real life

Her identity was stolen and used in fake online romances. For eight years.

It’s called catfishing and it’s terrifyingly common.

Imagine if your photo was being used in various fake romances – if someone was using your profile picture and all of your details to lure people in and start relationships with them online. It’s part of something called “catfishing” and it’s been happening to one woman for eight years.

This is an example of a fake account created by a catfish

Let’s start at the beginning and explain the term “catfish”.

A catfish is someone who pretends to be someone they’re not, often stealing photos and biographical information to create false social media accounts. It’s usually so they can trick an unsuspecting person into beginning a romantic relationship with them.

The term “catfish” is derived from the title of a 2010 documentary and has become a reality TV show on MTV.

What’s this ‘catfishing’ thing everyone is talking about?

Victims of catfishing are increasingly common, and there is nothing out of the ordinary about the people whose identities are stolen – essentially it can happen to anyone with a social media account.

This is what happened to Ellie Flynn, a freelance writer from London. She told Vice magazine, “You’ve seen Catfish. You know how alarming it would be to discover that your new cyber-girlfriend is actually a 42-year-old man living in his mum’s basement. But have you ever thought about how odd it must feel to own the face being used by that man? Probably not, no, because you have no reason to. But trust me, it’s equally distressing.

“Over the years, my friends and I have met a number of young men who’ve spent a substantial amount of time chatting to fake me—or fake versions of one of my friends—online. They often demand we show some form of ID to prove our surnames aren’t “Colarossi,” or “Rose,” or “Morrison,” and each time they’re left disappointed.

“One boy had been speaking to “Chia” every night on the phone for two months. He believed he was in love with her. I couldn’t help but feel for him—though I did find it odd his suspicions hadn’t been raised by the fact this cyber charlatan apparently had a family emergency to attend to literally every time they were due to meet.”


The thing is, the fake accounts look really real.

This account is fake. But it uses real pictures from Ellie’s actual Facebook.

Flynn contacted all of the social media sites her fake profile is on, including Facebook, Twitter and MySpace, and they do shut the accounts down. Trouble is they pop back up a day later using the same pictures but a different name.

This has been happening to Flynn for nearly a decade.

What happened to Casey Donovan is so common that it has its own name. Catfishing.

“Legally, using the photos is not a breach of copyright, but it’s certainly a breach of privacy. Problem is, the police presumably have much more pressing things to do than uncover the identity of whoever’s copying and pasting some pictures into a Facebook profile,” she said.

Frustrated, she even went so far as to contact the catfish directly. In the exchange below Ellie uses the handle “Ellie Rose” and the catfish uses the handle “Charlotte Jean”:

The woman does sound troubled, but Flynn lost her compassion when “Charlotte Jean” pulled the fake profile down for one day, only to create a new one using Flynn’s pictures the following day.

Flynn posted this across her social media sites:

“Fake me, if you’re reading this, please take the advice I offered you before: Talk to someone about what you’re doing. There are root causes to address, and the most effective way to do that is to share your feelings with someone you trust, or somebody who’s trained to offer proper advice. These fake profiles are a crutch. Drop the crutch and I’d wager you’ll eventually be able to walk easier than you have for the past eight years.”

Flynn is hoping it will end soon, but for now the catfishing is dominating her life. “I’ll continue to spend far too much of my time trawling through social media, trying to work out who keeps stealing my face.”