One of the ten provinces of Canada, Alberta is mostly known for its oil and gas industries as well as its livestock and agriculture sectors. This story, however, is about another Alberta, a woman who, like in the photo above, could reflect a virtual image of beauty and innocence, when in reality she was playing the role of a catfish, which can also be found in Alberta’s lakes, the stonecat being the only native member of the catfish family.
Catfishing also refers to a widespread scam where someone, the “catfish”, creates a fictitious online identity and seeks out online relationships that are often romantic, with online-dating websites and cell phone-dating apps being fertile hunting mediums for these catfish, who fleece their victims but can also murder them on some occasions. These catfish are skillful, but many of them commit detectable errors.
I decided to taste this catfish, although I avoid all fish and other seafood given the high number of toxins they contain, except for small fish like sardines and anchovies whose Lilliputian size also means that they are much less contaminated. I joined a dating site for a month, filling out my profile and even having my identity confirmed. I received close to 100 likes on the first day and as many messages from women from around the world who wanted to chat with me and probably move further if it worked out.
It was almost overwhelming to see photos and profiles of hundreds of women looking for love, most of them mentioning their wish for a long-term relationship in their profiles but often neglecting to complete it or have their identity verified. I kept scrolling from face to face, the original aim of Facebook, being frequently surprised by the young age of women looking for much older men. I had set my range from 44 to 62. The first age is very meaningful to me, appearing also in the title of two of my novels. The second represents another significant age.
Alberta’s message appeared on my screen like an omen, which quickly flashed risky when I saw her age: 34. She knew that I was 59 from my profile, so it seemed unusual that someone 25 years her senior would interest her. She was not verified and new, like me, although I was verified with a matching badge. I decided to be polite and reply: “Hello, Alberta: I know that I’m cute, but 25 years beyond your more tender age seems unruly. It must be an esoteric error.” She quickly replied: “My dear! I have no issues with age. I like you and want us to text outside the site. We can use Skype or Google Chat.”
I let myself be caught by this potential catfish, thinking that it could become an interesting story for Medium and Vocal. It was not funny, nonetheless. From the beginning, Alberta used dear, love, and baby to address me, until I mentioned that I was none of these, at least not yet. She stopped using them for a while but then resumed the use of dear. After some texting, I mentioned that we could use the video function of Skype, since I write too much already in my usual life and would prefer to speak instead. We switched to video, but a so-called issue quickly raised its head.
She looked very beautiful and was in her underwear albeit covered by a sweatshirt, but I could not hear one word coming out of her mouth. They were lies, of course, but I wanted to hear them. I texted her that I could not hear her, but she kept speaking and texting me back, although it was clear that she was not the one texting, and that the microphone of her so-called old computer was simply turned off. She also informed me that she had no phone because she had lost it a few months ago and could not afford a new one. She could, however, buy one tomorrow, but she only had $150 and it cost $350, and that if I sent her $100, she would buy it as soon as possible.
Several lies were easy to detect in her words. No video sound is the first lie of a catfish, and asking for money is part of the pattern too. Two errors were thus rapidly apparent. She used dollars, yet she was in Spain per her profile, where they use Euros, and my profile mentioned Greece, which also uses Euros. Her simple addition skill was also wrong since she actually needed $200. I texted her a categorical no and wanted to end it there, but she mentioned that she was poor and living with her mother and grandmother, that she lost her father in an accident when she was 18, that her business burned down a few years ago, that her boyfriend cheated on her with her best friend, and that she had lost her job a few months earlier.
It was a sad story per the words she used, but it was all or mostly a lie. “You will break my heart if you end it,” she added at one point. “How can I break anyone’s heart within an hour of ‘meeting’ them online?” I asked. She rapidly agreed and pursued her attack, repeating that she was a loyal and loving woman who believed in God, studied the Bible, and went to church every Sunday. “I am an atheist,” I replied, adding that “it would be problematic for her.” She never mentioned religion again during the next texting hour during which she extolled her righteousness repeatedly, copying and pasting previously prepared text from the strange looks of it, while also describing our wonderful future life together.
I wondered how could both women and men be duped by such catfish. I gathered that Alberta and her helper(s) were amateurs at best or having a bad day. I then mentioned that I had to undertake some writing and then sleep since it was past 10 pm. “Please call me back as soon as you wake up tomorrow morning,” she concluded, including a few emojis of hearts and kisses. I promised to call her, wished her a good night, and hung up. We had switched to Google Chat per my request during the second hour because I wanted to get her email. She got mine too, but I used a secondary one which I rarely utilise. Less than an hour later, I logged back in, sent her a message, and blocked her. I also blocked her on Skype.
In my last message, I simply mentioned that following some additional thinking, I decided that while a 25-year difference was unimportant for her, it was surely very important for me. I also wished her good luck finding the man of her dreams. She did not attempt to contact me by email, so I gathered that she understood the message. I was even ready with a reply in case she did, namely, that I sent our entire conversation to a friend of mine who worked for Interpol. She could still try to contact me but I highly doubt it. I had four weeks left on my one-month subscription and I kept getting likes and messages, mostly from much younger women from around the world. It seems that 59 is a magical age.
This is only one of numerous dating sites that must also contain other catfish. Alberta is probably attacking her next victim on one of them, or perhaps even on the same site, using a different name. She may call herself Manitoba, another Canadian province, this one known as the polar bear capital of the world. It may suit her better. I wondered if my Anthi could have existed on some online-dating site. She laughed when I asked her and soon after blushed when I told her that I would have found her eventually had she been there with her sweet killer smile.
This is Part One