Published on February 14, 2013 | by Rowan Curtis

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The cyber catfish with a nasty bite

MTV's Catfish.

The MTV show Catfish let’s people see who they are really talking to online. [image: Dilantha Dissanayake]

Using online dating sites can be a tiring and relentless activity. Brief chat logs that lack chemistry, ignored messages and the endless competition with other users to impress the most alluring profiles.

It can all make for an aggravating and fruitless pursuit of love. So when you finally strike up a bond with that special someone via the web, surely it is a cause for rejoicing? Perhaps not.

The person on the other side of the computer screen may not always be who they say they are.

There seems to be an alarming trend of fake profiles and people pretending to be someone else, potentially luring vulnerable people into heartfelt conversations and ultimately into traps.

These include escorts posing as singles, money transfer scams and even cruel pranks designed only to cause humiliation to the victim.

Pranksters

Various videos posted on YouTube show these pranksters describing how they like to trick those seeking love, by talking and flirting with them for weeks on dating websites before arranging a meeting.

As the unwitting victim turns up to meet their ‘date’ the pretenders film their reaction, capturing the moment the victims realise they have been set up. On one such video, the prankster boasts “guys flock to meet ‘Cynthia’, who is a made-up 25-year-old student who loves video games. Lulz were had and butts were hurt.”

The person on the other side of the computer screen may not always be who they say they are.

As predicted by the man behind the camera, fooled men flock to the meeting place only to find disappointment and embarrassment awaiting them.

Another video shows teenage schoolboys from Sussex playing a similar prank, cynically boasting about their exploits as their victim arrives in a white van. When he steps out, they taunt him from afar until he drives away looking defeated, as the schoolboys laugh hysterically at the camera.

But these pranks are not just confined to the murky corners of YouTube. A high-profile case of deception involving a rising sports star recently made headlines in the US, raising questions about the safety of finding romance on the internet.

Taken Too Far

In September 2012, American football player Manti Te’o claimed his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, had died of leukemia and that the tragedy had inspired his on-field performance. The press and public alike were moved by the sad tale of a young and talented man losing his sweetheart and in turn, his desire to better himself.

However, the story took a bizarre turn, and after a couple of inquisitive reporters from the blog Deadspin looked into Ms Kekua’s background, they discovered she did not exist. Te’o had been tricked into an online relationship by an acquaintance of his.

“To realise I was the victim of what was apparently someone’s sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating.” Manti Te’o

Aside from being a truly baffling incident, it was also clearly a painful one for Te’o who released a statement after the media furore that followed.

“Over an extended period of time, I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online. We maintained what I thought to be an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online and on the phone, and I grew to care about her deeply,” he said.

“To realise I was the victim of what was apparently someone’s sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating.”

Catfish

So what can be done to combat dating-website fakers? MTV’s show Catfish is certainly making an effort to show people just who they are talking to online. Based on the 2010 documentary of the same name, the show follows filmmaker Nev Schulman as he talks to people who have been engaging with strangers online.

He offers to help them meet their beaus in person to see if they match up to their desirable online profiles. Often, to the participant’s horror, the face that greets them is not the one they had seen in pictures, thus exposing the so-called “catfish” and their levels of deceit.

“The show is a good idea as it exposes people for what they really are.” Student, Amy McCraith

“It’s shocking,” says Amy McCraith, 19, BA Advertising student at LCC. “I think the show is a good idea as it exposes people for what they really are. At the minute I have a boyfriend so I do not really need to use internet dating sites but I guess if I was single I would give it a go – safely of course.”

Many appear to simply be misguided people also looking for love, albeit in all the wrong ways. For those using dating sites in for legitimate reasons, perhaps the best way to avoid getting your heart broken by someone that does not exist is to follow a few simple rules: make sure you always trust your gut instinct, meet for dates in a public place, and remember: if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

 

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