'Flattered' Then 'Shocked': A Catfish Victim's Warning
A young Brisbane woman has issued a warning to social media users to tighten their privacy settings, after her photos were stolen and used to try and catfish unsuspecting singles on a dating app.
Emma Reynolds is a busy young woman. The Brisbane-based actor leads a vibrant life, and much like any other 22 year old, she documents a lot of it on Instagram.
Earlier this year she was 'matching' with dozens of other young singles via a popular dating app -- only her matches were in Sydney, and she was oblivious to it all.
"I was sent some screenshots of a Tinder account and an Instagram account that had my photos. So a different name, and a different workplace -- but my photos," she told 10 News First.
"Photos from anywhere like just a couple of days earlier that I'd uploaded, to back to 2015."
Reynolds had mixed reactions to the fake account.
"I was shocked, and I was more surprised that catfishing is actually a thing. I watch the Catfish show a lot and I always thought it was fake, and no one actually did it.
And then I was a bit flattered, I'll be honest, that someone thought that I was worth taking my photos... but I was more just really uncomfortable by the breach of privacy."
Initially, despite her shock, she thought the fake profile was mostly harmless. Until she discovered an old friend had been tricked into thinking she had been communicating with the real Emma.
"I felt guilty, even thought I'd technically done nothing wrong, I felt really guilty... because it's really sad, catfishing can be quite heartbreaking."
"There could be so many people being affected, and being hurt, and I just think that's so sad."
Last year, according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), Australians lost over $60 million to dating scams.
But the motivation isn't always financial -- as one young Adelaide woman discovered.
The 19-year-old, who doesn't want to be identified, 'swiped right' on a man who claimed to be a successful lawyer. While the online chat started out like any other first interaction would, the conversation quickly raised some red flags.
"He was asking me whether I had been sexually active, all types of uncomfortable questions," the victim told 10 News First.
"He sent me explicit photos, and another red flag was that they didn't look real. They looked as if they were photoshopped."
Fortunately, the victim was quick to shut down all communication with the catfish before things got out of hand. Unfortunately, things don't always end that way.
In June, a Melbourne woman was convicted of multiple stalking charges after stealing the identity of Australian actor Lincoln Lewis, using his name and photos to catfish women online.
Lydia Abdelmalek is appealing her conviction. One of her victims was tricked into thinking she was in an online relationship with Lewis for years -- and after she found out the truth, she suffered depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Last year, she took her own life.
Relationship and dating expert Dr Priscilla Dunk-West from Flinders University says most catfishers thrive off having power over their victims.
"It's about the misuse of power, and I think its about getting a kick out of taking advantage of somebody who's perhaps a little bit vulnerable," Dr Dunk-West told 10 News First.
"We need to look to legislation, we need to look to policies, and we need to look to people's safety to really start catching up with some of these things that are happening."
If you're exploring an online relationship and things start to feel off, you can try a few things to verify if someone's profile is authentic.
The ACCC recommends doing an image search of someone's profile by copying it into Google Image, which will often reveal if a photo has been used elsewhere under other names.
And of course, it could be worth considering upping the security around your social media profiles to avoid inadvertently becoming the face of a catfish.
"You only ever think about the poor person that got catfished or why someone would do it, but you never think about the person whose photos were stolen," said Reynolds.
She has one piece of advice for all social media users.
"It's not something that you want to happen to you, and it can be really confronting when it does, so definitely if you can, have your profile on private."
Feature image: Getty
Contact the author: email@example.com