Beware the internet: On catfishing, deceit, and having your identity stolen

This week has been an internet doozy for me; the fingers on my right hand are cramped and aching from so much texting.  First World problems, I know.

The backstory

It all started this weekend when a woman whom I admire on Instagram created a group DM with 7 or 8 other women.  We quickly bonded and began sharing our IG hijinx.  Faces, names, locations, promises of secrets kept.  I was honored to be included and happy to get to know them.

What I quickly realized was that unlike most of them I didn’t interact with my followers the way they did.  They cultivated relationships, opened up, became friends.  Me, I field DMs with about as much enthusiasm as a toll booth operator.

There’s been one or two exceptions over the past year, but that’s it.  One or two among hundreds, possibly a thousand private messages imploring me for nudes, conversation, and how my day went.  Also, lots dick pics, which never really lure me into a conversation. Mountains of them, really.

Long-necked geoduck clams jammed into a mounds of hairy flesh, big, veiny ones which must assuredly be this man’s dream, lots of dicks flopped onto cold bathroom counters beside cans of shaving cream and toothbrushes.

I’ve always kept my distance from the internet.  Not only do a lot of you come at me the wrong way, you also scare me: you could ruin my life.

I am not ashamed of what I do here, but it would very likely derail my career and that’s not really my objective; I’d like to keep my life on a positive trajectory.  I just want to create and write and be me.  I wish the societal landscape were different, but it’s not.  So I tread carefully and wait.

I am most careful on Instagram and slightly more open here on the blog.  The two are complementary, yet different.  My readers and commenters here are most often other writers with similar barriers to their identities and I openly interact with them in a true spirit of camaraderie.  (Though I nearly always remain Hyacinth, location and vocation unknown.  Does anyone know the sex of my child?  Half of you think it’s a boy, the other half a girl. And that’s what I want.)

With Instagram and the flavor of interactions there I am much more guarded, but this weekend I did everything differently.  Enjoying the connections I made with the women in “The Ladies” DM group emboldened me to respond to more of the average DMs that rolled in.  If it was good for the goose…

The catfish

This led me to DMing someone who had left an intelligent comment on one of my images.  His little thumbnail showed a dark haired, bearded man, but his account was private.  It didn’t register at the time that though he had almost 1000 followers of his own, he was following almost twice as many.

He was smart and kind and I remarked as much.  He asked to see my face and know my name.  I told him he could call my Hy, but I shared a face pic because, as I told him, “You seem trustworthy.”

Clearly, I was out of my mind with a false sense of security because meanwhile, the conversation with The Ladies was roiling along with laughter, more secrets, and a bold, ribald sense of friendships long had, not recently established.  I felt bolstered and confident.  And they said I was pretty.  I hoped it was true.

The bearded man thought so and I preened a little.  “Will you send me one of you?” I asked.  “I can’t see any of your pics.”  I requested access to his private account and waited.

An image popped up in our thread.  It was of him in RayBans holding a red-headed baby.  “I don’t like posting pics of family online,” he explained.  I checked his account and had gained access.  There was no baby pic, but he was gorgeous.

Broad shoulders, fit, thick, tattooed.  He had about 12 photos in various locations. The car, his kitchen, in bed, on the couch with his dog, “Bella.”

“Whoa!  You’re fucking hot!” I exclaimed.  He seemed bashful, confused.  Why would I be gushing like this?  He’s just a man, after all.

“So how do you get almost 1000 followers with only 12 pics?” I asked.  His explanation was humble and reasonable.  He went through phases, maybe some people thought he was good looking or something.

He asked all the right questions and wanted to know why I had chosen him out of 26 thousand followers to DM.  I told him he had been kind and intelligent.  And being good looking didn’t hurt.  He pressed more: why was it such a big deal that he was good looking?

“Because kind and intelligent men are rarely connected to beautiful ones,” I replied.

And it’s true.  Beautiful men, truly jaw-dropping, effervescently delectable men, don’t contact me and write smart and kind things.  I don’t know where they are other than entwined with their equally good-looking girlfriends and wives on Instagram.  The men I know are regular men, often good looking office guys and blue-collar workers who take a chance that a woman they jerk off to (and admire) might write him back.  They work at what they say to me knowing I’m more than just my body and promiscuous ways (or at least I hope they do) and I respond with as much effort.

This guy was a dream come true.  He was all of the above and more.

I said as much.  He laughed it off and asked if we could text.  “No fake phone numbers, though,” he warned.  No, of course not.

We continued to text for the next couple of hours while I sat alone at my favorite hangout.  People streamed in as the sun fell and the chatter around me increased.  I was invisible, as usual, but not to this bearded fella who worked for the welfare department of his county and held chubby babies in his big, tattooed arms.

He wanted to see me in my Niners regalia since he was a big fan.  I told him I’d work on it once home.

I told The Ladies I’d hit the pay dirt in followers and sent them a couple of his pics.  They all agreed and wished me luck.

These internet connections are like summer camp condensed into minutes, possibly hours.  We’re like dogs in the park who sniff each other’s butts, like what we smell, and get to business.  I had no hope of ever meeting this man.  It’s an odd kind of quickie relationship meant only to derive particular pleasures from virtual interaction.

He would likely never touch me, nor I him.  I’d likely never hear his voice or get to taste him, nor him me.  These online dalliances are like a watered down version of real life, an enhanced version of porn, and I was racing towards the edge of the cliff with wild abandon and a detached sense of doom.  This just couldn’t be real.

Once home I began taking photos for him in the Niners shirt I let him pick out.   I started in the outfit I was wearing and showed the progression to the red shirt.  My panties, my body.  He encouraged me as I put on this strange stop-action show for him.

Hy_niners_skirt

Hy_niners_cleavageHe wanted a video, so I did one, hiding my face and almost writhing on the bed.  He sent me a pic of a big, beautiful erection pulled out of four-leaf clover Abercrombie and Fitch underwear and I tipped right over the edge.  He said he’d only just found me online and so didn’t realize I’d had a thing for huge cocks.  Again, more humility about his size reassured me he was used to women’s reactions.

Hy_niners_panties

Hy_niners_tits

“I just wanted you to see what you were doing to me.  Don’t you dare make fun of my lucky underwear.”

No, I’d never do that.

The deceit

I sent him two more face pics where I was clearly topless, though not exposed.  It was at about this point that I realized something was off.  He wasn’t sharing photos like other men would be and have.

The exhibition now over I asked him to send me more pics of him.  He said he was making dinner.  He sent me a pic of that.  I told him I was unnerved by my sudden sense he wasn’t real.  He laughed it off in a haphazardly defensive way.  “I don’t know why, I’m not interested in playing this game.”

What game?

He asked how he could alleviate my fears.  “Send me a pic of you with a peace sign.”  Easy enough to do in about 5 seconds.  Except he said he’d do it later.

I began to panic.

Eventually, he sent me a black and white photo of him with two peace signs standing in front of what looked like a commercial bar.  When I asked him about it, he said he was at his parents’ house and they liked to drink.  “What about those things on that shelf behind you that sit on table tops that say “RESERVED” on them?” I asked.

He was exasperated with me.  “Decor… look I told you I don’t do these games.  I’m not going to touch my nose and blink twice for you.  Either you believe me or you don’t.  You have peace.  Can’t we just think each other are hot and interact?”

I looked up his images on Google Image Search (thanks, Ferns) and found the truth, but zero peace.  He wasn’t real.

The images were of a beautiful Italian-Canadian man, possibly a model, most definitely a hunk.  And there was the pic of the red-headed baby, this man’s niece or nephew.  And there was the bar pic, in color, with the caption that he was “slinging drinks.”

I felt sick.

I’d done it all to myself.  All of it.  I’d felt all along that it was just simply too good to be true and I wasn’t wrong.  None of it was true.

I was humiliated at my lust and desire for a man that didn’t exist, my apparent foolish nature.  Why would a man like that be interested in a woman like me??   Well, he fucking wasn’t, Hy.

I texted him:

I found Dre Bucci’s IG – the man whose pics you’re using.  Look, your words are still all the same, whoever you are, and I appreciate them all.  Besides lying to me, you were kind and intelligent when you approached me.  I don’t know why you’d do this to me – other than I’m a massive idiot and you enjoy humiliating strangers.  Do I need to worry that you’ll expose me?

He assured me he wouldn’t hurt me, but became angry.

No, never in a million years would you have even given me a glance if I didn’t look like what you saw. Personality in this day & age means squat. Work ethic. All of that means nothing. Deleted. Goodbye. Don’t text back. Your number will be deleted as well

The theft

I spent the rest of the evening backtracking what he could find about me based on what I’d shared with him.  I slept less than 4 hours and missed my morning workout, but felt mostly confident that he couldn’t discover who I really am.  Regret and shame hung on my like a hangover.

Meanwhile, one of the women from The Ladies thread had posted several images she’d captured on Facebook. Someone had commandeered her image to create a fake page and had a few thousand followers, not unlike what my own catfishing friend had done to Dre Bucci.  She’d reported it to Facebook and now had to wait.  She was pissed and freaked out; it bothered her that anyone would go to such lengths to get fake attention.

Her experience reminded me that there are two victims in these schemes.  The ones who take the bait (me) and the ones whose personae are hijacked.  My faith and their person-hoods are stolen.

I understand the psychological need for interaction and for connection.  What I find untenable is the leap to be false in that connection.  Naturally, I would never do that.  I am embarrassingly raw and real at all times.  I flaunt my flaws and my innermost thoughts almost in defiance of judgment.  I fear it, yet I welcome it for it will  allow me to rise above it all, flex my emotional muscles and grow.  These people must not have similar agency or privilege.  It’s my only conclusion.

Based on what I know about the human condition and the angry responses from my catfish (plural) is those who feel powerless will find a way to feel powerful.  Always.

Sometimes it’s overt, but most often it’s a covert operation of manipulation, slight of hand, and passive aggression.  Perhaps my bearded catfish really believed he was unattractive and this was his way of exerting dominance over me, someone he found to be shallow in her own perceived attractiveness and popularity.

He told me his favorite superhero was Batman, a man who cloaked himself in disguise to save the world, not unlike his own alter ego, Vincent.  Except Vincent slayed the ladies, not the bad guys.

The out-of-town catfish was no different.  He was self conscious about his body and therefore relied on another’s to hook me, and my desire for it to be real propelled us through the night despite all evidence pointing to the contrary.

These frauds only work when they land a person whose own insecurities match perfectly with what they’re offering, in my case a beautiful man who wants to know or fuck me.  I’m vulnerable to this kind of attention.  It’s humiliating to admit that.  Am I really so shallow and desperate for a pretty man to validate my attractiveness/worthiness that I lose all reasoning?  Perhaps my Batman was right to be angry with me.

The humiliation at being lured into this dark and murky place of fear, power, and low self-esteem is waning, but it has caused me to redouble my efforts to keep people a safe distance away.  My bearded catfish shuttered his account and he appears good on his word to not expose me, but I am left feeling bereft and a little lost.  The indignity of my naivete is like grit in my teeth.

I have been through so much at the hands of insensitive, thoughtless men, but I liked believing in people’s goodness.  Now I’m left with no choice but to make everyone touch their noses and blink twice.

The takeaway

I am about as internet savvy as they come and if this can happen to me, it can happen to anyone.  I did a number of things wrong along the way that had I followed my own existing rules, this never would have happened.  Below are some basic things to look for, whether you’re trying to hook up with someone in real life or just online.

How to spot a catfish:

#1 – Discrepancy in followers/followed.  Typically, a real person has a reasonable number of accounts they follow that are usually much lower than the number who follows them.  Don’t ask me why, it just is.

#2 – Pictures aren’t consistent.  Look for changes in moles on the body, tattoos moving around or disappearing.  Is the carpet different in every photo?

#3 – Proof.  A real person won’t hesitate to jump through some small hoops to prove their realness.  A peace sign?  Your name written on a piece of paper next to a body part/face?  The image must match what you’re asking for, not an iteration of it.

#4 – Are they defensive about their legitimacy?  This piggybacks on #3.  No one, and I mean NO ONE who is real would ever get defensive about proving it.  In fact, they would welcome the opportunity to prove their realness so you all can move on to the next phase of whatever it is you want to do.

What to do to protect yourself from being catfished:

#1 – Don’t be impatient and keep shit to yourself.  Relax, wait until you’re certain this person is real before you reveal things of your own.  This is such a complicated one depending on what it is you’re going for, but, for example, I almost never tell internet people where I live and without exception I never tell them what I do.  Real life fellas are different because we might end up in a relationship of some kind, but I parse it out and keep my last name out of the equation until it becomes necessary and safe to do so.

#2 – Google Image Search the fuck out of whatever it is they send you.  No explanation needed here.

#3 – Listen to your gut.  Simply put, the rule applies: if it’s too good to be true, then it probably is.

The end

I hate that had to write this post.  It’s sapped my entire week, this fire drill of fear and degradation.  ‘

I’m a fool, people suck.  The end.