tried to flirt with a famous Youtuber, who posted the messages from the catfish but naming the real woman as the culprit, leading to her being mocked and shamed online. 

"I asked the user to remove it or tell me the account it came from but unfortunately my humiliation was their gain. That image still goes around the internet today with me getting abuse for it while the catfish gets away with their actions," she said. 

This incident was soon followed by the viral snap of her face photoshopped onto online personality Jessica Hunt's body. 

"Each morning when I check social media now it makes me feel sick to find out whether or not I'll be the victim of yet another viral post. I refuse to quit social media because not only do they win but people will never be able to find the original source of the images."

Not only has Amy made a mockery of the girl she pretends to be online, but other people are impacted by the situation, as the Amy persona lures people into false relationships.

"One girl told me how she met 'Amy' on an online lesbian chat room and had fallen for her and was going to move across the world for her only for her to find my account and feel betrayed."

"I've also heard from people who have given this Amy person money only to find out that they are fake. I hate to think that someone could use my image and identity to treat others so horribly and also to think that if they saw me on the street that they would assume that I did this to them and took their money."

"I have no idea to this day who they are, why they are stalking me or what their motives are with their actions on social media," she said. 

"They clearly know I get a lot of abuse for what they do so I personally think it's gone from catfishing to them enjoying setting me up for trouble then deleting their account and watching it all fall onto me. The worst part is that I can't control their actions or what they say online all while pretending to be me."

"I hope one day this Amy person gets bored and moves onto someone else but I feel that this hell they put me through will never end, " she finished. 

While this story may be extreme, it is not an isolated incident. 

For every online catfish out there using someone's photos and identity, there is a victim who is being put at risk through the actions of the catfish. 

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Catfishing is a modern dating phenomenon, in which people pretend to be someone they are not in order to lure others into online relationships.

Catfishing comes in many forms, from people stealing other peoples identities to fabricate an online life, to attached people lying about everything in their lives, including their marital status, to secure online attention and even coax people into sexual liaisons in real life.

The latter is what happened to Anna Rowe, who has started a petition to make catfishing online illegal.

Anna was lured into a 14-month, whirlwind correspondence with a man named Antony Ray, whom she met on Tinder.

The two chatted online and via text and phone calls, before meeting. The two discussed getting married and Antony even referred to her as "Mrs Ray," she told the Daily Mail.

One day, Antony disappeared, prompting Anna to hire a private investigator to find out what had happened to him, only to discover that he was married, and not at all who he had said he was. 

"In my experience after 14 months, I discovered not only was his 'Antony Ray' identity fake but he was married and had a dedicated phone for his conquests under his fake life," she said, in the description of her Change.org petition.

"During our entire relationship he was seeing other women, claiming to be away working in Europe. He spent his weekends with his wife and children, not his parents where he claimed his mum had been diagnosed with cancer."

"He used me like a hotel with benefits under the disguise of a romantic, loving relationship that he knew I craved," she said.

"He took advantage of my trust and took away my right to choose."

"I did not or would not consent to have a sexual relationship with a married man, let alone a man who was actively having relations with multiple women simultaneously."

"His behaviour was definitely premeditated showing his intent to use women, yet the current law will not find his actions a criminal offence."

She approached the authorities, but found that there was nothing that could be done, and so started her petition.

The petition has a clear message: "Creating a fake online profile with the intent to use women or men for sex, should be a crime under the fraud act, communications act and sexual offences act.”

After all the crazy catfish stories that have been going on lately, perhaps it is time for some official guidelines to be put in place.

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