Gone Catfishin': How I Was Lured By An Online Dating Con Artist

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catfished, online dating, con artist
What sane person could possibly fall in love with a total stranger on the internet ... right?

Online dating seems to be a legitimate sign of the times. After all, we’re a technological world now; the pick-up joints of yesteryear don't have the same appeal they once did. In our individual pursuits for a partner — whoever our ideal partners happen to be  we're all virtually linked by one common ground: the internet.

As long as you have a computer and a connection to the web, you're in the game, no matter where you live. There's nothing to stop a person in a miniscule town from pursuing a relationship with another person in the heart of New York City  or anywhere for that matter. Thanks to the internet, love is a whole lot easier to locate.

 

While online dating is no longer taboo (more than 65% of YourTango readers agree, according to our recent survey), the concept does still prompt feelings of distrust or wariness. As more of our friends meet the loves of their lives on sites on OKCupid and Match.com, our virtual guards remain up like invisible force fields. "Will I really find love on my MacBook Pro?" The answer is, sometimes. Other times you encounter something you hadn't really bargained for. I learned that the hard way when I met "Alex Lee."

This is the true story of an internet con artist — and I'm not the only one she fooled.

We met one year out of my hellacious breast cancer experience; I was a new survivor fresh off of chemotherapy. I felt raw, lonely, depressed; ugly and unwanted. Alex Lee found me in an online art gallery, saw my gothic artwork and pinned me immediately for the sucker I would end up being. I would come to find later that the Alex persona had been tweaked to suit my fantasy. The plan: to use cancer as our common thread. Alex happened to be a man who suffered terribly from a fatal disease, and after a brief online courtship, he lulled me into believing I was one of the only things that mattered in his life. In fact, he came at me like gangbusters.

Alex Lee described himself as a slim, handsome, young, autistic man who was not only a victim of abject poverty, but was dying of terminal leukemia as well. We talked on the phone. His voice, with its sultry Southern drawl, was naturally low and distinctly masculine. 

I fell in love with Alex and spent years in an online relationship with him. It was an ideal scenario for me. I wasn't looking for a real-life affair; I was looking for exactly what I got: an online romance with a person I believed to be as vulnerable as I was. I thought I'd found a friend, someone who had suffered as I did — someone who, in his way, could love me. And because I believed Alex was not long for this world, I wanted to help. After a while, so did all of my friends.

But Alex would never show his photo to his new friends. That should have been a glaring red flag, of course, but Alex was autistic and way too shy to share something so intimate. Instead, he would send images of vampires and dark, gothic angels. A dark, brooding creature of the night happened to be an irresistible image to certain women who should have known better, myself included.

I was content to respect Alex's wishes to not be seen, but for just so long. My curiosity to see the face of the man I'd been so desperately in love with finally overwhelmed me. I begged him to please show me his face, promising that I would love him no matter what he looked like. Uncharacteristically, he coldly declined and shut me out of his life.

Two weeks later, I called him. I was furious. I demanded he get on the webcam and talk to me. Enough was enough. Alex consented and got on camera, and (of course) it was not a shy, brooding young man who appeared on my screen. Alex, it turned out, was Teresa. An older woman; a grandmother. She sat in front of her computer day after day with one purpose alone: to find as many people as possible "out there" who might send her money, and she knew the only way to get this money was by pretending to be someone else. Who in their right mind would send money to a complete stranger?!, you're asking yourself. Bear in my mind, I was vulnerable. I was the perfect prey.

With so many of us in hot pursuit of love relationships, the criteria for Teresa's search became quite obvious. She sought victims who were vulnerable and willing to believe in love — so much so, that they would fall for anything. She created the biggest sob story ever told in the history of lies and sat back as the big bucks came rolling in. Conning people was her job, a profession she turned to when two of her three grown daughters — both convicted felons — failed to turn enough tricks or sell enough pills to the drug addicts in the area, I learned.  Keep reading ...

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