dating

'I fell in love with a soldier from Townsville. In reality, it was a group of Nigerian men.'

In 2012, the idea of finding love online was still seen as a bit ‘weird’. But for some people, it was — and still is — the most suitable way of finding what they’re looking for in life.

Back then, the term “Catfishing” wasn’t widely used. It was a word I knew nothing about and was even naive enough to think people were referring to fishing for actual catfish. I didn’t realise at that time just how very wrong I was and that I would come to know the full meaning of the word in the most hurtful way.

I was at a point in life where simply going out to meet a potential partner was impossible. I lacked the self-confidence to put myself into a public environment because I simply was never approached when out. I felt sad. All my friends around me were in couples, with some moving in together, others getting engaged or married and others having kids.

I began to wonder what was wrong with me and why I couldn’t find what they had. Before long, I found myself turning back to online dating.

Casey Donovan on being catfished. Post continues after video.

I wasn’t a stranger to dating online, I just hadn’t had much luck with it in the past.

But I was keen to try again. I created a profile and uploaded pictures of myself. Now all that I had to do was wait for contact requests to come in.

I recall one night coming home from work and logging on to my account (something that was becoming a daily occurrence as I realised I had to put more effort into finding someone if I was truly serious about it).

At the age of 29, I believed I had a fairly good idea of the qualities that I was looking for in my ideal partner so I scrolled through all the profiles to send out contact requests as well. It wasn’t long before I had some potential suitors to speak with.

I received a request from John* that ticked a lot of my boxes. He was very good looking. It was around the time that Channing Tatum was the pin-up thanks to Magic Mike and this guy kind of looked like him. He was a soldier in the US army, but was based in Townsville. All the qualities he listed were those I look for in an ideal partner.

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Image: Supplied.
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We began chatting and before long we found ourselves talking on a daily basis. So while all my mates were loved up, I was spending my time getting to know John. After chatting for a while on the dating site, we decided to also email each other so that we could get off the site and focus solely on each other. We exchanged many emails that also included more photos of each other (nothing naughty.)

John began to talk about the future and about wanting a life with me. And despite the fact we'd never met, I felt the same way too.

I was impressed at the effort he put into his emails. I couldn’t believe that I was developing a relationship that was very similar to a typical romantic movie storyline (think Dear John or Pearl Harbour style). It felt perfect, almost too good to be true.

There were times that I would come home from work to find presents that had been delivered to my door. The gifts ranged from pamper packs to food hampers. He even sent flowers, including long stem red roses and we all know how expensive they are.

Looking back now, this is the one thing that really sucked me in and made me feel it was a legitimate relationship. It was when these gifts started that I dropped my guard and allowed myself to feel a wave of romantic emotions for him. We spoke for many months, then began to organise meeting face to face. This was something that was not able to be done earlier as he claimed he was in the army and was on deployment. Now he was returning to Australia and would be based in Townsville, where I had previously lived. It was going to be perfect.

I didn't even bat an eyelid when he asked me to transfer money for 'communication cards' so he could call me. There was always a reason, usually to do with the fact he was in the military, and I was just so desperate to speak to him. It was never a lot of cash so I didn't mind sending the odd amount via bank transfer.

As the time got closer to him returning to Australia, he said he wanted to come to Sydney. So when the flight was booked he emailed me a copy of his itinerary. At this point I got nervous and excited butterflies because I was finally going to meet the guy that I had fallen crazily in love with. On the day that the flight was due in, I recall being so nervous all day and asking my boss to get off work early so that I could head out to the airport.

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I travelled all the way from Macquarie Park to the airport by train. When I arrived at the airport, I went to the gate to wait for him. Adrenaline was pulsing through my body.

Then my whole dream came crashing down.

online dating catfish
Image: Supplied.

I watched the people come off the flight, but there was no sign of him.

Then the plane took off again. I spoke to airline staff but due to privacy policy, they weren't able to tell me if he'd checked in or not. So I sent him a messages, demanding to know why he'd stood me up at the airport.

He tried to tell me his flight had been cancelled and we had our first fight because I knew he had lied to me.

Doubts were creeping in and I wanted to know what was going on. Tired of emails and Facebook chats, I tried to chat with him on Skype.

To my surprise he did add me on Skype, however every time we were online his camera wasn't working - there was always an excuse!

And yet, we continued to message. I wanted to believe he was who he said he was, and I wasn't ready to give up hope.

In November that year, I was heading to Melbourne for the Cup. By this point, he'd told me he'd relocated to Melbourne to be with his daughter who was not well. When I asked him about her mother, I was told that she died giving birth and that his daughter was living with his relatives.

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I was thrilled when he said he was ready for me to meet him. But when I showed up at the address he gave me, I was faced with an empty house and paddock.

I cried so much. I couldn't believe he'd let me down like this again.

I returned to Sydney, desperately frustrated. The next time we spoke, I was furious and was not going to let him off the hook. I decided to ask him questions about Townsville, ones that you could not find the answer to on Google and that only someone who lived in the town would know. He couldn’t answer the questions so the final alarm bells went off and I began to distance myself from him.

I was also being contacted by a woman on Facebook who was wanting to know why I had posted I was in a relationship with him when he was supposedly her boyfriend. I was also receiving strange phone calls from guys claiming to be him, but the accents were changing constantly and I knew that it was multiple people calling and claiming to be him.

I reached a point where I simply had to break my own heart.

I finally admitted to myself that after two years, I had fallen victim to an online scammer. I'd probably sent around $2,000 to the scammer and while I know some women who've been catfished lose a lot more, I felt I'd lost more than just money. I'd lost a part of myself.

I shut down all online profiles and became so closed off to everyone, including all my close friends. I went through a very long period of time where I questioned everyone in my life and couldn’t trust anyone even those closest to me.

I was emotionally destroyed and broken.

Looking back now I see all the red flags that I missed and feel so stupid about missing the signs.

After I shared my story online about what happened to me, I was approached by a TV show who offered to investigate the "relationship" on my behalf.

This was when I found photos I'd been sent appeared on a scam website and were not of the person I'd been talking to.

The scammer had assumed an identity and sucked me in with the irresistible looks. The scammer had never even been in Australia and was in fact located in Nigeria.

I decided not to pursue the investigation because I had gone through enough pain and had put the experience behind me. But I want to share my story and experience in the hope that I can stop others from falling victim.

Never forget the old saying, “If it seems too good to be true then it usually is”. And when alarm bells go off, even if it's just a tinkle, pay attention. It's usually for good reason.

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