I am a Catfish

Cybersecurity Blog: I am a Catfish by Philipa Jane Farley. I offer business support to bloggers and business owners so that they have an easy, fun time safely interacting with their online customer community.

What is a catfish? Simply put, a catfish is a person, online, pretending to be an attractive person in order to get attention from specifically or generally targeted persons. Like the fish version that follows prey and attacks from behind, a catfish actively seeks out unsuspecting victims. A catfish will profile you and tweak their persona to suit what you are looking for, in a similar way to a paedophile in the grooming phase. A catfish is in it for the feelings, not the physical, though.

 When considering other ‘cyber’ personas and the damage they cause or the crimes they commit, I am more often than not of the opinion that most have been around for much longer than the Internet has existed. The inclusion of the Internet into the equation generally facilitates the badness or accelerates the behaviour due to factors such as disinhibition.  Catfishing is somewhat unique in that the previous, offline version of this persona really no longer exists in a widespread manner - think penpal and member of the Lonely Hearts Club. Before, the stratum of society in which this person operated was one that the general public didn’t really give much thought to so the behaviour was never named. Now, however, everyone and anyone is a target, depending, of course, on the individual catfish’s proclivities or emotional triggers.  Some victims even make it onto television.

A catfish is a complex character with a history of emotional neglect that has resulted in a compulsive pursuit of emotional fulfilment in the manner of a typical addict. To some, it might seem only a power-play, however, the end goal is always manipulating the emotion and feeding off the relationship. Catfishing did not start with the advent of MySpace and Facebook profiles. Catfishing was rife on IRC platforms and most likely BBS. Think of any platform where a private chat could occur and files could be transferred and there you would likely find a catfish.

In our world of IM, stock photos and easily-set-up fake profiles, the catfish can put forward multiple, custom-crafted, attractive, perfect personas to a wider audience.  Victims lament their fate, wondering how they did not know they were being catfished when the truth outs. Take some comfort in the fact that these people are masters of disguise in more ways than one; their greatest disguise being masking their mental turmoil and emotional vacuums.

A catfish might revolt you, but keep in mind that there is always a history and, perhaps, a plausible reason for their behaviour. Their might be a history of physical or emotional abuse or even a physical defect that renders them objectionable to society – whether this is in their mind or not. Do not accept the behaviour, but try and understand the person.

Depending on your jurisdiction, catfishing can be dealt with using existing law. Lawyers must adapt their perception of the ‘cyber’ being the channel or the tool and not the all-encompassing factor. Catfishing is essentially fraud.  Catfishing can amount to stalking, in some cases, or harassment.  A victim could also pursue a catfish under civil claims of defamation (obviously depending on circumstances) or claim damages for emotional distress.  If money has been emotionally extorted, this can also be viewed as a crime as well as be claimed back, perhaps, under a claim of undue enrichment. Finally, if a real person’s images have been used falsely, that person has a claim against the catfish for using those images.  Again, criminal and civil liability may apply. Part of this process must be a recommendation for therapy on both sides.

“Baby, don’t leave me! I want you”

“Babez, bbiab…ok? Will send pics to keep u warm XOXO!”

“HURRY UP!”

“Send me kisses xxxxxxxx”

“He’s scrming again. Can’t deal. Need to lv. What can I do? Can we meet?”

“Hey babe, WE WON. Wish you were here to celebrate…Pic?”

With a few taps, I’ve sent the requested pictures and closed chats. I go back in and double-check the name of the folders I’ve sent the pictures from against the chat names. I check again, just to be sure. As much as I enjoy the thrill, we all know that twist in our guts after we’ve pressed send and we shouldn’t have.  I twist, regularly.  I end the conversations, for now, with multiple “XOXO”s and put my ‘phone down on the pillow next to me. The pillow lacks life and offers no support. No surprises there. If my curtains were open, I’d look at my reflection in the window. Reality check, the windows wouldn’t be clean enough to see the reflection. Good.

Today I have to leave my house. I sigh. There is no food in the ‘fridge. No food delivery pamphlets either. Don’t ask me. I do not like people in my house. I don’t want charity, either. Don’t use me to make yourself feel like a good person. Don’t lie to me. Don’t pretend.

I feel uncomfortable, on edge, as these thoughts tumble through my mind. My skin burns and itches. I need to wash.

Under steaming water, I scrub until my skin is raw. It bleeds in places but that to me is proof of life, you know? I will cover my arms and legs today, always. I know my sores make your skin crawl. I’d cover my face if I could. I envy you, Lady that Wears the Head Scarf. No, I am not staring at you because I fear you. I want to be you. Hidden, deeply, from the world and cared for. I can never be you. Nobody cares for me. I am on my own. Who cares, who cares?

My thoughts wander as the water cascades down my body washing blood, my life, down the drain. I let them spiral down into my own space.  It is a plane of existence that I control, utterly, down to every last detail. Your memory palace has nothing on my dark castle of horrors. Join me, why don’t you?

Currently, six rooms, shall we call them, are occupied. I wonder down the dank corridor, water dripping in the background. Pick a door, any door. 

Door Number Three you say? Okay, Door Number Three it is. Take me by my rotten hand and walk with me. Oh, how I love this space, this feeling.

Savouring this moment, I peer through my half-closed eyes as my hand props me up against the wall. Two thick iron bars obstruct my view. My lip curls up but not in satisfaction. In disgust. Disappointment. You have not played the game my way.  I had high hopes for you. Preppy, cute, but not in a girly way. Your dark hair, the kind that goes grey early, falls over your eyes. Your head is bent. Are you asleep?  No, you sneak, child, I see you bending over your ‘phone.  Hiding it from me. I slam my fist into the door. I’ve given up regretting the pain a day later. I’m sure I’ve cracked more than one of my useless bones during these delicious fits of rage. I see you recoil, instantly. The fear on your face is worth the agony. You cry. I want to lick the salty tears off your immature face. Not today. I won’t give in. Always, draw it out.  Today I want you to know I am close. I shall consume you. But not yet. Not yet, my sweet sullen boy.  We still have games to play. I’ll show you how to play my way.

I turn away listening to your sobs. A giggle rises from deep inside.  I let a hint of it out. I take my joy where I find it. The glimmer of light through the high narrow window is all you’ll ever have. It’s more than you deserve. I hate you.

I hate you more Door Number Four. Door Number Four is in front of me.  You might be my Sick and my Twisted. You get a bed. Nothing more. You disgust me, exposed to the world. As exposed as your obese body allows you to be.  I can smell you from across the corridor. Have you ever washed? I imagine you trying to, grabbing and lifting each roll, attempting to scrape the filth gently from your skin. Knowing what I am, I don’t need to guess what you are. I don’t wonder about you. I don’t agonise over you.  I enjoy you, now. Together, our minds go to places others can only ever dream of.  If they knew. If only they knew. I breathe in a deep lungful of stench and imagine sliding my hands up your legs. That’s what you want, isn’t it?

My hands clench in frustration as angry banging on a door interrupts my reverie.  Dammit. I turn the water off and stand dead still. They’ll go away. They always do after they attempt to peer through the dust-coated windows.

I wonder who it is today. The angry neighbour wanting me to mow the lawn. Law enforcement checking that I’m still alive.  No, not them, no announcement. Maybe a parcel. Oh yeah right. From who. I stifle this giggle.  I hear a car start outside and drive off.  Safe.

I pick up a towel, not freshly laundered, as I step out of the shower and wrap it around me. I have no hair to dry. I could lie and say I gave up thinking about ‘hair’ a long time ago, but you will know I’m lying. You know more than you let on. I would like to believe you see me. Your smile when you greet me hints at a maybe.  Does it reach your eyes? Be careful, I might want you in my dungeon. But then I’d have to kill you.  I don’t know how I feel about that. I don’t laugh.

Maybe I will swap you for Door Number Five. My Tiny Dancer that has danced too long. I click and you perform. Oh, I am under no illusions. I know I am not The One. I am One of Many. You don’t make me pay, though. I got you. I get you. Deception and lies. Filthy beautiful lies. Your life gets you down, Prom Queen of twenty years ago. Do you do it for the thrill or for the money? I doubt you remember. On some level, I should be grateful. I should thank you. You have taught me the language of this underworld. You misinterpreted my advances as naivety. I struck a chord. And now you play for me. But really, you bore me. Time to go.

The only sound in the bedroom gloom is a ticking clock. If I had one wish, I’d wish for it to tick faster. Fat chance of me ever getting granted a wish. Fat chance.

I have to sniff my shirt as I pick it up off a chair. I can’t remember the last time I did laundry. If my ‘phone didn’t have the date and time on it, I wouldn’t know any better. I see people doing ‘stuff’. I hear bits of conversation, the odd times that I’m out - a dinner party, a work meeting, an “I’ll see you later”. I don’t have any ‘later’. I have now. And, I like to think I live my best, now.

Shirt on, pants on. Shoes on. I’m not ready though. I sit on the edge of the bed and try and piece together my scattered thoughts. Legs. Hands. That homely stench. Yes. You’re not going to get what you want today, though, you old stinking bitch.

I lie back on the pillows, the shadows behind my closed eyes forming into Number Six As Seen Through The Two Bars. I’ve kept you for long enough Number Six. I have what I want. What I needed. I don’t need it anymore. I’ve even saved some for later. You are now a dry well. Empty. A shell. Look at you, nearly translucent, mouth open, shouting and screaming. I can’t hear you!  Shout louder. The giggles spill out of me now. I’ve cut out your tongue. Shout all you want. Maybe I spoilt you.  Gave you too much attention. Gave you too much of what you wanted. You’re used to getting what you want.  A quick and dirty on the back seat in a dark alley is nothing new to you. You’ll take what you want, whether I like it or not.  Are you threatening me or cajoling me? Perhaps later I’ll give you your tongue back. I may miss hanging onto your well-muscled shoulders as you thrust deeply into me, or, as you like to say it, fuck my brains out.  Ah, I see your colour is back. I sigh as I realise I’m not quite ready to give you up.  You feed my soul. Take me to a brighter time.

Thinking back, you were too easy. Number Six, my first. I have evolved. I have grown. I have moved on. I stare at the ceiling and replay our first ‘date’. A misunderstanding has blossomed into something beautiful. You kept me up at night. You made me want to get out of bed. Okay, no. That might be taking it a bit far. The only reason I really have to get out of bed is to get more food to eat back in bed. But now, you want more. You want to ‘meet’ and ‘in real life’. I’m not ready to give it up. Door Number Six may have to crack open just wide enough to dispose of your rotting corpse. Blame yourself.

Your words tickle my ears like the sound of rose petals falling softly onto satin sheets. There was that movie.  What was it called? I close my eyes and listen. Are you upset? Are you hurting? Do you need me? I attempt a run, more of a shuffle to Door Number Two and press my face up against the bars. My flesh envelops the iron, grease on damp. I stare at you, your golden hair cascading down around your face. My delight turns to confusion. Are you praying? You cannot be praying. Not in my space. Just stop that. I hear the yelling, screaming, plates breaking, behind you. You start to shake as you cover your ears with your gorgeous hands. The hands you say you’re going to use to tease me. Promises, promises my little angel.  I can’t save you. Nobody can. I’m not going to tell you that yet.  I enjoy our ‘innocent’ little ‘flirtations’. You’re getting there. You need me.  You think I need you. We’re both trapped. I understand. I am your escape. When you ask me to rescue you, I won’t be there.  Cry a little more, cherub. I see your head jerk up in fear as you hear a door slam, a car start and heavy feet stamp down the passage. He’s coming for you. More for me if he does. Saliva dribbles down my chin from my lips, squashed between the bars. I’m ready for you. Get comfortable, Number Two, I may keep you a while.

I crack the door open and the light floods in, temporarily blinding me. The glasses don’t do much. The hat pulled low over my head does more. Nothing hides the lumps that cover eighty percent of my face.  Or what is left of it. I don’t know if it is more pink than brown now. I don’t look. Door Number One ‘LURVES’ my ‘lush complexion’. I flinch at the mere thought of the phrase. Door Number One, a mistake or not? Should I or shouldn’t I? I don’t do bimbo. Hah. I do laugh out loud, mirthlessly, at the thought of me, doing. People like me don’t do. I don’t get to do. I get to be. Miserable. Despised. Forgotten.

I don’t need to tell you how exposed I feel.  In this split-second, I add one more brick of loathing to my wall of self-hate.  Hell, make that another room to the house of self-hate. I step outside of this space that has been my safe haven for the last forty-eight years. My dusty, mouldy, stinking sanctuary. I detest it but I have nowhere else to go. Sell it and go for communal living, you say? Have you not paid attention for the last hour? And, let us face a few hard facts - nobody would get through the wall of stench in the doorway or over the piles of hoarded rubbish. LOL. Or not. Whatever. Just bring me the bells and I’ll happily ring them for donations. Or to warn you to get out of the way. You would prefer that.

From the top step, with the closed door behind me, after three tries with my stumps-for-fingers, I have double-locked and armed my shame, I look at my car. Well, my father’s old car. The Heap. I pay the mechanic in town to keep it going. One day it might take me far, far away. I figure I should just keep it going. Dreams. “She” tells me that hope might make a difference. What does she know?

I park the car on the street even though it is regularly vandalised. Layers and layers of colours and words. A freak freak here and a monster monster there. Here a zombie, there an ugly, everywhere a die die. I’ll get it painted over. A guy can dream, can’t he?

There is no porch to cross. No swinging seat with beautiful cushions to still with my hand as I walk by. A few steps down and I put the key into the car door to open it. I hear the engine in the distance, I think. I can’t hear be sure. Side effect of having no ears. No flaps to catch the sound. I do, however, feel the impact.

As I fly through the air, my life doesn’t flash before my eyes like they all say it will. Instead, I have run down, deep into my dungeon. Door Number One, you are free to go. Take your pinkness with you, please, spare me. Door Number Two, sweet thirteen, you might as well start enjoying what your step daddy is doing to you. Nobody cares. It’s what happens to girls who look like you. Door Number Three, my baby jock, torturer of my youth, the world as you know it will be over when your gorgeous face is plastered all over the news. You’ll get your wish to be a star, though. MTV, Baby.  Door Number Four. Mother. Yes, it was me all along. Door Number Five, middle-aged ex beauty queen and part-time porn star, my switch to the other side. We’re done. You’ll survive. Goodbye.  Door Number Six, the Stereotype. Why bother. You’re so busy with your streaming porn, you won’t see the 7pm news bulletin.

Tonight, the 7pm News that will report on a freak accident that kills the small-town freak. Law Enforcement will breathe a sigh of relief. No more obligatory check-ins. I am at peace. My ‘phone will be crushed. They’ll never know. I exhale, finally, as I head toward the ground.

No. Nope. My gut twists one last time as a mental picture of my ‘phone lying, unlocked, on the filthy, flat pillow appears. Dammit. Oh well, Halloween will never been the same again in this small-town.

*Please note that this 'blog' post should not be regarded as 'legal advice' and should most certainly not take the place of a legal professional who is advising you on a case as they will be well-versed with the facts of each individual case.