8 Most Bizarre Catfishing Stories Of All Time

by Lara Rutherford-Morrison

Catfishing is a strange, unsettling trend that, personally, I find pretty freaky. No, I’m not talking about hunting giant, whiskered fish (although those also kind of weird me out). It turns out that today is National Catfish Day, and although it was meant to honor the actual fish, we can't ignore that the term has been entirely re-appropriated in the age of the internet. As most of you probably know, a “catfish” is someone who creates a false identity on the Internet and social media, usually for the purpose of creating relationships with others under false pretenses. Sometimes these people want to extort money from unsuspecting victims, while sometimes it appears that they simply find some kind of joy or affirmation by pretending to be other people. Catfishing is a bizarre, troubling offspring of the social media age, and can have devastating effects on its victims. It’s easy to make fun of people who fall for catfish’s lies, to ask, “How could XYZ fall for that? It’s so obvious.” But I think everyone is vulnerable to these kinds of scams; when a scammer manages to find a point of connection with a victim, or seems able to fulfill some feeling of lack, it’s natural for the victim to want the lie to be true, and to simply not be able to see what’s in front of them. As the following eight strange catfishing stories show, it’s not only the people who are duped by impersonators who are victims of catfish: the people whose images are stolen to create false identities also pay a price. The lesson here? Be careful on the Internet, friends. It’s a weird, scary place.

Football star Manti Te’o got duped, very publicly.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

One of the most notorious catfishing cases on record occurred in September of 2012 when Manti Te’o, a football player for the University of Notre Dame, reported to the media that his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, had tragically died of leukemia. A few months later—after an outpouring of support from the public—Deadspin began questioning exactly what had happened. It was eventually revealed that Lennay Kekua did not exist, that she had been invented by a male acquaintance of Te’o’s, and that images of her were in fact of another woman who had never met Te’o and who had no knowledge of the hoax. Te’o admitted that he had been in a relationship with a woman he had never met in person, and maintains that he had no part in the fraud.

This guy got catfished with pictures…of himself.

A few weeks ago, Jack Kennedy, popular for his photographs on Tumblr, was shocked to be catfished by someone on Grindr – who had the temerity to use pictures of Kennedy himself. He told The Daily Dot, “Then he actually offered to send proof that it was him, and at this point I just couldn’t stop laughing! I went on to ask him for his ‘proof’, which turned out to be a photo of his (fortunately not mine) penis. After this I just closed the app and ignored him.”

This woman “borrowed” another woman’s entire life.

Someone going by the name “Leah Palmer” developed a large social media presence, with hundreds of followers and a number of romantic relationships. It turns out, however, that all of the pictures of this person are actually of someone else: Ruth Graves neé Palmer, who was shocked to learn that hundreds of photos of her were being used to support another person’s fake life. The hoax has been going on for three years, and Ruth Graves still has no idea who is behind it. This story is so creepy; as Bustle’s Emma Cueto writes, “I mean, imagine finding out someone was basically wearing your life like a costume.”

This woman discovered that her new boyfriend is really her scary ex.

In 2013, a woman in Minnesota discovered that her boyfriend—with whom she had had an online relationship with for a year—was actually her ex-husband, Brian Matthew Cornelius, using an alias and fake pictures. At one point, she told her “boyfriend” that she planned to get a protection order against her ex-husband, who, according to her, had been violent. Creepily, the “boyfriend” (who was really her ex) convinced her not to go through with the order of protection. Eventually she discovered the truth, and he was charged with stalking.

This woman and her friends have had people pretending to be them for eight years.

U.K. resident Ellie Flynn and her friends had been struggling with someone who has created at least 60 fake profiles across social media of her and her friends for eight years. The fake versions of these people routinely catfish men, who have actually sought out the real Ellie Flynn and friends in person. The creepiest part of all this is that, given the extent to which the fake accounts are Flynn and her friends’ actual lives, it’s likely that whoever is doing it is someone that Flynn knows.

This man was catfished, and he tried to take revenge on the real person in the pictures.

In 2013, Brian Curtis Hile was found guilty of stalking a woman in San Diego. He had been in an online relationship for years with a woman who he eventually discovered was actually a man in South Africa. He began investigating the real identity of the woman in the photos that the catfisher had used, even hacking into her email account to find out her contact and personal information (She was totally uninvolved with the scam). He traveled to San Diego, where the police arrested him within miles of her home. According to NBC San Diego, he was found in “possession of duct tape, zip-ties and a ‘To Do’ list that included additional supplies he needed to get in order to carry out his plan to kill the unsuspecting woman and her boyfriend.”

This woman's attempt to punish her niece did not go as she expected.

19-year-old Marissa Williams' aunt thought her niece needed to learn to be more careful on the Internet, and not bring strange men home with her. The aunt posed as a man online and connected with Williams, who quickly began trying to get him to come over and offered to sleep with him if he would pay her cell phone bill. Eventually she began asking her unknown suitor to "kidnap" her to get her away from her aunt, with whom she lived, and gave him instructions to kill her aunt and other people in the house. Williams was charged with solicitation of murder.

A fake boy’s cruel words led to suicide.

This is one of the most famous and most upsetting stories of people impersonating others online: In 2006, Lori Drew created a MySpace profile for a fake 16-old-boy, who then became online friends with 13-year-old Megan Meier. Drew, her teenaged daughter, and one of her employees began bullying Meier online, supposedly in retaliation for Meier gossiping about the daughter. Meier, who struggled with a history of depression, killed herself after the “boy” sent her a message that read, “The world would be a better place without you.”

Images: Getty; Giphy(2)