Getting catfished — the phenomenon wherein someone pretends to be someone else online and fools people into thinking their identity is real — is never fun, but it does happen a lot. But few instances are quite as wild as the catfishing story BuzzFeed uncovered, involving someone who basically tried to recreate one woman's life and built up a huge online following, including at least one confirmed romantic relationship. Except, of course, none of it was real.
Online, Leah Palmer seemed like someone living the life. She had a job in the fashion industry, she travelled all the time, she had plenty of friends, and she generally seemed to be enjoying her twenties. But despite her many online relationships, including at least one romance, Leah Palmer wasn't living actually living any life at all — because Leah Palmer wasn't real. Rather she was created by using the Instagram photos and details about the real life of Ruth Graves neé Palmer, an account manager from the UK currently living in Dubai. The identity of the person who used Ruth's life as a basis for a fake online identity is still unknown, but the extent to which he or she based Leah on Ruth is all kinds of creepy.
According to BuzzFeed's investigation, "Leah" lifted hundreds of photographs from Ruth's social media accounts over the course of years, and used details about Ruth's life to create a false identity. This identity even extended to Ruth's friends who featured in her Instagram pictures and her husband, who Leah recast as a "psychotic ex."
But the craziest part of the story might be the fact that Leah used her stolen pictures and newfound persona to amass a social media following (one that eventually became larger than Ruth's own) and to meet men online, men who seemingly fell hard for a woman who never really existed. One such suitor, who spoke to BuzzFeed about the experience, even broke up with a girl he dated in real life to be with Leah, he like her so much. According to Ruth, once she realized what was going on and began tracking some of the men down to explain the situation, many were heartbroken.
Although it isn't all that unusual for people to pretend to be someone they aren't online, or to use someone else's photo and try to pass it off as themselves, it is creepy to find someone drawing so deeply and consistently from one person's life — especially since Ruth's social media accounts have been set to private for virtually her entire online life. Though Ruth told Buzzfeed she doesn't think any of her friends would do this to her, it's creepy either way. I mean, imagine finding out someone was basically wearing your life like a costume.
Fortunately, whoever was responsible for creating Leah Palmer didn't do more than build up a fake social media presence, though more serious forms of identity theft do happen as well online, and in fact, initiating a fake romance is an increasingly popular approach for criminals looking to trick someone into sending them money.
So is there any way to stop someone from doing this? When it comes to shutting down con artists, the obvious approach, of course, is just to never send them any money. But what about stopping people from using you life as a fake identity? What about not getting tricked into an emotionally genuine relationship with someone who doesn't exist? Well, a reverse image search can probably help somewhat, but unfortunately, in the age of the Internet, this might just be the world we're living in now. It's a scary, scary thought.
As is the fact that there's nothing to suggest the person or person's who put so much time and effort into creating Leah Palmer haven't found someone new to base a fictional life off of and start the whole thing again.
Stay safe out there, guys.
You can find out more about this twisted story here.