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"So... what age are you really?" I asked, for the second time, after catching a guy who, for three days, posed as an 18 year old attractive gym junkie.
"You lied again, even after I caught you out?"
"I thought it would soften the blow."
The web is a scarier place than you could imagine, providing perfect cover ups and masks for paedophiles, fraudsters, con artists — you name it: Google's got it. So, lets just clarify what was happening here.
About a week ago, I shamefully signed myself up for Tinder — I was bored watching all my addicted friends swiping left and right around me. Within the day, a very attractive guy was talking to me, which naturally makes me rather suspicious because let's be real—It's me. In reality, attractive guys run in the opposite direction. But, happy with the attention I received, I decided to just allow this little fantasy continue because I liked having someone to talk to.
He was 18, called Andy. I gave him my Snapchat—more like threw it at him, on his request. To me, this was assurance that I really was talking to a young Zac Efron look-alike.
He sent a few mirror selfies, we talked on the phone and he messaged constantly.
He was very interested in me, and very keen for us to meet up.
He was cheeky and flirty, and I enjoyed his humour, despite my lack of interest in engaging in any of the sexual demands he was making.
When this became more frequent, I decided I would soon need to cut it off—I wasn't comfortable with how he was talking to me, and quite a few things weren't adding up. These are the warning signs you need to look out for too.
1. You have the teeniest bit of doubt.
If there is a shred of doubt in your mind, even without substantial reasoning, shut it down, shut it down, shut it down. There are plenty of fish in the sea, my dear, and 3000–4500 variations of catfish swimming about in it, so beware. If in doubt, do not pout it out—move on to the next reasonable guy you can salvage from the Tinder matches.
2. They are just too darn attractive.
If you melt and have heart palpitations while looking at their photographs, then most likely they are retaliating in icky ways which I shall not go into looking at yours. Ultimately, this is because that teen model is actually a fifty year-old bald man, who knows you would be completely unattainable if you knew his true identity. I took my suspiciously attractive fellows' Tinder pictures and googled and scrolled Instagram religiously for hours. My goodness, if somebody saw my search history...
"Hot guy at the gym."
"Hot guy mirror selfie."
"Hot guy BBQ."
"Hot guy cooking with a yellow pepper."
It goes on and on. I'm going to get locked up myself.
Finally, result. Once I typed in 'hot pizza guy,' and scrolled down a bit... voila, my Tinder friend 'Andy' mysteriously had a twin brother called Rafael that he never told me about. AND THEY POSE THE EXACT SAME IN ALL THEIR PICTURES, IN THE SAME PLACES. Crazy, huh.
3. They bein' dead shady about themselves.
Of course, some catfishers are obsessed with creating fake persona, so they could give you a whole reel about their incredible life, and how they were in the army, lived in 450 different countries, own two yachts, a private jet... but sometimes it's the opposite. Look for the two polars. My man Andy, he was very vague and was never interested in the whole 'getting to know each other' thing. He said he went to college, and that was all I knew. He skimmed over my questions very subtly, but don't let that happen. Pry and poke at them a little. Look for loopholes in their stories.
For example, 'Andy' was 18 and went to school, but for some reason he was able to be drunk and loud at three in the morning on a Thursday without waking up his family. He also was always available to talk, or was apparently "at the gym" every day, even when he should have been at college.
*Cue alarm bells.*
4. Give them a thorough stalking.
We all love a good stalking sesh, don't deny it. So dig into all his social media accounts, and if anything like below comes up, you have identified a phony.
- Facebook: How many friends have they? If it's a male, do they have a peculiar amount of young girl friends? Go into their pictures—do they tag people in pictures, or do they get tagged in other people's photos? And likes; yes, it isn't all about likes, but does anybody seem to actually know this person?
- Instagram: How far back do their uploads date? My lad, Andy, he oddly only had one picture, posted the same day that he first messaged me. Once again, he had been tagged by nobody in pictures, had no followers and followed no one.
- Snapchat: Snapchat is genius, but it can be used for bad or good. Snapchat was a dead give away in my case—Andy only had a snap score of just above 1000, meaning he barely used it, despite how frequently he messaged me. He also never sent selfies immediately when I asked for them. He did use voice recordings, though, and took photos of the floor and things, so he kept me more convinced than suspicious for a while. Check snap maps too; see if he is ghosted or if he says he lives where he says he does. I would also highly recommend that you turn yourself onto ghost mode before there is a random guy wandering about in your local area comparing every girl to a photograph of you saved to his phone.
If your hunky man isn't so into his social media, watch out. Yes, some guys aren't great with all of that jazz, but everybody has at least one friend who feels it obligatory to post something every time they breathe, which more than likely, they will be tagged in.
5. They clearly have one thing they want.
There are four main reasons why people catfish.
A lot of the time, they are looking for someone to engage in sexual activities with them through the internet. Never agree to this; it is never safe, you can never be sure what happens to your pictures and videos, and often they are sold to websites who make up a false identity for the pictures, and you will never know. If your internet buddy is relating everything back to sex, or directing everything towards it constantly, this could be a signal.
The Ending of Andy
Now, just to finish off my story. I spent many hours digging through the web before I found the account that 'Andy' had stolen the identity from. I sent him screenshots of the account, because I was curious of his response.
Immediately, at my request, he deleted all the selfies he had saved of me, which he had done without my consent. Of course, I cannot trust him, but nothing sent had been inappropriate so I am not too concerned. He was very apologetic, and very compliant with answering my questions, I assume due to the shame of being caught out. He was apparently still an 18 year old.
I told him that I understand people do things for all sorts of reasons so I was not going to judge him — I really just wanted to find out a little more about him, and I knew to do this I would have to gain his trust through a little mercy.
I was still quite certain that Andy was not the age he said he was, because he was certainly not stupid. He did not answer any questions that could allow me to figure out who he was, and was very good at passing the questions discreetly, in a way that left me finding myself unconcerned. He was a very, very good manipulator. I was still very determined to find out more about him, and why he chose to do what he did. It isn't every day that you get the opportunity to do this, you know.
I must first say, I do not condone anyone who believes it is a good idea to talk to their serial-online-identity-thieving-fraudulent-sexual-predator. I did this for your sake, out of my own stupidity.
His name "was close to" Andy.
He finally admitted that he was actually 30. This sounded about right, because his voice had the maturity level of such.
The voice recordings he sent and the phone call was obviously him.
He still wanted to keep talking if that was what I wanted. He acted very kindly and sensitively towards me when I found out. He wanted to make sure I was OK.
Andy had done this to four girls before me, all of which had been older, according to him. (I am 18.)
I believe I was the only one to catch him out in the act—the other girls, he eventually broke things off with because he felt guilty (apparently).
According to himself, he had started to 'fall in love' with me, so he was relieved it ended before we were both hurt.
He showed me evidence of him deleting his fake Tinder profile, and removed his fake Snapchat after I said goodbye to him.
Apparently, if we had met up he would not have hurt me. He would probably have called it off beforehand. Yeah, right.
So, just to wrap things up—the web is a lot darker than you think most of the time. It provides the perfect mask for paedophiles, rapists and fraudsters—1/10 dating profile accounts are fake, according to studies. Be constantly aware of this, and never become too trusting of someone that you meet online. Even good people can accidentally get themselves wrapped up in situations where things are spiralling to a point where morality and legality is questioned. I believe that this was the case for Andy, although I do not believe I would have been in a safe position if I had fallen for his scam. He in no way showed any interest in ending anything.
Andy was also very intelligent. The account he stole identity from was one which was popular, but was of a guy in Australia. He also had a vast amount of posts, and my catfisher had dug very deep into them, choosing pictures taken years ago, with poor lighting and photo quality. This made the pictures look a lot more realistic on Snapchat, because they were not photoshoot quality. They looked like casual pictures taken in the bathroom mirror. Due the distance and time of the photographs uploaded, it took me a long time to find them. Only one was on google, and the rest Instagram, meaning that it was harder to locate again. Do not always make the presumption that one characteristic which cannot be proven lies is truth, i.e., not being able to locate the account of the stolen identity.
He often constructed stories around the pictures as well, making the scenario in which they were taken very realistic. He would often say he was going for a run, or to the gym, and would stop replying for an hour. Then he would send a Snapchat of himself topless saying he was about to shower.
Catfishers aren't stupid; some of them have actual talent.
This is a very serious issue for all ages of people in society today, but is still one which is very difficult to manage from a legal standing due to how underreported it is. A lot of the time, this is down to the victim feeling angered by being fooled, believing that they were being stupid. It happens to many, many people—some cases ending horrifically. Because of this, we need to band together so that something more serious can be done.
If you have been a victim to this, I urge you not to remain quiet, for the sake of the next victim to come.