By NATALA HAWK
It’s 9pm on a Friday night. I’m on the couch at home, eating a caramel slice and watching a TV show in which an American girl has flown across the country to meet up with her long-distance boyfriend.
The girl’s name is Jen. She is an 18-year-old high school student. Her boyfriend’s name is Skylar Hazen, and he is a 22-year-old university student.
The pair met on an gaming site and have been chatting online ever since. Their conversations look like that of any other pair of lovestruck teenagers. They call each other “babe”.
They’ve never met each other in person, but Jen has two pictures of Skylar, so she knows what he looks like. She wants to meet up with him, but he says he’s too busy with studying to find the time to see her. Eventually – after much persuasion – he agrees to let Jen fly over and visit.
So Jen gets on a plane. She does her hair and her make-up and wears her best outfit. She turns up on Skylar’s doorstep and calls him to let him know she’s outside.
There is no fairytale ending to this story.
Because Skylar Hazen doesn’t come downstairs to meet her.
Skyler is actually a guy named Bryan, who is short and balding, with a shaved head. Bryan couldn’t look more different from the Skylar in the photos – a man who is tall, tanned, with a full head of hair, sunglasses, a huge smile.
Bryan admits that he found the real Skylar Hazen online, and stole his identity to use as a cover-up to seduce many women at once, online.
The real Skylar Hazen has absolutely no idea that Jen even exists.
Bryan admits that he has no feelings for Jen. That he took up his Skylar persona to “pick up his game” and learn how to talk to women. How to flirt with women. How to make them love him.
Welcome to the filthy world of catfishing, where online identities are stolen, invented or adapted. A world in which you can never quite be sure who is on the other end of that computer screen, calling you “babe” and listening to you spill your deepest, darkest secrets.
It’s a phenomenon that’s been happening since the dawn of the Internet, and has steadily become increasingly common. However, the term “catfishing” was only coined after a 2010 documentary, called Catfish, was created by filmmaker Nev Schulman.
26-year-old Nev entered into a relationship with a 19-year-old woman named Megan that he’d met online, via Facebook. He also developed friendships with Megan’s mother, Angela, and her younger half-sister, Abby.
Megan had a Facebook page with photos of her all over it. She would send him songs that she’d recorded herself singing. They’d have phone sex. They’d exchange sexy text messages:
Megan: My body is craving you tonight
Schulman: What exactly would you do if you had me there?
Megan: Id have you in the tub with me between my legs. Id kiss you on the neck and whisper in your ear begging you to make love to me
Schulman: begging is something you wouldn’t have to do … in fact im willing to bet if anything youd have to beg me to stop
But then the lies began to emerge. Nev started to see inconsistencies in Megan’s story.
You can see where this is going, right? Nev went to Megan’s house to meet up with her. Megan wasn’t there – only Angela, Megan’s mother – was.
The good news was that Megan did actually exist. The bad news was that she’d cut off contact with the family years ago. She hadn’t been talking or texting Nev – it had been Angela all along.
Angela was running several fake Facebook profiles, including Megan’s, and also posing as Megan for phone sex and text messages.