From the Backseat: Catfish 101

ssI got the weirdest note the other day. It was one of those Facebook message requests that comes from someone you aren’t friends with. Her name was Elizabeth.

“Hi there,” Elizabeth said. “This may be the strangest email I’ve ever written. I’ve been chatting with a guy on OKCupid who is using your pictures. I’m pretty sure it’s not you. The username is morethanever8.”

Next was a screenshot: a photo of me from a few years ago, taken in New Hampshire by my friend Brian when we were ice climbing. I’m wearing a red jacket, the hood is up, I’m smiling and looking right at the camera. It’s one of my favorite pictures.

But apparently, it isn’t me — across the bottom, text read “morethanever8.” My OKCupid alter ego is apparently 36 and lives in Roslindale, Mass. And his match percentage with Elizabeth was a solid 93 percent.

“If this is the guy I’ve been chatting with, why don’t you add up?” Elizabeth wrote.

I stared at my computer screen. Identity theft is not usually how I begin my mornings. I clicked refresh to see if perhaps I had misinterpreted the situation. But no, my picture was being used to lure unsuspecting women. Unbeknownst to me I was part of a catfishing expedition.

But Elizabeth was smart. She’d done some Googling. As a climber and writer, I’m pretty easy to find online. And after some reading and a spot of quick mental math, she went on Facebook. She found me and sent me a note. Catfished she wouldn’t be.

But she and morethanever8 had chatted it up a bit, and he’d given her his phone number. She included it in the note. Well played, Liz.

So I called.

It was my journalism background that made me do it. I had his number, and a good reporter does not shy away from the hard questions. As the phone rang, I felt the familiar tension in my chest of an impending argument, a feeling that marks the lead up to any contentious interview. It’s trepidation mixed with excitement, fight-or-flight by phone. Stories like these are always an adrenaline rush, and this one even more so. This time it was personal.

But morethanever8 didn’t pick up. After a handful of rings, he sent me to voicemail. His alter-ego, and yet he denied me. Who would date such a jerk? I left a message:

“Hi. I’m Erik. This is kind of awkward, but I got a note saying you’re using my picture on your online dating profile. Um, could you not? I mean, I’d kind of appreciate it if you took it down, thanks. If you want to talk about this, you have my number. Bye.”

As so often happens in online dating, I’m still waiting for him to respond. But a few hours later Elizabeth messaged to say morethanever8 had removed my photos. It was only in writing this column that I noticed her note said “pictures,” not just the singular “picture.” Eww.

I’ve told this story a handful of times now, and each telling gets a laugh. But it also raises questions. Several people have suggested Elizabeth is some sort of online dating ninja, that she couldn’t have found me based on just the pictures and maybe concocted the whole story as a ploy to get my phone number. Maybe the number I dialed was hers, people suggest.

But I don’t buy that. As a reporter I regularly find people on scant evidence. I believe Elizabeth to be my Hillary Clinton, not my Donald Trump; my pantsuited white knight rather than my con artist.

But morethanever8 I’m still confused by. Who is he? What was he thinking? Did he expect to pull off being me once it grew time for an in-person meeting? Or was this some other type of scam, one where the prize was something other than carnal? Did he know what he was doing? Would this ploy allow him to evade a meeting and thus detection?

I clearly don’t understand these things. Like some long-retired phone company employee who borrows an iPhone to make a quick call, despite my inside role I still have no idea how catfishing works. I know only that I got nothing out of it but this column.

I do, however, still have morethanever8’s phone number. Maybe I’ll try giving him another call today.


This column appeared in the Portland Phoenix.