I got “catfished” these past several weeks.
For my married friends who wouldn’t know about such things, “catfishing” is a dating term for people who get scammed by others on a dating web site by those looking to get money out of you.
I should be more proud of myself for wriggling off the hook, as this was a particularly emotionally wrenching attempt to get a few thousand dollars out of my bank account and into someone else’s.
Briefly, this is how the scheme works: one person – pretending to be someone they are not – starts chatting with his/her intended victim. It gets emotionally romantic very quickly, usually because the target (in this case me) is especially lonely and longing to find the person who finally sees in her something so valuable he can’t possibly walk away from it.
The target gets chatted up for hours at a time. You feel you are getting to know someone at a deeply emotional level. Meanwhile, the fisherman asks cleverly designed questions to determine some basic information from you – most particularly how much money you may have.
The fisherman will go a long way to “prove” his identity to you so you know he is as “real” as he says he is. He will ask if you are willing to provide him with information assuring him of the same. This can include “Skyping” sessions to show each other you are real people, not Donald Trump’s imaginary 400 pound person sitting at home somewhere, sabotaging an election.
He will send you “photographic evidence” what he is telling you about himself is true. Since you aren’t a member of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, you can’t tell if that Swedish passport he sent you a picture of is real or not. You can question why it says he was born in Atlanta when he says he was born in Stockholm. He will have a ready answer having to do with his H-1B visa status.
In fact, he has a ready answer for every question you ask – and a slightly impatient tone that lets you know you have offended him by daring to question his integrity.
There is a reason, of course, for the fact that while you both inhabit the same general city – in this case the Atlanta metropolitan universe – you can’t meet for weeks. He has pressing business, usually out of the country. Foreign places like Istanbul.
Oh, you will get a phone call the night before he leaves for Turkey, because he suddenly just “has to hear your voice.” (Those Skype sessions btw – you saw each other but something was incompatible about your phones, so you couldn’t hear each other’s voices-you just text chatted a lot instead.)
You will even get appropriately timed texts from “Turkey” that account for 8 hours of time zone difference.
If you ever longed to be called Baby, Sweetheart and Darling, these are the moments.
You will be told in one text he is in Istanbul, another he is in Smyrna out with a friend who is drinking. Because you aren’t totally stupid, and you have been to Istanbul yourself and don’t recall many signs for bars in a majority Islamic country, you will Google to see if alcohol is really served there. (The legal drinking age in Turkey, btw, is a mere eleven years old.)
Then you will get an emergency text. Remember those huge pictures of the gas line piping he sent you he was working on for Shell Oil? Well, his co-worker is texting you that one of them has fallen on his back and he is being taken in critical condition to a hospital in Gaziantep, Turkey. Some “city hospital.”
You will Google this (you used to be a reporter; you Google and Wikipedia any piece of new information you ever hear, always). There is a “city hospital” project that won’t be completed until 2020.
But there is a Twin City Hospital you can’t call because you don’t have international calling on your I-phone. A quick call to Sprint rectifies that. But it doesn’t do you any good. The receptionists there only speak Turkish. How surprising in a country called – Turkey.
In the interim, you Google a map of Turkey. Smyrna and Gaziantep appear to be not that far apart, and you learn they are in the same region of Turkey, Anatolia. It turns out to be a little too close to the Syrian border for your liking.
Finally, you talk to the fisherman. The doctor hasn’t seen him yet, and he genuinely sounds like he is in great pain. You ask if he wants you to try to contact his “uncle” he has chatted with you so much about. Yes please.
He sends the information. The name doesn’t match what you have been told. But he has told you that his Facebook page, which didn’t match the first name he gave you, was his middle name, and that passport seemed to confirm what he said. Maybe it is a Swedish thing, to use your middle name when your perfectly given first name is also readily available.
You ask to speak to the doctor when he gets there. The doctor comes in and does call you, telling you the back may be broken, they are going to X-ray now. You panic. Your passport is out of date. You couldn’t get to Turkey in an emergency if needed.
About 45 minutes later, you get a text from the fisherman. Good news. Nothing is broken but things are out of place and surgery is required. The doctor says it is $7,000. He has only $4,000 on him, can you wire him $3,000?
When you say you honestly can’t, you don’t have access to that much, he says it is okay, can you at least send $1,000?
You go silent on your end. You have a sick feeling in your stomach, because someone tried this a long time ago. It was why you swore off dating sites, but a really dear friend who met her boyfriend on this one said you just had to get on it and try again. And worst of all, you contacted the fisherman first – he didn’t contact you on the dating site.
Baby? He will text, as in “are you still there?” You answer you know you are being scammed. Give it up.
He will text back his outrage that you could leave him in such a situation after all he has done to prove himself to you. You block him. You don’t want to have this argument because you are heart sick and angry. With him or with you? Mostly you.
But just to make you feel extra badly, his “uncle” sends you an e-mail that evening. He has been in touch with the fisherman, the money needed was sent, the fisherman will have back surgery the next day then get on a plane and fly back home that afternoon.
Really? After back surgery he’s going to get on a plane and fly 11-13 hours home? Is that Coach or First Class? Will it hurt less if it is First Class? Does the fisherman and his “uncle” really think you are that stupid?
What the fisherman and his “uncle” don’t know is that somewhere that afternoon as the feeling of the world being shifted on its axis is still on you like a blanketing fog, you briefly considered downing that bottle of pain pills sitting right there on the coffee table.
They don’t know when you were 20 and madly in love for the first time and that person strung you along for 9 months until he had to confess he was affianced because the wedding invitations were coming out at the Naval Station where you were both stationed, you had tried it then.
You can’t believe 45 years later you are stuck in the same romantic time warp – lied to by men you think you love.
Nor do they know that if you didn’t truly love your adult son so much and could imagine him walking around for the rest of his life permanently angry at you for doing this, you might have. Your Catholic ties are not that ancient and don’t run so deeply as a convert.
And life has already had some very hellacious times already. You aren’t thinking about whether or not there truly is a heaven or hell at this point.
But you don’t. Take that bottle of pills. Only because you love your son. Definitely not because you love yourself.
But this – this is like having an old scar ripped wide open. And it will bleed again for a long, long time