wellness

'In 7 years on dating apps, I'd never been catfished. In the past 8 weeks, it's happened 3 times.'

I like to think I have my head screwed on right. That I can see when someone is playing a game, not telling the truth. So, when I was ‘catfished’ three times in two months, I realised that it wasn’t something that was wrong with me. I realised that predators had infiltrated app dating.

Maybe they had been there all along but at the frequency that I had experienced them, it was very alarming. I think most people believe it won’t happen to them. I didn’t believe it would happen to me and some people reading this article must think I am an absolute fool for not realising sooner but these people train at their game, they know what to say and how to reel you in. 

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I have been app dating since Tinder first became popular, around 2013. 

Since then I have explored Tinder, Bumble, Happen, Hinge, Luxe and Toffee. I’ve had countless dates across all the apps, and I’ve had two long-term relationships from Bumble.

I've also had some bad experiences. I've been ghosted several times. And after one pleasant seaside lunch date and a walk on the beach, I was blocked on every form of communication, including the app. 

But recently, I decided to get back in the swiping saddle. And that is where the trouble started. 

Catfish one.

I was new to the dating app Happn when I swiped on Sebastian. After we matched, I realised he only had one picture where you could see his face. 

His second picture was him from behind as he jumped off some rocks into the water and the third was a photo of his feet in sneakers. 

His profile said he was 39 and new to Australia. 

We started chatting. He was very polite and told me he was a mix of British and French, that he was born in South America and had lived all over the world. 

He told me he migrated from South Africa five months ago and he was being sponsored by the government due to his work in the medical field. He was a reconstructive craniofacial surgeon based at the Northern Beaches Emergency Department. He told me he lived in Palm Beach, was a keen surfer, a great cook and he was also in his final year of study to add a mechanical engineering degree to his resume. 

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We quickly moved our conversation to WhatsApp, and then we chatted on the phone.

We spoke for about an hour. It was one of those fantastic conversations where there are no awkward silences and you know you could speak to this person for days on end. We arranged to meet for lunch the next day.  

He picked me up in his brand-new Land Rover Discovery Sport. The first thing I noticed was he was about 10 years older than his photo. It was a bit alarming, but I supposed we all used our most flattering image. 

We drove to Mexican restaurant for lunch and ordered Margaritas. 

I asked if he could drink, given he was working that night and he said he could. The conversation flowed and I could tell that as a doctor, he must have great bedside manner. 

One thing that I did think was strange was he said that part of his contract with the government was that he always worked nights. Usually four on, four off. He said he liked to do a few weeks on at a time so he would have a few weeks off at a time so he could travel.

Because of COVID-19, he was now doing nights for the foreseeable future to build up his leave, which meant we could never spend an evening or a night together. All our dates would have to be during the day. 

After the date, he drove me home and kissed me. Then, because it was raining, he walked me to my door with an umbrella and kissed me. I was giddy. 

We went out again three days later, and from that moment we started our routine. We would chat around 4.30pm each day on the phone as he drove into work, where his night shift commenced at 6pm. His 12-hour shift would often go over and he would usually get out around 8-9am. He would call me again on his way home. 

Then he would sleep for four to five hours (he said he didn’t need much sleep) and then we would text on and off before he headed back into work at 4.30pm. Except on weekends. On weekends there was no contact between us once work started on Friday night and ended on Monday morning – his explanation was that he was run off his feet and needed time to himself to rest. 

We went on dates once a week, usually a Thursday or a Friday. They were very thoughtful and romantic dates. Picnics, walks, lunches. Although there was no urgent pressure for sex, we did speak about it and about how it would happen. 

I currently had my sister and her husband living with me and they both worked from home, so I was against any scenario where he came to my place, other than to hang out in the living room, meet my sister and have tea. To me, the obvious scenario, if we were to have sex, would be to go to his place in Palm Beach. However, whenever I suggest this, it was shut down very quickly. 

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I had also started to notice that all the dates were based around my place. 

I have a pretty good bullshit detector and things just weren't adding up. 

He had told me that he had no social media profiles which I could understand. But when I googled him absolutely nothing came up. Nothing at all. I thought as a successful medical professional your name would appear somewhere. 

The morning before our sixth date, there was little I could do to suppress my nerves and suspicions about him. He called me after his shift to tell me that he had a meeting and would be running late to our date. 

I was convinced he was going to break up with me. I was going insane, so I called a friend who was a doctor and I told her that I had my suspicions that this man I was falling for was in fact not a doctor. She checked some medical databases, and he did not appear on any of them. She said it was suspicious but might be because he was new to Australia.  

She said I should just call him at work. Something that I had thought about doing many times over, but I really felt that crossed the line into ‘stalker’. But I did, I called and there was no record of him at all. I spoke with three different departments and there was no Dr Sebastian at the hospital. My heart sank. Who was I dating? 

I decided that I would have to confront him at lunch as I couldn’t go on any longer not knowing the truth. We met, and we ordered, he told me a little about his day and then I blurted out, "I don’t think you are who you say you are." 

He looked at me blankly and said, "Who do you think I am?" 

I told him I'd googled him, and nothing had come up. He insisted it was because he was a private person.

I asked to see some ID, but he said he didn't even his wallet with him. When I asked to see some work emails, he said he'd left his work phone at the hospital. 

Sebastian managed to calm me down and I then felt stupidly embarrassed that I had doubted him. I just wanted the entire situation to go away so we could go back to normal.

I tried to laugh it off, saying it'd really freaked me out when I'd called the hospital and had been told there was no one of this name working there.

Suddenly, Sebastian’s looked annoyed. "You called my work?" he asked. 

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I told him I had and explained my reasons why. 

I realised again we were back at him not being able to prove who he said he was. He said that he would go to administration that evening and find out why he wasn’t on the phone directory. 

After lunch, we went back to mine for a bit. Then Sebastian asked me if I would drive him to the hospital: I was ecstatic. We were actually getting somewhere now; he was letting me into his world. I drove him to the hospital, we kissed, and he got out and went into the building.

Over the next few days, he never sent me any work emails or ID. This started eating me up again, and I decided I couldn’t live this way and I would have to work out how to end things. 

A few hours later I received a message from Sebastian. He had said that after a few days of reflection he wasn’t able to be with someone who didn’t trust him. 

Again this ate me up inside but when I think about it rationally, all I wanted was a piece of ID to confirm that he had the same name that he told me and I couldn’t have a relationship with someone who wasn't honest about who they are. I do believe that he was a medical professional, but I don’t believe he worked every night and I don’t believe his name was Sebastian. I blocked him and reported him to Happn.

Catfish two.

It had been seven days since it had ended with Sebastian.

It'd been an emotional week, as I'd celebrated the 40th birthday of a friend who'd died nine months earlier. 

Thinking about how life can change so abruptly, I decided to get back on the horse and get swiping.

On Tinder, I swiped quickly on a guy who reminded me of this dreamboat of a Norwegian Viking I followed on Instagram. The next morning, I woke to see that not only had we matched, but he had also written to me. We started chatting.

His name was Stain, he was from Norway, he had an incredible body and a great beard. I popped over to Instagram and couldn't believe it. He was the same Viking I'd been following on Instagram and we'd matched! He had 448K followers, and I'd even previously shared his pics with my friends, he was that gorgeous. 

I decide not to tell Stain on Tinder that I knew him from Instagram. The conversations flowed for two days. Stain told me he'd moved to Byron Bay nine years ago from Norway. He was a coach of German Volume Training and comes to Sydney every month to train clients and teach GVT. 

He told me he was due back in Byron next week but would be back in two weeks and would like to take me on a date. Of course, I shared this news with my girlfriends instantly, this HUNK wanted to take me on a date! I was so flattered. 

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But there was something about him that struck me as unauthentic. 

On Instagram, he marketed himself as Viking and had his location set as Norway. There was no indication that he lived in Byron Bay. But Stain did have a personal account which was private, so I figured that must be where the Byron Bay pics were.

I felt like he was being deceptive to his Instagram community by making out that he was in Norway when he wasn't but I thought it must just be 'his brand'. 

I wanted to know more about Stain from Norway, so I started googling. 

The more I read, the more I realised that Stain really did live in Norway, with his partner and his two children. Stain uploaded Instagram Stories regularly, which were all in Norway. He wasn’t living in Byron Bay, training clients in Sydney and dating on Tinder. Someone had stolen his profile and was pretending to be him. 

Unlike with Sebastian, I was proud of myself for clocking onto this after three days! I confronted Stain and asked, "How did he have lunch in Norway today with his wife and manage to be back in Sydney to chat with me, in the same day?" 

I then reported him to Tinder, and I wrote to the real Stain on Instagram and told him that someone had stolen his identity to use on Tinder. Sadly, the real Stain did not reply. 

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Catfish three.

Almost immediately after I had reported Stain, I found myself on Hinge swiping away when I came across a very handsome man. His profile said he was in the US Army and based in East Sydney. He said he was 39 years old and looking for love. 

I did wonder what a US Army soldier was doing in East Sydney, but knowing there are Army Barracks in Paddington, I didn’t give it too much thought. 

Also, given I’d just had two catfish experiences, I didn’t think I could have a third. 

Jayden and I started chatting, but my app kept playing up. 

Every time I would reply to Jayden’s messages, his profile would disappear until he wrote again, then the same thing would happen. I explained that I believed my app had a bug and would he mind if we swapped numbers on WhatsApp. That’s when he told me the ‘truth’. He said he was happy to swap numbers, but he had to tell me that he wasn’t in East Sydney - he was currently deployed to Afghanistan. 

He had been in the army for 20 years, and he was on his final mission. After that, he was heading home to the US, where he would file for retirement and then fly to Sydney to begin his retired life. His mum was Australian. 

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This was not what I was expecting when I swiped, an active soldier, in Afghanistan but it was three weeks until he was due to arrive in Australia, so I could use this time to get to know him before he arrived. 

I did think, perhaps this was a 'lonely hearts’ scam with someone on a computer in Nigeria but that was a ridiculous thought. We swapped numbers. 

Jayden was extremely handsome, kind and interested in my life. He wanted to know everything about Sydney, so I would tell him about my life, my friends, where I grew up, my family and I would take pictures of the harbour and the Opera house and the beaches and send them to him. He really liked them. 

I discovered that Jayden was an only child. His dad was a successful businessman who died when he was 16 and his mum was an orphan from Australia. 

He said that he had been married for four years and divorced for the last two years. His ex-wife got over him being away so much that she left him for his best friend. 

He said he didn’t keep any other friends outside of the army as you just grow apart from people and that on this mission, he was not deployed with any of his mates. He said he inherited a lot of money from his parents and when he got to Australia he wanted to go into property ‘flipping’ and it was handy that I was an interior designer – we would make a great team. 

Warning bells started going off in my head. I decided to do some googling. Firstly, I couldn’t find any Information about Sergeant Jayden Samuel Campbell from Baltimore, nothing. Then I started googling information about ‘army love’ scams and ‘lonely hearts’ scams and what Jayden had told me was a textbook scam. 

The lists on google said scammers use information like the following: on a peacekeeping mission, both parents are dead, wife either deceased or divorced, no children. I couldn’t believe this was happening again. It also mentioned that they say they can’t voice or video call or send voice notes. However, the army websites boast about how great their technologies are these days in order to keep the soldiers connected with their loved ones. 

We kept speaking; I didn’t want to raise my suspicions just yet in case he was in fact telling the truth. I know, how could I possibly believe that any ounce of this story was true? I’m a 38-year-old, switched on business owner but part of me wanted to believe that Jayden was telling the truth. As there were two weeks before he was due to arrive in Australia, I realised that this scam would have to play out quickly if it was one, so we continued to chat. 

I did notice that the conversation never steered towards sex. Jayden didn’t talk about sex and when I would try to steer it that way on purpose, he would say he had to go, or he would just change the subject. I felt like if this was a scam, the person on the other end was not wanting to go there. 

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Jayden spoke about having PTSD but that the American Army didn’t have professionals on base camp to help them. I found that hard to believe that in this day and age mental health in a war zone would not be carefully monitored. We spoke in depth a lot about a lot of subjects and Jayden, who at first wanted to take things very slowly, had declared 11 days in that he was falling in love with me. 

I had told a few girlfriends about Sebastian and about Stain, so when I told them about Jayden, they not only thought I was joking, they also couldn’t believe I could think that perhaps some of his story was true. I kept them informed regularly in the lead up to ‘the moment’. The moment which would prove that he was either for real or a scammer. The moment which would be either, ‘I’m leaving Afghanistan today’ or ‘I need to borrow some money’. 

I had read in my research that the common line was that, the solider would tell you that they had to pay an exit fee and they couldn’t gain access to their funds. So, if you could wire them a few thousand US dollars via Western Exchange, they would fix you up when they got home.

One afternoon, my curiosity got the better of me and I paid one of those American Catfish websites to investigate my soldier. As I handed over my credit card details, I thought, "oh no, this is how they get you!" I sent them the image of Jayden and his full name. Five minutes later they came back with four exact and active matches to his picture plus 49 matches where his image had been reported. Each match had a picture of him. 

Some pictures which I recognised from Jayden sending them to me and other pictures I had not seen before and every time there was a different name. I clicked through the list and read the reports and they were practically the exact same story give or take a few details – usually being how they asked for money. 

It was now my turn. He had told me the night before that he was having his exit meeting the next morning. I was so nervous. The next morning Jayden texted and said that he had been called up for a front-line mission in Syria and as he was still an active soldier he had to go. He told me that he needed my help. He needed to send me his valuables which he kept in a lockbox. 

He told me he needed my full name, home address, phone number and email address so that he could go to the post office and send his lockbox to me before he was deployed in the morning. 

I knew that Jayden was a scam, but I was still so emotional. How could they send Jayden away, he only had a few days left before he was out of the US Army? 

It broke my heart, but I told him I couldn’t send him my information. He pulled on my heartstrings and said I was the only person he had in his life. He needed me more than ever. 

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I couldn’t take it anymore. I told Jayden that I knew he was a scam and that I wasn’t going to send him my personal information or any money. I told him that I had clued on pretty quickly, but I had still held out hope that the story was true. I told him that it wasn’t until I found all the other reports of ‘Jayden’ that I realised I was 100 per cent being scammed. I then sent him all my research and screen grabs. 

He wrote, "Why did you keep talking to me? Why didn’t you block me?"

I said that I deep down I knew he wasn’t real but that I loved receiving his messages and that it was nice having someone say good morning and night to me every day. I also told him that by him talking to me, it was saving another person from being scammed. 

Again, he asked, “Why haven’t you blocked me now?” and I responded that I felt like I had told Jayden so many things and that I needed some closure on this situation and would he answer some of my questions. He agreed. 

He told me that his name was Samuel, he was 23, and he was from Nigeria. He had told me that he was speaking to four other women whilst he had been talking with me and so far, he had only conned one of them that had given him 700USD. He told me that he didn’t believe that he would be able to get money from me but as it is a short scam, he just goes for it. 

He repeatedly told me not to judge him and that I have no idea what it is like being a youth in Nigeria. He said the government does worse to their people than what he is doing to women. He told me that he uses the money to pay for his university degree and that one day he will be an honest businessman. 

I decided to share this story to help make people aware about what is going on. We all know about stranger danger but in the age of Uber and app dating, we have become a little more relaxed. In my seven years on app dating I have never to my knowledge been catfished before and now, in the last two months, it has happened to me three times.

I have since deleted all of my apps, and I am taking a step back from dating. I know I will get back on the apps again, but I will be more vigilant about ID checking and if there are red flags, I know I will spot them. I also need to stop solely relying on the apps and get out there again and hopefully I can meet some nice men, the good old-fashioned way... once COVID-19 permits. 

The author of this story is known to Mamamia but has chosen to remain anonymous for privacy reasons. The feature image used is a stock image.

Feature Image: Getty.

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