What is a ‘Catfish’?

What is a Catfish?

Urbandictionary.com defines a ‘Catfish’ as:

Someone who pretends to be someone they’re not using Facebook or other social media to create false identities, particularly to pursue deceptive online romances.’

The term was created by Nev Shulman’s experience of having a longterm online relationship with a woman he thought to be young and single. The reality was, Angela was in her 40’s and married. Now the executive producer of MTV’s show ‘CATFISH’, which came off the back of the 2010 American film documentary of the same name, at the end of the film, Vince (husband of the lady that ‘catfished’ Nev), tells a story. He says that when live cod were shipped to Asia from North America, the fish’s inactivity in their tanks resulted in only mushy flesh reaching the destination; but fishermen found that putting catfish in the tanks with the cod kept them active, and thus ensured the quality of the fish. Vince talks of how there are people in everyone’s lives who keep us active, always on our toes and always thinking. It is implied that he believes Angela (Nev’s online romance) to be such a person.

The Independant in a recent article about Nev:

‘To be clear, ‘catfishing’ refers to the act of luring someone into a relationship by adopting a fictional online persona with fake personal information. The term emerged from the 2010 American documentary Catfish which follows Schulman on his journey of falling in love with a girl he has met online and later finding out she is not the person she claimed to be. ‘

Not all ‘fake profiles’ are Catfish. Some fake profiles are created with a purpose to ‘troll’ others online (which is a criminal offence), or to hide the owners of illegal business transactions (also a criminal offence). Some are legitimate in reason where anonymity is needed from an abusive ex partner or similar. Some people are mistaking ‘Catfishing’ with identity theft. It’s not. Identity theft is where a criminal will literally collect and steal another person’s real life personal information. This is explained by Action Fraud:

‘Identity theft happens when fraudsters access enough information about someone’s identity (such as their name, date of birth, current or previous addresses) to commit identity fraud. Identity theft can take place whether the fraud victim is alive or deceased.’

When the criminal uses this information to get money or other using your details, they are committing identity fraud.  You can read more about this here.

Catfish are not into identity theft as such…

What Catfish will do it trawl the internet for a suitable picture to use on their profile. Some choose to steal an everyday person’s pictures from a public Facebook Page or similar,  some will go for ‘catalogue shots’, model’s pictures which are readily available in ‘stock image’ settings online. These often allow the catfish the option of having several pictures of the same person. Some will choose to use an actor/tress’ picture, maybe from another country where the actor/tress is not known…like mine. Some go for military personnel and keep their name too. Some (like many in the show Catfish) use photos of people they know and admire…

However, they don’t want ‘Joe Blogs’ life story. They want to create the image of a life that is going to touch the emotional aspects of their targets. They want to create someone who can get inside your head. This is the common thread between all Catfish. It’s how they manipulate you to get what they want BUT what they may want as a result of their scam can be very different. There are many misconceptions about Catfish here too.

Catfish are not all after the same thing. There are many variations to these individual’s incentives.


What do they want from you?

I will never be able to list every motive and intention of a Catfish here but if caught by one, none of them will end well for you. Without doubt, new incentives and cover stories, whether financially motivated or personally motivated will be created constantly but we are seeing some as the main culprits that have been used for many years now and are big business, financial fraud. The other type of Catfish motive is very personal. It has nothing to do with financial/personal gain as such (although they can achieve this in their game), but it’s not their primary incentive. Their incentive is to get their needs met, whatever they may be…and not get caught out while doing that. However the only outcome for the victim is hurt and humiliation on many levels.

I was aware of the kind of romance scam with financial fraud being the primary motivator. If at any point my Catfish had started asking for money, I would have been suspicious because I had been fortunate enough to have seen and read about these on top of training when I worked at a bank in my teens, when Nigerian money fraud very first started. I was alert to this kind of ‘game’. 

Not everyone is so fortunate and the ‘hooking technique or love bombing’ used by all the Catfish is the same. You can read more about love bombing Part 1 here and love bombing Part 2 here.

Of course my Catfish didn’t stay online either…he became an ‘offline Personal Catfish’. I had an ‘in person’ relationship with him for several months after our initial 3 month online introduction. Is this the new breed of Catfish?

You can read my post about Romance Scams with Financial Fraud here.

You can read my post about Personal Catfish here.

 


 

 

Just a bit of fun or sexual abuse? Why some Catfish are cowardly and clever sexual abusers.

On Friday when you are 15 years and 364 days old, you are covered by grooming legislation as a child. On Saturday (according to some police) you have nothing to protect you against these abusers.

I’ve been reading in horror, about all of these sexual abuse cases. The news, press and Social Media are full of all these horrific experiences that women, men (and children) have been through. The sad truth tho, is that the National Crime Agency (NCA) have statistics that claim 85% of reported sexual abuse cases show women as the victims.

Quite rightly, any act of sexual grooming and abuse against a child is legislated against BUT far too much still needs to be done for the upholders of the law to actually act on the appropriate legislation and stop failing these child victims.

So what happens when you reach 16? What legislation is there to protect you when you have been groomed and targeted by an individual or group who wish to exploit you for intimate sexual pictures, or videos or for sex itself?

The majority of the sexual abuse cases we are hearing about have been committed by someone who is known to that/those individuals. Some of the time that person is in a position of power or a position of trust over that individual, an employer or carer maybe. The abuse may be actioned in the work environment or it may be in an ‘off duty situation’.

What happens if a woman goes on a date? She meets the guy online, they chat for a while, have lots in common and then decide to meet. They go out for a meal and the woman wakes up in a room she doesn’t know, having been given a date rape drug. She knows that something is wrong, things have happened and she goes to the police to report that she has been raped. We’ve all heard of ‘Liar’ the acclaimed ITV series and seen how clever and manipulative these men are. We’ve seen the mask they use to convince those around them that they are kind, humble, grounded pillars of the community. The woman is a liar isn’t she? How could anyone ever think this devoted father and hard working individual in a position held of high esteem would ever do something like that?

For the police, there is still a path of legislation. They track the man in the profile and (as with other cases if they decide they will get a win from the prosecution)  he will be questioned and charged.

In February 2016 the NCA delivered a report which highlighted the emerging new threat of sexual offences, initiated through online dating. It can be found here.

The statistic shows the frightening increase in cases over a period of 5 years.  33 offences in 2009, 39 in 2010, 62 in 2011, 79 in 2012, 145 in 2013 and 184 in 2014. More frightening is the fact that when put in context of the amount of cases of sexual assault actually called in, its significance is increased dramatically when only 17% of instances are stated as being reported.

And ultimately, whether invited back immediately or after a period of getting to know each other,  72% of offences were committed at the victim’s or offender’s residence.

Online platforms have proven to provide abusers with easier opportunities than they would ever have had before. However, these sexual offences typically only happen the once per victim. The assault occurs and the offender is found out for what he is. If he gets away with not being reported-the ‘game’ will start again. The grooming, the targeting, the love bombing, the assault.  He will do the same to someone else.

BUT… what if that man is clever? What if he creates an entire fake online identity so that he can’t be found out when his game needs to be concluded? What if he’s not interested in a violent struggle for sex or drugging women who may be unresponsive to his touch? But his need, his addiction, is to be with as many women as he can. His thrill is the different experiences each woman brings. His thrill is knowing that he has deceived those women into believing he wants a ‘real relationship’ with them. His deception gives his game longevity. It gives him control over the other person. ‘He’s a decent guy looking for something long term. He’s not into hook ups, doesn’t want to be one of those guys who uses women to just get laid’.

He carries out his deception. He grooms his targets, he builds the trust, he walks into these women’s lives, their homes. Sex becomes part of that ‘loving’ relationship. He can, under the guise of his deceit, manipulate that women to behave as he wants her to behave.

The relationship is great at first, he is everything to you. The intimate times are passionate and completely in line with the ‘relationship’ you believe you are in, along with any emotion spinning story he has told you to gain empathy and keep you hooked. But then, however many weeks or months later, something goes wrong. He isn’t acting the same anymore, things are becoming strained, he is pulling away and then, as quickly as it started he’s gone.

You then discover he doesn’t exist. You discover this man has been doing the same thing for a long time. He has been doing the same thing to several other women at the same time as you. He was constantly online grooming for his next targets, as this is all part of the thrill he so loves.

He was never in the ‘relationships’ he just wanted an easy way to get sex. No struggle, no drugs, but a ‘bank’ of women who gave him that ‘honeymoon period’ adoration and a familiar homely environment to use and abuse them until he had the next lot hooked and in place to renew his thrill seeking.

What about that man? That man is a Catfish.

His mens rea, is proven by the  premeditated act of creating a fake identity to deceive and groom women without (he hopes) being discovered.  He never divulges his real identity or his true intent to his targets.

His actus reus, his voluntary act that is in itself wrongful or leads to a wrongful result is proved as he comes off line to pursue the ‘relationship/abuse’ he groomed women for. This was his intent and this was his action.

The women they groom mean nothing to them. They are merely a vessel for  sexual gratification and thrill of power and control.

By the time it is too late, the abuser has gone.  You can’t trace who he really is, this man who manipulated and deceived and used and abused you. The man who online, still has his fake social media, but  now doesn’t reply to any of the emails, the Skype calls, or the texts or phone-calls and unless like me you get lucky, you won’t ever find who they really are for any sort of closure.

Thousands of women (and some men) are being abused in this way every year. I am one of 11 so far for this 1 man. We hadn’t even realised what he was. It was only when we talked and pieced puzzles pieces together, the enormity of his deceit became visible. But we did all this between us. Not the police.

Like other sexual abuse initiated online, the police are aware and more so, that only a fraction of the cases of this nature are being reported. This Catfish behaviour adds an extra layer of humiliation and distress to the already understood abuse, for the victim.

BUT the police won’t prosecute this clever and cowardly Catfish for his sexual abuse. They say no legislation exists.

So when, on your 16th birthday, in the eyes of the law you become an adult, these men who were called ‘child groomers’ yesterday when they exhibited this exact behaviour, can now do this with no consequence.

Just a bit of fun or abusing women for sex?

More about hoped for legislation in a later blog.

 

 

 

 

Regulation and the Dating Industry. What’s out there?

In the rapid growing industry of online dating, concerns should also be growing over the lack of regulation for the entire industry. The worries published about the lack of responsibility taken by the companies in this industry have been inking the press for years yet nothing seems to have been done?

As part of my campaign moving forward, my goal is to get legal regulation (not self regulation) for all current and future dating platforms to truly protect the users. This should include non-UK based companies legally obliged to comply with our laws if operating a service within our country (even if parts of that service are processed outside the UK). What industry specific regulation is there?

First, I needed to work out what regulation if any was actually in place at the moment.

Here is what I found.

There are 3 general cross industry laws that apply to all companies. These are:

These apply to the dating companies too. However, the ODA claim they decided to take a closer look and define these for their industry:

The Online Dating Association is an organisation founded by 13 leading ‘players’ (all voluntary). They claim to want to take responsibility for the ONLINE dating sector to protect consumers. Members that follow their ‘ODA Code’ of Conduct can display the ODA logo on their dating platform.

The ODA states:

The Online Dating Association Code of Practice (“ODA Code”) is binding on members of the Association. It sets out what is expected of members under a series of key headings:

  •   General Rules (unregulated)
  •   Honest and clear communications (Marketing and Advertising)
  •   Protection of the user (software used for money fraud scammers, operating internationally in the main, like Scamalytics)
  •   Delivering to meet user needs (Consumer Rights)
  •   Protecting data and privacy (Data Protection)

‘The feeling within the sector in the last few years was that it was time we took some collective responsibility for our market and our users as well as exercising responsibility as individual service providers.

In summer 2013 a group of dating site providers took and acted on the advice that this is a market where players should not rely solely on the framework of privacy, data and consumer law to protect the market and those in it.

The law and regulations applicable to the sector clearly matter and should be respected. But laws and regulations have to deal with the generality of industries and businesses to which they apply and our statutory regulators are often thinly stretched and not able to do much other than react to consumer harms.

We, like other sectors, saw the need to give regulations “life” and to draw out, highlight and give meaning to those that particularly matter for online daters. The ODA aims to pre-empt and prevent problems by testing members against our Code of Practice before they can come into membership – and afterwards.’

They go on to state that:

‘Our Code of Practice and our advice for the public on the best and safe use of services was published in December 2013. The Code is short, simple and outcomes-based. It focuses on the core issues for users: the clarity and honesty of the services offered, the protection of user’s personal information, the proper operation of services and the advice and help we give users to make dating as enjoyable and safe as possible.’

Isn’t this simply the current ‘must have’ legal regulation across all industries with some ‘advice tips’ thrown in?

Back in 2013 when the ODA was founded it claimed that:

The Code which will help ensure compliance to existing laws and regulations and it will set the bar higher.  It will be anchored in a set of principles, with supporting rules and guidance:

* Being honest and clear in what you offer (Advertising)
* Meeting expectations and deliver what you promise (Consumer)
* Protecting people’s data and their privacy (Data)
* Protecting our users from harm, deception and loss

So here too, the first 3 standards are ‘general industry’ regulations.

But the 4th claims protection from harm, deception and loss. The ODA haven’t replied to my email on which ‘regulation’ this actually is, other than mere advice for dating safely online and what consequences are in place to the members who don’t comply? A news article on How to stay safe when online dating gives 6 key points of how to stay safe but the DateGreat:DateSafe link is broken.

All I can do is find this in their code. The part of the code that details this is here:

Section 3. Protection of the User (these sub clauses are pertinent to fake profiles)

3.4 ODA Members must have policies and arrangements to prevent misuse or inappropriate use of their services.

3.5 ODA Members must ensure all User profiles are checked and that appropriate arrangements exist to detect fraudulent or misleading Profiles and inappropriate content and to remove any such Profiles from the site as soon as possible.

3.6 ODA Members must not themselves create fake Profiles or knowingly allow Users or any other party to create and post fake Profiles. If ODA Members create Profiles for testing or other administrative purposes this should be done in ways that ensure Users are in no doubt over the nature of such Profiles.

I thought I would test out a company affiliated with the ODA and it’s ‘ODA Code’- Match.com

I decided to set up a fak(ish) profile. What hurdles would I come across? What verification was there in place to ensure the information I was giving them was correct? (3.4 & 3.5)

The results. I used a rarely used email of mine from years ago that required no verification. I used the name Lisa, I copied and pasted a photo from the internet and used that as the profile picture. I waited while the 15 minutes passed for the photo to be verified, mean while I ticked the boxes they wanted about my preferences and hair colour and length. Obviously more important than if I was actually real, married or a convicted rapist. Before the photo had even passed the process I was able to browse the online sea of faces. I clicked the email about activating my account and BINGO! complete. It’s that easy. 2 minutes later the email arrived to say the photo had been verified. Fak(ish) profile success (I then suspended the account).

What did Match.com do that followed the rules and ‘high standards’ set out by the ODA? Nothing. In fact recent research revealed that Match.com came joint second for crimes probed by Durham constabulary between 2011 and 2016.

Their response to my query,  regarding these principles is that it isn’t their responsibility because they state in their T&C’s that the user must provide accurate information. They simply store that information correctly and accurately.

Match also featured heavily in the recent Channel 5 documentary ‘Murder on the Internet’ An almost identical response was received by them from Match when questioned.

So, I’m a rapist who wants to groom and abuse women using their Website as my sweetshop. I can fill in anything I like on that profile. NOTHING is checked. What a great way to exploit women. The sad facts are that although this does happen to men too, statistics show that women are exploited at a ratio of approximately 80:20 the police say sexual abuse cases are more 85:15.

Just recently the dating website secondwife.com has been publicised in the Daily Mail  and has made headlines as it blatantly flouts U.K. law promoting bigamy. What is being done to stop this? Nothing. The man who runs the website set this up in Dubai where Sharia Law exists. However, this is being allowed to operate in our country too. Not only does this flout U.K. law but is putting women and girls at risk of abusive and DV relationships and completely undermines the decades of hard work to secure equality for women. This site also claims FULL VERIFICATION -no fake profiles as a feature. HOW exactly?

The police say:

‘Pretty much all other businesses have a regulation / compliance function or some kind of consortium that they have to address if things go wrong. But not the dating sites.

The ODA do encourage good practice and seek to push for good simple alert mechanisms and we are pushing for a cross board date safe kite mark on all sites.

But as you know, the sites operate globally, the rewards are good for the big players and they don’t want to alarm potential customers by swamping the adventure with law enforcement based warnings and jargon.’

Andrew, CE of the ODA did kindly take an hour to chat on the phone with me (after several emails over the months) where I tried to impress the importance of getting better verification in place across the industry. I stressed I realise this is not an overnight issue to be solved and that I wanted knowledge to enable me to put viable suggestions that work for everyone (as they are businesses) to take forward. I came away with the understanding that I would be invited to meet with their members when the occasions occur, but they fell at the first hurdle and no response to my email asking why they didn’t feel it appropriate for the meeting just gone. Mmmmm.

I wonder if the law changed to say that this Industry could be sued for negligence when things go wrong, if a ‘verification process’ would materialise?

Amber Rudd is currently pushing for better security online to help combat  terrorism. Dating websites are a great place to begin the process of radicalisation if the criminals choose to use them on vulnerable people. But why should it stop there? Money fraud aside, women are being exploited by men still in this decade for self gratification and yes the parameters of this exploitation online are vast. Too many of societie’s attitudes are that this behaviour is ok. Why is it ok? It is becoming normalised because the police are choosing not to put forward cases that mean they have to work at it, cases that are not black and white-to keep their stats good. Cases that now involve the use of technology are moving in the right direction with fake profiles and revenge porn and trolling legislation (more still needs to be done as far as the convictions taking place) but the  judicial system is rarely faced with unusual or different cases as the CPS don’t let them, making this appear publicly that this exploitation ok and doable. Moving backwards in equality? Very much.

 

 

 

How to spot a Catfish-the red flags and warning signs

When we’re wading through the online dating profiles, avoiding all the spammers and lovebots that aim to lure you to another site hoping you’ll subscribe to other services and consequently line scammers pockets…how do you also navigate the overwhelming amount of unknown fake profiles on the dating platforms or social media?

Knowledge is powerful. Being aware that Catfish scams (and individuals) exist is most important. It will put you on guard when you come across anything that is mirroring these types of situations. Read about the types of Financial Scam Catfish and Personal Catfish  in my posts. There are however, common tactics used by most Catfish. You can help get through the minefield by checking out a few red flags:

Who’s photo?
If their profile picture looks staged, like it should be in a catalogue or looks like a model, it probably is. Actors from other countries are also popular choices as they are mainly unknown over here. Run the image through a search engine like ‘Tineye’ or Google reverse image search. Screen grab the image, crop any outside bits off if necessary and then upload it. If it comes back showing the picture on lots of websites, you know it has been used elsewhere and is not a personal photo. Just remember that some fraudsters may be using another person’s social media photo and these won’t necessarily show in a reverse image search. Having only 1 photo is another little flag. If questioned and they respond with  ‘I can only upload onto Whatsapp right now… ‘ be aware. Any military profile pictures should be viewed with caution too. This is one of the most common cover stories for scammers.

Let’s exchange numbers!
They’ll try and move the conversation onto a different platform, usually something like Whatsapp, Kik or Email. This is for a few reasons. Scammers know that anti scam technology software on the sites will likely pick up trends in conversation and shut down the profile. If they move you away they can continue undetected. Other reasons that a personal Catfish will want you off the app, is so they can continue grooming targets without the risk of you catching them. Once you’ve met up or have confirmation they are genuine then you may feel more comfortable to talk to them on another channel. But don’t feel pressured to give them your phone number if you don’t feel ready.

You are so open an honest!
Catfish profiles (or messages sent on Social Media) tend to be very full on, giving away the hopes of the relationship they seek from start to finish. If there is an over use of the words loyal, genuine, trustworthy or ‘God fearing’, looking for a soulmate and someone to marry with the love of children, this should alert you. Genuine profiles are usually fun and only hinting at what you are like and looking for. 

It’s all about you and too good to be true…
If you reply to a message and it’s a Catfish, the chances are you will be ‘love bombed’.  They ask lots of questions about you but don’t give much information in return. They are reading you at this point, taking notes, earning your trust. Often fraudsters will spend time looking at your social media profiles and pictures to get to know you better so it seems like they are your perfect match and you have lots in common. They will fall head over heels for you very quickly and will be very full on from an early stage. This aims to get the other person ‘hooked’ as quickly as possible. It may seem like you’ve found your soulmate and your perfect partner but it’s best to edge on the side of caution. If things seem too good to be true, it’s likely they are!  You may hear phrases like:

‘I can’t believe we’ve been so lucky to find one another…’ Many will tell you they’ve never experienced that level of connection with someone else before.

It may seem like they are genuinely interested in you but it’s best to be a little cautious if they are asking question after question but keeping their own details private. Dating is about getting to know another person – if they’re genuine and have nothing to hide they shouldn’t be afraid to answer your questions. Things should move slowly…

Reverse psychology
Do they over emphasise how honest, loyal and committed they are? If so, this could be a warning they’re a fraudster, as they’re using reverse psychology. This plays a big part in their game. It throws you off guard and has you doubting yourself.

Mine told me how he thought ‘cheaters’ were disgusting (he knew it had happened to me before), he said of a friend who’s boyfriend was caught sending emails to someone else, ‘tell her to get rid of him babe, he’s a baddun’. This all consolidated in my mind (as we sat watching a movie, munching on cashews) that he would never do that to me. Little did I know that as we spoke, he was doing exactly this to his wife and several other women as well.

Money, money, money…
Asking for money will soon follow if they are a scammer. They may be subtle or outright. Cover stories will tell of a difficult time or disaster.  Good people falling on hard times. But anyone asking for money that you haven’t met in person or know well is not someone to be chatting with, however big the disaster. They play on kind people.

Sextortion or Personal Catfish.
Similarly to money, anyone asking for intimate photos, videos (or webcams) before you meet would be considered disrespectful of someone really interested in a proper relationship. This may start with them asking for ‘sexy chat’ but will progress quickly. Although sex was part of the motivation for mine too, he was very different in that he was patient and had read me well, there was never a push on me for anything. He evolved his tactics to suit the target. 

Some are just in this for the thrill of the power, deception and control over someone else whilst playing their games. These are harder to spot BUT… if your gut instinct says something isn’t right then listen!

Not everyone who exhibits the above traits and warning signs is a catfish, but it’s best to be sure.

 Be safe.

Dear Abuser: I am the revolution you never expected-by Shahida Arabi

Who am I?

I’ll tell you who I am.

I am the light you tried to strangle, the light you tried to stifle in your chokehold but my light bled all over the pages of your book, your preconceived narratives, your filthy words and your attempts to bring terror back into the blank space of my eyes.

Who am I?

I’ll tell you who I am.

I birthed revolution in my bones like the many women that came before me, I ignited flames beneath my skin, using the fiery spirits of women who walked beside me as matches; we breathed fire into each other’s hearts until the world could see us and from the ashes we were reborn.

Who am I?

I’ll tell you who I am.

I am the fear in your hatred, the pain that you tried to use to violate my sacred spaces, rip me apart until I was nothing, but I knew I would always be something, somebody, and now I am. I am layers and layers of the love and power that act as your kryptonite, and with the words and actions of all those who rose with me, I’ll build an impenetrable wall.

Who am I?

I am the thing that nightmarish people have nightmares about, wake up sweating about, thinking about —their furrowed brows tense with self-doubt —wondering if I, and the other warriors I march with could ever come back to life.

Who am I?

I am the restless rebel you tried to bury, the one you tried to pull out by the root and eradicate when she began to grow from the seed.

Who am I?

I’ll tell you who I am.

I am the girl you left for dead thinking she’d always fall and never rise again. I am the girl you cut with your razor blade wrath, the girl you thought would never fight back. I am the girl you underestimated, the woman you tormented, the child whose shackles you tightened.

Who am I?

I think you already know –I think you understand. I am the prisoner you tried to cage, the little girl you made afraid –I am the woman who never gave up, the one who exposed your charade —

Who am I?

I am everything and anything that you will stand against to try to regain control. For every source of darkness, there is a bleeding soul, one that shines so brightly that the entire war zone becomes illuminated.

I am the truth, your karma, the revolt —

I am the resistance, the pieces you tried to keep shattered, coming back together again. I emerge quietly, but I resound loudly —reverberate through your skin. My power was never yours, and it was never yours to take

Who am I?

I am the second coming, of everything and everyone you tried to break.

Dear Abuser: I Am The Revolution You Never Expected

Catfish Conviction for fraud-but why does money hold more weight for conviction than abusing someone for sex?

Catfisher sentenced to five months in custody.

This is an amazing step forward for the current legislation being used for Catfish. I was told by Kent police that  mine couldn’t be convicted for Fraud due to him ‘not asking for a sum of money’, yet he gained personally through gifts, use of my house like a hotel including meals and other things bought through talk of being together in a longterm relationship.

But the biggest thing for me was that he used me for sex on top of all this. He used all of us under the pretence of the lies he told, of long term relationships and marriage.

When does money become more important than using someone’s body?

Do we consider that a person who asks for £10 pretending to be homeless to deceive the owner of their money a worse offender than a person who is premeditated and intentional in their plans to misrepresent themselves and their life, including their marital status, to purposefully use women for sex?

Is this not coward’s rape? Are they not similar in their intentions of your typical rapist, in that they want and need to have control and get satisfaction from gaining sex from multiple women/men?

One to think about…

Here’s the CPS article on the Fraud conviction for this Catfish that got Caught!

31/08/2017

Robert Brown, 29, from Portsmouth was sentenced on August, 31, 2017 to five months in custody today at Portsmouth Magistrates’ Court after pleading guilty to six offences of fraud by false representation after he lured two men into giving him money after creating false accounts on social media, a practice referred to as ‘catfishing’.

Senior Crown Prosecutor, Nick Hoyle for the Crown Prosecution Service in Wessex said: “Robert Brown is a liar who put together a scam where he lured two men into giving him money by creating fake profiles on dating websites.

“He targeted the first victim by posing as a young woman called Fran via a dating website and then chatted to her on Whatsapp. One of his first messages was ‘see I am real’ then he sent photos of her face and in a state of undress. ‘Fran’ aka Robert Brown said that she would send more if the victim would pay her money. He then pretended the money had not gone through. In total the victim sent £600.

“Not only did he defraud the victims of their money but he also gloated to them at the end of his scam. Over a 24 hour period he defrauded the first victim, a 27 year old man, of £600 and at the end of his scam he sent a voice message to the victim saying: ‘Thanks for the money mate …Hahaha Gutted’.

“After luring the second victim, a 29-year-old man, into giving him more than £1000, he laughed at him sending the following message saying ‘Hahaha, I know you sad xxx thanks its (sic) Dean haha’’.

“Both victims said in their victim personal statements that they have been left distressed, depressed by what happened to them, and that they find it difficult to trust anyone. One of them is also struggling to recover from their debts due to the fraud.

“We hope that this prosecution will bring them some comfort that justice has been done.”

Notes to editors

The second victim, a 29-year-old man contacted him via another dating website. Robert Brown used the same modus operandi and this time created a fake profile under the name of ‘Sammieandi’. Robert Brown, pretended to be a woman who had no money to pay her rent. The victim who described himself as being vulnerable and gullible as he was going through a difficult time sent the money. Robert Brown/Sammieandi said that she was going to lose her house and needed £200. Each time the victim sent money, the defendant said that the money had not arrived and asked for the money to be sent again. Sammieandi was also offering sex in exchange of the money. He then created other profiles making up more stories as a result the victim gave him a total of £1860.

Read the article online here

Also..

Woman who posed as man to dupe friend into sex, jailed. 

Love Bombing-The Hooking Technique Part 2

How to spot Love Bombing

Here we take a look at the Red Flags associated with Love Bombers. This could be in any relationship (not just Catfish grooming) and are often associated with Psychopaths and Narcissists. Another name for Love Bombing is The Psychopaths love hook.

Early Warning Signs

Spotting the love bomb is both easy, given enough time, and difficult in the short run. There’s more to it than raising an eyebrow if someone sends you flowers after the first date. In fact, that could be a sweet romantic gesture. So how do you know if the guy who has you daydreaming at work, and feeling like a teenager again, is a love bomber?

Adelyn Birch explains: Clues you are being manipulated with love bombing are the intensity and the rapid pace set by the manipulator. It leaves you without time to think or come up for air to think clearly and carefully about who this person really is and what their motives are. When someone declares love for you before they really know you, chances are good there is something wrong.

“I know we’ve just met, but we’re perfect together!”

“I’ve never experienced this before, ever.”

“I can’t believe how lucky we are.”

Manipulative love bombers don’t just walk up and say: “We belong together.” They have to give you evidence that it’s true. That’s why they target the vulnerable. Masquerading as good listeners, the bomber gathers information on your likes, dislikes, insecurities, hopes, and dreams. Before you know it, they’re saying you have so much in common, therefore you must be soul mates.

Love bombers aren’t just confident you belong together for all time; they describe the future in detail, as if it’s a Bollywood screenplay. They use phrases like “We’re going to be so happy together…” and “Someday, when I take you to Europe…” and “I can’t wait for my parents to meet you…” “This is just a difficult phase, we have the rest of our lives together, don’t give up on us…”

I was invited to a family wedding. These are a big deal in Indian families and he said that his mum had suggested it would be a good time for me to meet the rest of the family. That was before he claimed his mum had been diagnosed with cancer which meant our plans would need to be put on hold. Would I wait for him? He said how he didn’t deserve for me to wait but that he couldn’t get through it without me. All part of the control and manipulation.

Notice how all these statements are foregone conclusions, not questions? Love bombers don’t ask; they declare how things will be, with conviction. They don’t sound crazy, because chances are you’ve already shared your hopes and dreams, while they were being such “good listeners.” All they have to do is pretend to be the hero who will make those hopes and dreams come true.

This is how the love bomber tricks you into thinking he is indispensable to your future happiness.

“You’re so perfect, you deserve the best of everything, I don’t deserve you…”

To manipulate you into thinking you’ve just found your soul mate, the love bomber builds you up to an idealised object. They constantly point out all the good traits you possess, and minimise any of the bad. Mention that you’ve gained a few pounds, and the bomber will say how much healthier you look with a little extra weight. Hubby left you? The reply will be he’s blind, stupid, crazy, and you’re the most beautiful woman alive. Complain about the boss who doesn’t give out compliments, the love bomber will say she’s an idiot for not recognising your talent!

The love bomber is there to give you the self-image you wish you had, but lack. You are their project. Text sessions that last for hours, depriving you of sleep; flowers sent to work, with notes extolling your virtues; surprise visits, trips, gifts, all with the same message: “You deserve nothing less!”

Our Catfish didn’t spend money. His story was that of a devoted father of 3 (he is in his real life) with his sons in Private School that he paid for on his own. Despite knowing now ( I didn’t then) that he has a very good job which would command a big salary, he drove around in a very old car, that needed the radiator filling up every morning. He wore a very cheap watch (probably because he often left them at our houses and didn’t want to lose the Rolex) but it backed up his story of not being materialistic, his kids being most important and a grounded and humble guy. I liked this man.

If you feel that you may be in the early phase of a love bombing attack, talk to a friend to get back on a reality track. They can be objective. Stop. Look. Listen.

Stop: Slow things down. Have a talk and say: “I really love everything about you, but let’s slow things down a bit, it’s moving too fast, and I’m a bit scared of that.”

I have texts of me telling him “I’m a bit scared at how close to you I feel already” All the signs were there.

Look: Actions speak louder than words. If his words and actions are not in sync, that’s a big red flag.

Listen: Listen carefully to what he says, and don’t be afraid to challenge the assertions. If he says: “We will be perfect together,” reply: “Well it’s early, but so far, so good.”

Also, remember that love bombers hate to be challenged, and a sarcastic reply to any of your comments above is another warning.

Recovery From Love Bombing

If you are reading this after the event, like me, you can get through it too.

Dr Freeman an expert in psychopathy and narcissism, says that in order to heal, survivors must learn the facts and gain an understanding of what happened to them so they don’t have to suffer “unnecessary blame and confusion over why they are in such intense pain.” She writes that the pain will last much longer if the victims don’t know the facts. You have to know what you are dealing with to move forward.

Add in the Catfish scenario here too and you are faced with not only the backlash and recovery from Love Bombing but the realisation that the person you loved never existed. Catfish don’t want to be found out at any cost, their identities are fake, just like their declarations of love. Finding out all the facts in our situation becomes doubly hard. Find people around  you that have the ability to understand and leave those that judge you behind.

Go No Contact

No contact means just that, none. Block them, and make clear in writing that attempts to contact you by showing up at your home or work will be considered harassment.

You cannot remain “friends” with a love bomber, nor can you leave yourself open to communication. The love bomber will keep trying to exploit your insecurities to get you back, and the cycle will repeat again, and again, and again.

Our Catfish kept all his victims number and emails. He used these to maintain drip feeds of communications.

Reconnect With Family and Friends

Love Bombers and Catfish using this technique, will aim to get you isolated because if you tell people about their behaviour, it will break the spell. 

Early on when we met in person, ‘Antony’ told me…’We don’t need anyone else, just you and me.’ 

Family and friends can’t stand the love bomber, because they see all the changes and want the old you back. You may need to apologise for disappearing, but friends will understand. In fact, coming clean about the devaluations and breakups will make them sympathetic if they are true friends.

Add the whole Catfishing experience, where some may have lost money, or you have been used for sexual gratification on their part and you can imagine how damaging and thoughtless (to someone who already suffers with low self-esteem) it is, when friends, family or even strangers label you with ‘stupid, pathetic, gullible and desperate’.

Imagine a close friend telling you the same story — would you encourage reconciliation, or do everything in your power to keep your friend from going back for more abuse?

Love Bombing is Abuse

The important thing to remember about love bombing is that it is psychological partner abuse. When one person intentionally manipulates and exploits another’s weakness or insecurity, there’s no other word for it. If it is done for a malicious purpose or personal gain at all, it is abuse in its worse form.

Adelyn writes: Romantic love is intense and unstable. Ideally, over time it progresses to long term attachment, which is characterised by feelings of calm and security. This can’t and won’t happen if you are involved with a disordered partner who is devoid of empathy, morals and a conscience. The relationship will never be more than intensity masquerading as intimacy. This results in emotional turmoil and isolation.

The Catfish has only one intension. To groom you, and hook you so they can manipulate and use you.

Final Thoughts and for the TROLLS

On Adelyn’s site she refers to Maria Konnikova, PhD who says about those who wonder how they fell for this, (we know we are educated and savvy).  “I think that anyone, if you press the right buttons in the right way, will end up being emotionally involved and stop thinking rationally. Once you are in that emotional mode of thinking, it doesn’t matter who you are.”

psychopathsandlove.com

 Psychology Today

Love Bombing-The Hooking Technique Part 1

Love Bombing-what is it?

Psychologists describe this best. There are hundreds of sites that detail this process but two sites (given at the bottom of this post), made me continually stop reading, as they had the ability to evoke so many ‘ahh moments’. I had obviously never heard of ‘Love Bombing’ but now recognise it as a major part of the Catfish grooming technique, whether used by a personal catfish where this process maybe natural to them, or as a script by the financial fraudsters. Most of this content is detailed from these, as they are the experts.

It seems that this term was first spoken about by members of the Unification Church of the United States (sometimes known as “Moonies”). In the 1970s, their founder and leader Sun Myung Moon said:

“Unification Church members are smiling all of the time, even at four in the morning. The man who is full of love must live that way. When you go out witnessing, you can caress the wall and say that it can expect you to witness well and be smiling when you return. What face could better represent love than a smiling face? This is why we talk about love bomb; Moonies have that kind of happy problem.”

Well known cult leaders Jim Jones, Charles Manson, and David Koresh weaponised love bombing, using it to con followers into committing mass suicide and murder. Pimps and gang leaders use love bombing to encourage loyalty and obedience as well.

Some have tried to use it in a positive way and in some respects, research has shown it can be. 

But here we are looking at it in a relationship situation, and more importantly, as part of the grooming technique for Catfish.

How Love Bombing Works

Love bombing is the act applied to influence another person with displays of attention and affection. We’re not just talking about romantic gestures, like flowers or gifts. Love bombing invariably includes lots of romantic conversation, long talks about our future.  It’s the combination of words and actions that makes love bombing so powerful. We can be in touch 24/7.

Love bombing works because humans have a natural need to feel good about ourselves. It’s in our make up. There will always be times when we don’t. Sometimes the reason is situational, brought on by something like the ending of a relationship or job loss. Other times, it can trace back to childhood. Whatever the source, love bombers are experts at detecting low self esteem, and exploiting it. 

Psychologists have described Love Bombers themselves:

The paradox of love bombing is that people who use it aren’t always seeking targets that broadcast insecurity for all to see. On the contrary, the love bomber is also insecure, so to boost their ego, the target must at least seem like a ‘great catch’. Maybe she’s the beautiful woman, who’s lonely because her beauty intimidates people, or he’s the guy with the great career whose wife left him for his best friend, or she’s the hard-nosed businesswoman, who’s avoided marriage and motherhood because her childhood was so traumatic.

On Adelyn Birch’s brilliant site ‘psychopaths and love’   she discusses Dr Rhonda Freeman, a clinical neuropsychologist, who thinks that ‘the high’ the bombers demonstrate can be genuine, they can get intrigued and stimulated. Does this make it feel more genuine to the victim? She continues “Unlike the excitement they have, the grooming component is intentional. It is tailored to set the victim up for future use.”

It isn’t the target’s fault they are love bombed. Love bombers are manipulators who seek and pursue targets. They’re like emotional vampires, because they use attention and affection to build trust, as a means to maintain control, and end up sucking the emotion and joy for life right out of their partners. In fact, “drained” is a common term the victim will use.

I feel it is important always to put  judgements aside. It may seem to the ignorant, that people who get caught  by these individuals are ‘stupid and desperate’. The psychologists confirm that’s a fallacy. Every human being has had a unique life with experiences that shape them as individuals and will ultimately define how they react to every situation they are faced with.

‘No one knows the hidden battles or experiences that people are going through or have been through. Be kind always.’

The cycles always starts with intense courtship and idealisation over a very short period of time. Idealisation is when partners see each other as “meant to be,” or “soul mates.”

Adelyn explains: Love Bombing reinforces power beliefs about ideal love; fosters trust, loyalty, relationship investment and a positive image of the abuser; creates deep bonding and emotional dependence; and sets the stage for disbelief of the manipulators misdeeds when the eventually and inevitably come.

They also make you feel so positive about yourself. My Catfish was the first man that ever managed to break through my self doubt. Others had tried, but it always remained. He managed this in that idealisation phase. It made it all the more devastating when I realised he was a fake.

The Phases of Love Bombing: Idealisation, Devaluation, Discard 

The key to understanding how love bombing differs from romantic courtship is to look at what happens next, after two people are officially a “couple.” If extravagant displays of affection continue indefinitely, if actions match words, and there is no devaluation phase, then it’s probably not love bombing. That much attention might get annoying after a while, but it’s not unhealthy in itself.

This is classic psychological conditioning at play here. Idealisation is the positive reinforcement (you do what I want, and I’ll shower you with love), the devaluation is the negative consequence (you did something wrong, so I’m punishing you).

 Our Catfish, used not contacting me, or only a few words in one text a day as a way of making me feel I had done something wrong, to devalue me and some of the other women too. He had first sent, in the idealisation phase, hundreds and hundreds of messages, never letting me be out of his thoughts or him mine.

These manipulators use devaluation to control romantic partners. No matter how confident they might appear, they lack self-esteem and use others for validation.

Our Catfish seemed to need a constant supply of adoration from different women to feed his ego. New relationships generally give that honeymoon phase. It’s why one night stands weren’t enough for him. He needed the illusion of the longterm meaningful relationship, his phrase when constantly grooming and idealising our relationships.

Devaluation becomes a tool to keep the victim dependent. They tear you down to solidify power over you.

When I gave in and messaged again, to my unanswered messages, he felt more powerful and in control, and when I pushed back or defended myself saying I deserved more than this from him, he felt threatened and would go silent sometimes to make me think I was losing him, or he would beg me not to leave him or give up on us, which made me feel bad.

Most couples involved in this toxic cycle will go through multiple rounds of idealisation and devaluation. Of course the Catfish is never actually in a ‘real relationship’ they are merely using this behaviour and technique to draw you in and control you as a way of getting what they want, so sometimes these phases are all short and not repeated. 
The final phase in the love bombing cycle is the discard, which usually happens for one of three reasons:

1. The devalued partner no longer supplies what attracted the love bomber in the first place. Seeing his partner as exhausted, broke, depressed, or less attractive, the bomber discards her for someone shiny and new.

Our Catfish had several women in place (face to face) at the same time and was still constantly grooming for the next online.

2. The devalued partner gets fed up and starts pushing back, demanding reciprocity for sacrifices or defending boundaries, making it clear she refuses to be manipulated anymore. Feeling exposed, the love bomber discards his non-compliant partner for one who doesn’t yet see behind his mask of phony perfection.

Some of our Catfish’s relationships were short because after the idealisation phase, his lack of ability to see them at weekends or more in the week due to his work situation i.e. as he needed to be seeing other women, became too much. They saw the mask slip when they pushed him on this.

3. The love bomber uses the discard as part of the manipulation, fully planning to reconnect in the future. Think of it like devaluation on steroids. He disappears, sometimes without warning, leaving the victim feeling devastated and confused. Then days, and sometimes months later, he reappears, out of the blue, professing undying love and promising to change. Curiously absent in many cases is an apology. Instead, the return is a test of his power and control, a challenge to see if his discarded partner can be conned into another round of abuse.

No matter how these manipulators do it, the discard comes as a shock. Even for the partner in scenario #2 who pushes back. How could this happen, especially after all the sacrifices to make him happy? Aren’t soul mates supposed to stay together forever, no matter what?

Our catfish did this with us. Whether he got replies or not, every few months he would send messages to all of his past victims to dangle a carrot or test the water, while continuing to see the current victims and grooming for others.

In part 2, how to spot Love Bombing.

Psychology Today can be read here

psychopathsandlove.com

Setting up your own profile – the good the bad and precautions to take!

Before you embark on your journey into the online dating scene, there are a few precautions you should take. Some seem blatantly obvious, some less so but whatever the case, it’s got to better to be informed and safe than sorry and not safe. Under each numbered point here, I will give a reason for why this is important in Italics!

Until now, I’d never been much of a Social Media junkie. All I had was my Facebook account and that was limited to close friends and family. I barely used it, didn’t have the time or energy to post lots. Everything was set at private except the profile pictures, or so I thought….

1. Ensure your social media is ALL set to private (and only have showing, general info, on your public viewable cover pages). 

My Facebook, as an account was all set to private. I had made sure it was when I set it up years ago. What I had missed over time was, that the likes and groups I followed after this could be seen.

When I started seeing ‘Antony’, he seemed to like so many things that I did. For example, we both had a crazy love of our childhood favourite TV programme ‘The Waltons’. We used to watch old episodes of this when he came to see me. He claimed his sister Liz was named after Elizabeth and was glad his parents hadn’t named him ‘John Boy’ We also discussed our love of ‘Only Fools and Horses’. We seemed to like the same music too. 

When I found his Facebook, being a bit nosey and doing a little check, despite it being private (and he said he didn’t really use his much either) sure enough, there were likes for some of the things I liked too, as well as things he had told me about his work etc… there was even a website for ‘wedding packages’ at an Italian resort. OMG was he really serious when he asked me to marry him! I hadn’t told him I’d found his Facebook account so I was shocked to see this! 

When I discovered that ‘Antony’ wasn’t who he said he was and I got a friend to unfriend me and look at my profile, my likes were clearly showing. He had found me too (he never said either) and I’m 99.9% sure that he had researched and written down things I liked as a method of grooming to make it seem that we were ‘meant to be’ with all the things we liked the same. It wouldn’t have been too hard for him to do this. Over the 3 months before we met in person, he had built trust for me to tell him my surname. My profile picture was the same as one on the dating app and he knew (not my address but) which city I lived in. 

2. Photos. The worst bit for me. I hate having my photo taken. 

My library of photographs (of me) was about 4. I had one from a year previous and my Facebook profile picture that I had used for 5 years and then the others were silly. One of me in a wheelbarrow as a kid aged 7 (showing I could be a ‘tom boy’ too) and another when I had a horse.

These had to do. I wouldn’t take ‘selfies’ it made me feel sick and there were no others.

Looks wise these weren’t an issue. I haven’t changed looks wise from the adult me pictures. They were as good as they were going to get and a fair representation of me. My children were not in the pictures.

What these may have done was give ‘Antony’ the impression I had money. Not the wheelbarrow, the horse. I had actually had to sell my horse when I got my first mortgage and a husband. Couldn’t afford both (should have kept the horse). Later, after the press, 3 of the other women had horses in their profile pictures and/or dogs. There is a famous quote by Immanuel Kant that says “He who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men. We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.” Was our groomer using the inclusion of our beloved pets in our pictures, as a guide that we love others more than ourselves? Did this make us a better target? (What is really quite disturbing, is that he had this exact quote on his ‘real’ Linked In page when I discovered his true identity. Like many of the other likes of quotes like these, it is all part of his ‘mask’ for his family, friends and colleagues).

I’ve read too that having a photo of you in your house (with a lot of background showing) can help a groomer read you and your situation. Books you read on show behind you can have the same effect as the Facebook likes or Followers/Following list on Instagram. No ID tags with name and work place showing or proudly showing off the sign painted vehicle, advertising your new business or fancy car with your registration showing! Be wary of what you are showing people other than yourself.

Try to have a recent set of photos just for the purpose of this dating profile. That way, no one can track you by doing a reverse image search on your photos which may identify you at your work Christmas party where you are tagged on a friends public social media page (for example). Also, what is the point of starting off with a lie? You are who you are and be proud of it.

3. Choose a suitable profile/user name (if it’s not generated from your Facebook profile).

Again here, choose a name that you do not use on any other Social Media. That way, a search of that user name will not bring up your profile on any other Social Media search areas, where you could then be open for grooming again (or stalking). Make sure it is appropriate and not too flirty/suggestive if you want to attract the right kind of attention.

4. Word content and ‘selling yourself’.

Most important is DO NOT INCLUDE ANY PERSONAL DETAILS OR INFORMATION. Most sites have an algorithm that prevents you from entering emails, other user names or phone numbers but be sensible and don’t try to cheat it. The same goes here as photos as far as safety. Don’t discuss work places or company names and definitely not details of your children. Be honest about what you like and what you are looking for. Do be realistic and try to avoid cliches. If you are finding this bit tricky, ask a friend to write it with you or for you.

5. Finally.

Do a dummy run on yourself by looking at the profile you have created (or get a friend to). Run the Google image search/TinEye reverse image search on your pictures, take areas of information in your wording and do a search on the internet to see if anything comes back to identify you with your user name or first name if generated by Facebook.  Most people are genuine but there are too many now who are not. Be safe.

The Personal Catfish

What is a Personal Catfish?

It seems these Catfish are the lesser known of their type in the UK, as financial fraudsters using Catfishing as a platform for their ill gotten gains, get much more press space and in some cases can be prosecuted if the sums of money are large enough under the Fraud Act 2006. Most warnings on dating websites and other are geared towards these financial fraudsters and their tactics but who is to say that the hurt and after math of a Personal Catfish is any less devastating? Despite this imbalance, the name Catfish came from these very same personal online romance scam Catfish. They can still be sub divided.

Unlike the Catfish of the financial fraud world, these catfish have a more ‘personal’ motive for doing what they do.

The grooming technique is the same for all Catfish, however some may be more experienced and efficient at it.


The Personal Catfish

It would be hard to believe that most people have not come across the term Catfish by now but where did this term come from? You can find out on my What is a ‘Catfish’? post. I’m sure there are many more categories but for the purpose here I’m subdividing into these:

  • self esteem
  • revenge
  • jokes
  • cyber sex
  • the offline Personal Catfish

Nev’s show has exposed some of these categories.

Self Esteem

As has been seen in numerous episodes of  ‘Catfish’, one of the motivators of hiding behind a fake profile and identity is the self esteem issues of the Catfish. Often, these individuals feel they are not worthy of having a relationship with ‘someone as handsome/beautiful’ as their target. They do not have the confidence to approach someone in person. So, they fulfil their fantasies online as someone else. Most of the time when uncovered, they can see the hurt they have caused, stringing out their target for years sometimes, making excuses as to why they can’t meet but hoping the romance can remain. Sometimes real feelings are reciprocated on both sides but in the main, the deceit, lies and broken trust means that the ‘relationship’ is over.

Revenge

These are nasty. Aiming at specific targets, these Catfish are only interested in one thing. Their purpose is to bestow hurt and humiliation on someone they feel has done them a wrong first. Maybe it was rejection in the relationship, maybe it is a family member or close friend that feels they have been betrayed in the past.

Jokes

As above, this form of Catfishing is equally nasty. Maybe known or unknown to the target, some individuals are simply bored and use this behaviour as a form of amusement and entertainment. Other people’s hurt doesn’t feature in their social skill set and they don’t see what they are doing as a problem. It’s just a bit of fun right? No it’s not.

Cyber Sex

This is where our Personal Catfish are upping the ante.

Using the same grooming techniques and love bombing, these Catfish may simply be miscreant versions of the revenge or joke Catfish, asking for intimate pictures/videos as part of the ‘joke’ which will add to the humiliation when the duping is exposed and worse as leverage for part of their game.  However, some set out to use this added level of  reprehensible behaviour as a way of getting their own needs met. Much like the behaviour of a paedophile who uses a fake profile to lure children into sexually explicit situations, these Catfish are after their own ‘gallery’ of images/videos from unsuspecting women/men.

Creating an online relationship gives an added level of power and excitement for the Catfish against simply looking at published pictures as they get to control and manipulate the target to ‘perform’ at their will under the guise of a relationship. Only if these pictures or videos are published online by the Catfish would our current legal system potentially prosecute under ‘revenge porn’ legislation. You can read about this here. If they simply ghost you when they have done with you or you find them out to be a fraud, the legal system will not touch them.

This kind of online emotional and or sexual abuse is not OK. Someone who sets up a fake profile with the intent to abuse and cause repeated emotional harm which may lead to physical harm is a bully. You can read more at the comprehensive Cyberbullying Research Centre  site here.

The offline Personal Catfish

So here is mine. Potentially the ‘new breed’ of Catfish? This one dares to come out of the ‘water’ to pursue his fictional relationship in the flesh.

After building trust over a period of time (if that’s what they read the situation as needing with that particular target) and using the love bombing technique to get you hooked and attached, these Personal Catfish make the move to meet face to face. Setting expectations of patterns as far as work time and parental responsibilities, also came in these early stages. With most of his targets, ours had a tried and tested plan of getting ‘you to to invite him’ for coffee as an initial meeting. This was something several of us experienced from him. Under the cover of their ‘fake identity’ this Catfish type behaves in the way any other person starting a relationship may do (as is the preference of life style to that particular couple). The cover of a job that takes them away regularly is usual it seems, so they can be in multiple relationships at once.

Whether the Catfish themself is actually single or married, one thing is for sure, any promises they make you, about wanting a committed, longterm and loving relationship are lies. Their only motive for doing this is to lull you into a false sense of security about them so that they have control over you to get what they want.

My offline personal Catfish had the intention of sticking around for a while. He wasn’t interested in creating this fantasy life for one night stands. He wanted the ‘illusion of the relationship’ he said he wanted as his fake self. That way he got the best from me/us. It also meant he had to be thorough and clever in creating his back story and have things to make his fake life seem real to us.

Not only did my Catfish have a fake Face Book account, which had a network of friends within it and was used to portray things he spoke about in his fake life i.e likes for business, music, tv shows he wanted you to think he liked the same as you (all part of the grooming process), he also had fake emails, Skype accounts and several other Social media platforms to back up his fake identity. He also had a dedicated phone for his alias. Were his actions premeditated? In every way. Did his life seem real? Very much. But he had been doing this for over a decade with this alias. He was very experienced in his execution and had evolved his practise over time. His real job meant he was away from his wife and family all week in London, only returning at weekends where even then he did have periods of time in Europe as he claimed he did regularly under his alias.

Mine also used ‘sob stories’ with all of us. He constantly had you feeling sorry for him. This was all part of the emotional manipulation. It meant we didn’t add to his stressful situation and portrayal of a good man going through difficult times.


What does this say about the person behind the Catfish?

Who is worse? I’m not deliberating on the outcome for the victim here, as financial fraud catfish victims will have 2 lots of trauma to deal with in their scenario (emotional and potentially large sums financially),  but the type of person that decides to ‘Catfish’? The catfish themselves can literally be anyone. Married, single, male or female posing as anyone they wish to be.

The financial fraudsters of the African scams (and similar) are doing this because they live such deprived lives, they see ‘Westerners’ as rich and privileged. I’m not making excuses, it’s wrong full stop but just observing the back grounds.  The Personal Catfish isn’t seeking money as their motivation. They are not all ‘Walter Mitty’ type characters, they can have it all, and simply exploit vulnerable people because they think it’s their right and they want more. Yet the law will only prosecute financial fraud. It’s one to think about.

Shockingly, there is virtually no research into the emotional impact on non-financial loss victims in these scenarios (particularly those that have been exploited for sexual use). Maybe with the help of those that have had similar non-financial loss experiences, we can start to do our own as a way to force the hand of the justice system to act on both counts?

Romance Scams and Financial Fraud Catfish

Romance scams and financial fraud

A total of 3,889 victims were defrauded out of £39 million from online-dating fraud in 2016 according to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau. The BBC reports .

African based romance scams-money fraud (419 Scams):

These seem to be the most prolific and mainly originate from West Africa, sited mostly are Nigeria, Ghana and the Ivory Coast where there are high rates of unemployment.

These highly efficient and organised groups are not how you may imagine a scam being executed in these countries.

Back in 2011 reformed scammer ‘Aje’ spoke to the Daily Mail and explained some of the process.

According to Aje, each operator juggles a number of accounts and uses popular dating websites. Often the cover story involves a fake photograph of an American or British soldier and a stolen credit card. Almost all fraudsters are men.

‘Each person has as many as six women at a time. We would search through dating websites such as Yahoo! personals, match.com and singlesnet.com and create an account, usually with stolen credit cards’.

‘The woman is, in most cases, desperate to get a man in her life. For those who are being a little difficult, you send a gift on a weekend with some nicely worded card.  Once the victim has fallen in love, the next thing is to tell her you are going on a short business trip to any part of the world. You call the victim and be romantic with her on the phone. Then, after some days, you ask her for money giving her some sob story, like you were robbed or forgot your money’.

These scammers have evolved from the first romance scams where handwritten letters were penned, this evolved to typed letters and then emails. The internet has made these scams a highly lucrative business. Now poorly verified dating application and social media website, sign up processes, allow for easy targeting of others through their platforms.

 

 

Nigerian Scammers at work. Cyber cafes may be the hubs. You can see them working from ‘a script’.

 

Some statistics state that an experienced scammer can rely on 1-2 replies per 1000 emails, that’s 2-3 victims per week. One has quoted ‘it’s 70% sure that you’ll get the money if you get a reply’.

They may work 6-8 hour shifts and the workers take on many different roles to keep the operation running smoothly.

Roles in the business include things like:

  • organisers -composing emails and mapping out the romances and constructing the fake profiles
  • crossovers-these sometimes come from legitimate government backgrounds and provide ID papers and documents it claims.
  • communicators-these establish the initial contact
  • executors-speak the foreign languages (but also a big clue as their grammar and construction of sentences are often not up to scratch)
  • psychologists-for the ‘difficult’ victims who are reluctant to accept the story
  • money movers-deal with hacked accounts and keep the money moving to its desired destination.

Overlaps/handovers in the accounts (victims) worked by these scammers may explain when details you have previously given seem forgotten by your new companion. This may also explain long periods of time when your messages go unanswered, if a phone is being shared by a group and  your handler is waiting to reply or is ‘off shift’.

These scammers are happy to be in this for the long haul if they think they are onto a winner. Reports are noted of weeks to years where scammers wait, building trust to ensure their victim will part with their money when asked. But one thing is certain…you may even chat with ‘someone’ on the phone on occasion BUT…you will never meet them in person. These online dating scammers remain very much online.

Money here is the end game. How they get this will depend on the scam.

The hooking, the building trust and the emotional manipulation will all be ‘text book’ in every case, financial or personal. However, the middle section of the scam may be different.  Some are detailed here:

  • The most popular scam is asking for money. This may start with small amounts to test the water. The sob story of needing money for a sick child, money to keep items in storage safe for when you get your house together on their return from overseas, maybe for a flight to come and see you. If you do this, the amount will escalate, ending up with asking you to share bank details or to cash cheques (which will be fraudulent) etc…or turning the victim into the criminal by money laundering.

The Daily Mail reported on some high loss scams using online dating in 2016. ‘The shocking rise of online dating fraud’ can be seen here.

  • Sextortion: The scam may involve blackmail. When you enter into a ‘relationship’ and build trust with this person over a long period of time, they may start asking for ‘hot pics’ or ‘sexy video time’ with you, all in the name of ‘keeping the long distance relationship alive’ or ‘getting to know you better’. There are cases now where these images and or videos are used as blackmail. Threats of sharing with friends, family, colleagues if money is not paid in return for the files. Of course their intention is never to give you the files but to keep extracting money from you with ongoing blackmail. Excuses will be made as to why you can’t see them in the video chat..’the lighting is bad, the computer is set up in the wrong part of the room, the camera on mine is broken’ or new technology where the fraudster will control a pre recorded video. Sextortion (webcam) based scams are said to originate in Morocco or the Philippines. Again the Ivory Coast is emerging.

Monica Whitty, a cyber-psychologist based at the University of Leicester wrote a detailed study on these romance scams involving money fraud. It can be found here.

The scammers of today are operating all over the world. They have seen the unchecked behaviour and how difficult it is for any victim to bring a prosecution (even if the scammer can be located) in our archaic and broken justice systems. Working across continents proves an impossible task in most instances.

Cover Stories

How will these fake profiles present themselves?

In the main it is reported that these scammers have presented themselves as Military Personnel, usually American. Military personnel will NEVER contact people through social media and ask for money. I’ve had my share of these on Twitter…Davis Peters is one, look out for him!  He didn’t read my bio. He carried on. I pointed out on his twitter feed that the picture he then used claiming he was ‘proud to be working with ‘his team’ of medical experts’,  was a Stock Image from the UK for the NHS, he blocked me. I did report this profile.

 

 

 

Others may claim to be God Fearing religious people, or highly successful business men/women. One thing is always constant…they seem to good to be true. Their profile pictures will be for men, smart, successful looking, good appearance but not necessarily model types, however the women versions tend to be very much ‘model worthy’ in appearance.

If you have encountered other types of romance scams with money fraud and you would like to help protect others by sharing your experience, please contact us on the GET IN TOUCH page.

 

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