What I Learned From Being Catfished for 12 Years

UPDATE JUNE 2015: This post was written not long after I found out this man’s real identity. I’ve since chosen to come forward with further information, including his real accent (Scottish), the details he used online (Richard Martin and Earthlover) and the origin of the photos (photos of his son), which you can see in this ACA segment. Don’t forget to check out my blog post on 9 Dangerous Myths That Most People Believe About Online Predators.

“How can someone be dumb enough to believe a lie for 12 years?” The fact that I considered myself so web savvy was a big factor in why I did…

“The email you supplied to us is linked to the Facebook account we’ve provided below. We believe Brent Murphy* is at least 60 years old.”

I read the email in shock, not really believing the first few lines.

‘I can’t believe we’ve been talking on the Internet for 12 years,’ I’d told Patrick Brent* just a few months earlier, ‘It’s amazing. But I feel like our busy lives stop us meeting in person and I really really want to meet you.’

I’d met Patrick in a teen chatroom, when I was 15, in 2002. He was 17 and in his last year of highschool. He lived just ten hours away from my Australian home, an amazing coincidence in a chatroom filled with Americans. I wasn’t new to the chatroom scene; my house had had the Internet connected since I was 9, so I considered myself fairly web savvy.

Shy and inexperienced with boys, I was delighted to find a guy who I could have deep conversations with and who showered me with compliments. I wanted to impress him, so I read War and Peace and sparkled in the praise he lavished on my intelligence.

Not everything was rosy though. Patrick was prone to outbursts of temper, often ending in a breakup and a promise to never talk to me again. More often than not, the outbursts would come when I’d refuse to send a nude photo or when I asked too many questions about his life and why he wouldn’t visit. I’d spend a night crying myself to sleep before he swore he’d never hurt me again and begged me to resume the relationship.

The first time Patrick phoned me was scary but I loved the sound of his light Irish accent, even after my best friend talked to him and announced ‘He sounds like an old man.’

For three years we ‘dated’ via the Internet, exchanging photos, talking for six hours straight on occasional weekends and even picking out names for our future children. Patrick made plans to apply to a nearby University so he could come visit me on weekends. Unfortunately, plans changed and Patrick had to move to a different town.

Although a few close friends knew of our relationship, I never told my father or claimed publicly to have a boyfriend. One part of me was embarrassed while another felt that the mature and deep relationship I was in would be tarnished by outside opinion. I’d take any chance I could to spend a few hours home alone, hoping Patrick would be online and maybe even phone me. Something just felt so right when I was talking to him. Due to trauma in my past I was mature beyond my years in some areas but immature in others and Patrick seemed to share many of my own idiosyncrasies.

When I was 18, Patrick proposed. I said yes without a second thought. This was the moment I’d been waiting for. But just two weeks later, we broke up again.

The big pile of breakups, culminating with the cancellation of our engagement, was just too much. I told Patrick I couldn’t keep being his virtual girlfriend, but I was willing to be friends.

Two years later, I married a wonderful man who was both very real and very upfront, a refreshing change from the secrets involved with dating Patrick. But the question was still there; who was Patrick Brent and what was missing from our relationship that stopped him following through on his promises?

We’d still talk by email or on the phone and Patrick would always mourn his biggest mistake in letting me go. But he refused to come visit me, claiming University, travel and work commitments.

I kept him at arm’s length but Patrick teased me with just enough promises and guilt trips to make me want to continue talking to him. So for 7 more years, we continued to talk. Our relationship was comfortable and we talked about everything from his latest girlfriends through to my breakups with the friends I’d had in highschool.

I’d always suspected Patrick was lying to me about something. I thought it was something embarrassing such as Photoshopping his pictures or not having the University degree he claimed. For the 12 years we talked, I always tried to gather enough information to find him. But he’d phone from a private number and all my Google searches found nothing. He worked for his father’s company which took him around the world. Phonecalls often saw him hanging up when executives entered his office, meetings were about to begin or his latest girlfriend came to visit.

When we started talking, I was young enough to believe I couldn’t be tricked and by the time I was old enough to know better, he was just another part of my every day life. Patrick had talked to me for hours, sent me hundreds of emails and helped me deal with so many of my mundane problems. He’d never asked me for money and he’d continued to talk to me for years, so I knew he had to be legitimate. I just wanted to be absolutely sure.

I knew not to ask him for more information.

‘I’m a very private person,’ Patrick would tell me, ‘You know I share more with you than with anyone else. I don’t like newfangled sites like Facebook. Don’t see the point and I’m too busy working, anyway.’

It wasn’t till 2014 that I discovered the term ‘catfish’ and found a site (SocialCatfish) that promised to dig up information on any online suitor even if there was only an email available. I didn’t expect much, but I thought it would at least be nice to know the name of the company he worked for or some fun details I could surprise him with during a conversation.

But I was the one who was to receive the surprise when I found out the truth about Patrick. He’d spun a web of lies which had taken him around the world, given him a fancy career and kept him too busy to ever come visit. In reality he’d never left the town where he’d first said he’d lived and the photos he’d sent me were stolen from a younger friend’s Facebook account.

Patrick Brent was Brent Murphy. Brent Murphy was married with children and grandchildren. A part of me didn’t really believe it, not until I rang the phone number of the office where he really worked.

‘This is Brent Murphy’s phone…’ the voicemail began.

Then I knew it was true. Part of me felt relief, glad that I no longer questioned the breakup all those years ago. Another part of me was sad for my first love, which was nothing but a lie. And another part of me was disgusted by the fact that someone had groomed and lied to a teenage girl, then continued the farce for 12 whole years.

I confronted Brent Murphy when he rang me later that night. His denials and hurt rang true and for a few moments I wondered if I was wrong. Then I remembered the phonecall to his office. Suddenly the Patrick I knew crumbled into the Brent I didn’t, first claiming that he was too scared of hurting me, before trying to emotionally blackmail me.

‘My wife and family don’t deserve this.’

‘Goodbye Patrick.’ I hung up the phone.

Six months later I still have a hole left where Patrick once existed. It’s hard to look at a 12 year friendship from a whole new perspective, reexamining each detail and applying a whole new layer of information. More than anything I’ve learned that just because we accept something as normal, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t question it. The experience has given me some humility, making me realise that believing I was ‘Internet savvy’ actually made me more vulnerable to a person who could convince me to trust them and who displayed none of the obvious ‘scam’ markers till too late.

*Some names and details have been changed.