A TV star, secret messages and an unimaginable tragedy: Inside the case of catfish Lydia Abdelmalek.

As her first guilty verdict was read out, Lydia Abdelmalek did nothing but shuffle her feet.

Throughout her trial the 29-year-old Melbourne woman showed little emotion, according to the ABC journalist who broke the story of her crimes.

It was a stark contrast to the intimate messages and tirades of abuse she’d delivered to her victims for years before her arrest.

On Thursday, Lydia Abdelmalek was sentenced to two years and eight months’ jail but will be eligible for parole in one year and nine months.

The 29-year-old was found guilty of six stalking charges in April.

Magistrate Stephen Ballek commented that the stalking was “calculated and cruel”.

Mamamia’s daily news podcast The Quicky speaks to the ABC journalist who broke the story. Post continues after audio.

Abdelmalek had spent at least four years catfishing people via fake profiles, including one where she pretended to be former Home and Away star Lincoln Lewis.

ABC court reporter James Oaten was used to the court beat. He knew there was a catfish case starting, but the case ended up being so much bigger than he imagined.

“The first thing that happened is up comes the television screen which is what we use when people are giving evidence remotely… And up on the screen pops Lincoln Lewis and immediately: ‘I recognise that face, what is this?’,” Oaten recalled.


Abdelmalek had set up a Facebook account claiming to be the actor and duped women into believing they were in a relationship with him.

“How many people got tricked into this Facebook account, we just don’t know,” Oaten said. “We know that Lincoln Lewis himself became quite concerned. He obviously felt quite powerless, he would have strangers coming up to him in the street when he was on holiday saying ‘Hey mate, how you doing?”, Lincoln would be like ‘Who are you?’.”

One of the women Abdelmalek tricked, Emma*, eventually realised something was off and through an old mutual friend contacted the real Lincoln, who confirmed she’d been cat fished.

Then, the abuse started. Emma was receiving up to 80 messages a day, threatening her and her family and asking when she was going to kill herself.

“She was once held hostage on the phone and this person on the line said ‘If you hang up, we’re going to send those intimate photos to your boss’ and she was kept on the phone for four hours. Her sister found her under the bed sheets crying, saying ‘Please, please have mercy’.”

Police worked with Emma, and another victim Jess, to find the truth. It was revealed after Jess requested money from the catfish to fix her broken phone screen.

The catfish deposited $200 into her bank account. And it was all captured on security cameras.


Police finally knew who was behind the fake profiles: A young woman, Lydia Abdelmalek, from Melbourne.

Oaten said throughout her court case, Abdelmalek remained quiet. She never took the stand and never explained why she did what she did.

On April 1, Abdelmalek was found guilty of six stalking charges. She will be sentenced in June, but justice will come too late for one of her victims.

“Emma was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, she was suffering depression [and] anxiety and after all the years of what she went through, she then had to relive it by helping police provide evidence and that’s tough,” Oaten explained.

Last year, Emma took her own life.

Jess too suffers from PTSD. She’s distanced herself from loved ones due to her trauma, and even her young daughter shows signs of anxiety.

Jess and Emma never met in person, but they spoke regularly over the phone after Abdulmalek’s arrest.

During the trial, Jess recalled how Emma text her saying she couldn’t cope, just days before her suicide.

“That’s something that will stay with me for the rest of my life,” she told the court.

“This person has blood on her hands as far as I’m concerned.”

*Emma and Jess’ names have been changed.