'Catfishing' is more common than you think
Advertisement

'Catfishing' is more common than you think

On Sunday I found myself wondering why on earth a religious sister would smuggle cocaine into Australia. It’s such a reckless thing to do, so unethical.

Denise Woodrum was found with cocaine in her shoes after arriving at Sydney Airport.

Denise Woodrum was found with cocaine in her shoes after arriving at Sydney Airport.

Photo: Facebook

On Monday, I read that Denise Marie Woodrum, the woman caught with a kilo of the drug at Sydney Airport, was in a relationship with a man on the internet.

Woodrum had never met the man, who called himself "Hendrick Cornelius", but they had exchanged hundreds of text messages over a period of months. He had masterminded the entire operation. She had smuggled the drug into the country for him.

Ah, I thought. That explains it.

On Sunday, I read an excerpt of Casey Donovan’s new book, about her own relationship with a man she never met. Donovan became engaged to "Campbell", after exchanging texts with him and speaking to him on the phone over a period of six years. But Donovan was being catfished. Campbell turned out to be fictitious, a creation of Donovan’s female friend Olga.

Advertisement

Who could fall for that? I wondered. Donovan never laid eyes on Campbell, although he ostensibly lived in a block of flats nearby. She bought his endless excuses, hid the truth from people close to her, and was complicit in the web of deceit Olga wove for them both over the years.

“I’ve lived this every day for six years. I know it sounds crazy. Now I don’t know what to do.”

“I’ve lived this every day for six years. I know it sounds crazy. Now I don’t know what to do.”

Photo: Supplied

How could anyone be so stupid?

Well, we all could, to some extent. What happened to Denise Marie Woodrum and Casey Donovan seems outrageously improbable, but a version of it can – and almost certainly will – happen to any of us. Romantic love makes fools of us all.

I’m a pretty smart cookie, and I can spot an online scammer a mile off. But I’ve been just as guilty as the next person of fooling myself in love. I had a relationship with a man who told me he was separated, but who kept returning to the family home, supposedly to take care of various pieces of business. My friends could see the inconsistencies in his stories, and, looking back, they were patently obvious, but I was in love. And so my brain worked overtime to make sense where there was none, to fill in his blanks with my own complicated narrative.

It took me almost five months to see through the stubborn distortion of my attachment. The man was married. He was lying to me all along.

Loading

That was a once off. I learned my lesson. Until, in another round of "to be wise and love, exceeds man’s might" (thank you Shakespeare), I did it again. I was in an on-again, off-again relationship with a man who told me he loved me, but who couldn’t commit because of "issues". He wasn’t seeing anyone else, he said, despite him being uncontactable for large periods of time. I believed him, of course, because I wanted to believe him. When he announced that he was getting married, I was utterly shocked.

In hindsight, I was a ridiculous fool.

And I’m not the only one. It happens all the time. It could be happening to you right now. I know so many women who think they are partnered with good men, who are being cheated on, lied to, or generally gaslighted. It’s obvious to everyone else but them. They can’t see it, because they’re in love.

It’s easy to spot fakes on the internet. Do a reverse image search, and see if the photo has been lifted from any other source. Meet the person as quickly as practical, and if a meeting isn’t immediately possible, use FaceTime or Skype to chat face to face in real time. And never, ever give money or run errands for a person who exists solely in your phone.

It’s easy to stay safe. Except that it’s very, very hard, because love makes fools of us all. Love allows us to ignore the truth, to avert our eyes from the red flags, to weave complex stories to accommodate the lies. Love compels us to convince ourselves that it will work out, that he is real, that he really loves us back, that our commitment will finally pay off.

We believe that people need educating about the internet, in how to spot scammers and recognise catfishing for what it is. We are hitting the target but missing the mark. Because the truth is actually easy to see; we just resolutely refuse to see it when we are attached.

People do not need more education about the internet. The problem isn’t technology; the problem is our desire. What we need is education about the dangerous powers of love.

Kerri is an author, columnist and mother of three. Her latest book is 'Out There: A Survival Guide for Dating in Midlife'.