‘Catfish’, not only the name of a rather unattractive type of fish, is also a term increasingly being used to describe a person who pretends to be someone else online, often in the context of romantic relationships. Catfish, in the ocean are not known for being predatory towards humans but online it is a different story.
The term was coined in 2010 and ever since, the list of victims have been growing.
Online dating scams cost Australians millions of dollars every year. Although not all catfish are after money, a good deal certainly are.
According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, out of the $90 million lost to fraudsters in 2013, almost 30 per cent of this total amount was taken from those looking for love. Victims each lost an average of $21,200 to scammers. While catfish only comprised three per cent of the total number of scams, they offered very high returns.
One man from Dubbo, a 66 year-old pensioner met up with a seemingly genuine woman online but just weeks into the relationship, she began to ask him to lend her money. She took almost $10,000 from him.
A catfish will typically latch on to their victims and suck them dry, repeatedly asking for money. First catfish gain the trust of their victim. After telling an elaborate story, they will ask for money, often multiple times.
Scammers will often use a tragedy to pull at your heartstrings – maybe they have been involved in a horrendous car accident or a family member is sick or recently passed away.
They may ask you to pay money for medial bills or travel expenses to come and meet you. A catfish may also be very reluctant to share personal information, claiming they have been hurt before.
Not even relatively well-known Aussies like Casey Donovan are immune. She was in an online relationship for an astonishing six years with a woman known as “Olga”, whom she believed to be her boyfriend, a man named Campbell. Donovan got engaged to Campbell, and even had sex with Olga, at her supposed fiancé’s urging.
The romantic and emotional link has allowed thousands of scam artists to prey on the vulnerable and lonely.
Apart from the obvious creep factor involved, catfish scams are also very dangerous – and not for fraudulent purposes.
They can also use their victims for money laundering – or perhaps most sinister of all was what one Australian man did. Garry Francis Brandon, a man in his fifties, created the profile of a teen musician in Melbourne to attract 15 year old Carly Ryan.
The judge described him as “an overweight, balding, middle-aged pedophile with sex and murder on his mind.” He created over 200 false identities, ostensibly the online friends of his online persona to trick Carly.
After chatting online for 18 months he finally got Carly to meet up with him. He took her to an isolated beach in Adelaide where he assaulted, suffocated and drowned her.
Recent fraud in NSW, already one of the fastest growing crime in NSW, takes advantage of advances in technology to perpetuate theft through new mediums. Although the perpetrators often invent a new identity, the essential elements of fraud are the same.
According to section 192E of the Crimes Act, a fraud is when a person uses deception or dishonesty to:
- obtain property belonging to someone else,
- obtains any financial advantage or
- cause any financial disadvantage
In NSW, fraud can send you behind bars for up to ten years.
However, advances in technology don’t need to work entirely in their favour. If you are concerned about a person you met online, a simple google photo search, for example, can determine if your online soul mate pulled their profile picture from a modeling website.
In any case, the tragic stories that have been revealed in cases of recent fraud in NSW and around Australia should serve as a warning to those who aren’t cautious enough when looking for love online.