In today’s world of technology and social media, you can never be 100 per cent sure the person you’re talking to is who they say they are.
Innocent people have been fooled by fakes, frauds and scammers over time, and some have even fallen in love with people who they thought were real. This is known as catfishing and occurs when a person lures their victim into a relationship by adopting a fake persona.
That’s exactly what happened to 20-year-old Jedediah White, a Perth-based photographer and frontman for his own band. He created a Facebook account in early 2013 with the intention of promoting his photography skills and to make new friends. Through Facebook, he met Shayne Savage.
“He was the first person I ever loved,” Jed said. “I fell for him because he was charming, funny, and easy to talk to. I felt like I could tell him anything.”
Often, almost on a daily basis, they would talk and share laughs on Facebook. Shayne lived in Colorado, US, and Jed was living in Perth. He had planned on booking a flight to America with the sole purpose of surprising Shayne, but instead surprised himself when googling one day.
“One day, when I was googling guys with long blonde hair, [his] picture popped up,” Jed told The Newsroom. “So I clicked on the page, and the name underneath the picture was Ashley Parker Angel, an American singer, songwriter and actor, not Shayne Savage. Initially, I didn’t know what to think of the situation. Like, should I confront him about it? Should I go on like nothing happened, like I have no idea?”
Slowly, things began to unravel. Shayne claimed to be suffering from cancer and once claimed the cancer had gone, only to have it come back within a week or so after his previous post. He posted grainy pictures of himself laying in a hospital bed, only without tubes.
“I found this very strange,” Jed said. “Surely, if he was in hospital, he would be attached to something – especially since he claimed to be undertaking chemotherapy.”
It turns out, the pictures Shayne was posting were taken from an MTV segment on Ashley himself, exploring his personal life at home. Jed also regularly talked to Robbie, who Shayne claimed was his best friend. He, too, turned out to be fake.
On Facebook, approximately 8.7 per cent of accounts are fake, which is a whopping 83 million accounts – roughly the size of Egypt’s population. Of that, 4.8 per cent are duplicate accounts, 2.4 per cent are user-misclassified accounts and 1.5 per cent are undesirable accounts, AKA spam. Shayne and Robbie are just a quarter of the online fakes, talking to people and making friends, but for what purpose?
“Most of the time fake profiles are people’s way of coping,” recent psychology graduate Jill Hammer, from Colorado, US, said. “They themselves are suffering a poor lifestyle, whether it be lack of friends, lack of socialism, or not being accepted for who they are, hence why they create another, better personality that they think will get them friends. In other cases, however, the sole purpose of creating a fake identity is to hurt people.”
Jed said he has been extremely hurt by Shayne. “After I busted him and made a public post to Facebook, he turned nasty, and said ‘you better watch yourself’. I disregarded his futile threat, and continued trying to convince people that he is fake. None of them listened, though. They all liked him, like I did at one stage, and I think he might have spread rumours about me to them.”
In a similar case, 38-year-old Jeannie Gramling, who resides in Chillicothe, US, was fooled by two fake profiles on MySpace and Windows Live Messenger, when it still existed at the time. She had met Danny and Jake on the MySpace website, and had spoken to them for over two years. Jake had been pretending to be Joe Elliott, from rock band Def Leppard, and Danny had pretended to be Rick Savage, the bassist.
“I thought they were real; I thought they were my friends,” Jeannie told The Newsroom. “Then, one day, they eventually fessed up to me and said ‘look, I’m not real. I’m so-and-so, and I couldn’t continue on like this. You deserve to know the truth’. And so, I found out that they were actually a couple of teenage boys, around eighteen years old, and lived in South Australia.”
So how can you make sure it doesn’t happen to you?
“When interacting online, particularly Facebook, people should be careful how much they say about themselves, and should leave out personal details until they meet the person face-to-face and have built up a level of trust,” advises Jill. “Typically, people fall for someone based on the way they talk, and present themselves. If you have something in common with the person, then chances are you’re going to have more things in common, and without knowing it, you have fallen for this person that you don’t know face-to-face, but you would like to. But as is the case with most instances, people are not always who they say they are.” – Sarah Batt
Top picture supplied by Jed White.