Have you heard about "catfishing?" It's another big Internet scam that has gotten a lot of press lately. Imagine meeting someone online who you really connect with. You've established a nice relationship and you think you've met your match. But your match could really be a 45-year old man living in his mom's basement. That's kind of the idea behind catfishing.
The goal of catfishing isn't to trick you into giving out your personal information. Instead, catfish scammers online trick you into thinking they're someone they're not and will try to trick you into entering a fake emotional or romantic relationship. It might be for their own amusement. Or they might be setting you up for a sweetheart scam. You might remember that it's what happened to NFL player Manti Te'o.
The term was coined by the documentary "Catfish," which tells the story of a woman who used Facebook to create a fake online identity. Every time, catfishers use fake photos to fool their victims, but there's one woman who has been used a lot over the last decade in fake profiles all over the Internet. Now, when I say a lot, I'm talking 60 different profiles on social sites ranging from MySpace to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
For the last eight years, Ellie Flynn and a handful of her friends have been approached by random people who recognize them on the street. Here's just one interaction Flynn encountered and detailed for Vice magazine:
"Ellie! Chia! I didn't know you were here!"
We're on the Malia strip during the summer of 2010. My friend and I stare blankly back at the boy in front of us, certain we've never met him before.
"Why are you being weird?" he says. "Are you going to pretend you don't know me?"
This isn't your average case of making a new best friend the night before, then totally forgetting about it when the sun's come up and the fish bowl has moved from your stomach to the floor. It also isn't the first time this has happened to us.
"Who do you think we are?" we ask the aggressive young man.
"Ellie Rose and Chia Colarossi," he replies.
Ellie Rose and Chia Colarossi are just two of the fake profiles created with Flynn and her friend's pictures. All in all, they are aware of 60 different profiles using their likenesses and the fake Ellie Rosehas tweeted more than 36,000 times, which averages out to a tweet an hour for more than four years.
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. The boy from Malia 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.
Below are just a few of the photos taken for the fake profiles.