I Was A Professional Catfish Who Was Probably Paid To Talk To You On Tinder

Photo: Roman Samborskyi / Shutterstock
I Was A Professional Catfish Who Was Probably Paid To Talk To You On Tinder

The first few years as a freelance writer are always the hardest. You don’t have much choice, you don’t make much money, and you’re at the mercy of demanding (and occasionally dick-ish) clients. Once you establish yourself as a freelancer, then you’re afforded a little more choice, a little variety. But in those early days, it’s hell.

I know that because I went through it myself. I was forced to apply to jobs I wouldn’t usually apply for and to agree to things I wouldn’t usually agree to. In the process, I discovered that there exists a certain client at a very specific pay scale.

This client is busy enough to want to pay someone to do their dirty work, but rich enough for that person to be talented and a native of their own language, even if neither of those things are relevant to the task at hand.

For the most part, this client is friendly and kind. But some of them treat it like a dominant and submissive relationship. You’re not their short-term employee, you’re their bitch.v

Even weirder though, are the things that you are tasked to completing. In those early days, I was told to learn HTML and deal with a few technical problems on a site, even though it would have been so much easier and cheaper to hire a developer who actually knew HTML.

I was hired to write admission letters and asked to write someone’s college essay, someone’s best man speech, and a letter to an employee who was about to lose their job.

Most of it, I accepted. Money is money. However, when it got really bizarre and niche, I refused. There was one job that was far more common, though, a job I was offered by several long-term clients and by many clients who headhunted me.

That job was often listed as an "Online Dating Guru", but it basically involved catfishing people for money. I encountered a man from India who wanted to pretend to be in London. I have encountered a very successful businessman who wanted to pretend to be younger than he was. Much younger.

Basically, there were many different clients all looking to rip women off, either for their money or their bodies, and because it sickened me, I didn’t let those jobs pass the interview stage

I did agree to one job, on very specific terms. The client was polite. He was genuine. He was very successful and he was handsome (at least, he was in the beginning). These were not the terms, but they helped.

RELATED: 3 Major Red Flags That You’re Being Catfished

The terms were that I was only to send the first messages on the dating site he was on and that I would only perform the job on a trial run for a few weeks. So, it was my job to make contact based on his preferences, to write a message that would trigger a response, and then to let him take over.

I was working in New York, one of the busiest cities in the world, so there was no shortage of young women to message. But there was also no shortage of young men to fill up their inbox before me, so it wasn’t easy. 

One of the first women I sent a message to was a young brunette who could easily pass for a supermodel. She turned out to be a catfish and he discovered this on the date.

Rather than seeing the irony in the situation and realizing a catfish had just hooked a catfish, he was actually angry at her for lying to him. And he relayed that anger to me, completely missing the irony.

At that point, the process became far too weird for me, which is why I stopped. It just felt so wrong.  I didn’t feel right lying to women or helping a man who clearly didn’t deserve any of the women I was making contact with — or any human on earth, for that matter.

RELATED: 6 Warning Signs That A Dating Profile Is Actually A Catfish

After me, the New York client hired a team of people who took over the role for two years and completed many different tasks. Even weirder is the fact that none of them had such strict rules as I did. They engaged women in conversation, they asked for their numbers, they asked them on dates. All of this was done by freelancers, NOT by the man himself.

The only time the client stepped in was during the date, when presumably, he sensed he could get something out of it.

He would also phone them, although I have it on good authority that he let an English freelancer assume that role during several occasions just so he could impress with an English accent (which I’m sure made a lot of sense for a man who described himself as being born in Brooklyn).

​It works both ways, too.

Some clients will hire women to send messages because they are assuming that women know women better than men do. And that’s true, but they are also more reluctant to get involved. Unless, of course, the client is female and the target is the men. Because this works both ways.

I know a female freelancer who was hired to a similar role by a young, professional woman. The difference was her job was to sort through the mess of messages that her client received every day, send replies to a few promising prospects, and to pass the buck when it got interesting.

RELATED: I Got Catfished While Online Dating — And It Helped Me Fall In Love

Like me, she also quit after just a couple weeks. And like me, she also felt a little sick and disturbed by it all. However, unlike me, it wasn’t because she thought she was crossing some kind of moral line. She had just encountered far too many dick pics, sleazy chat-up lines, and greetings of "Hey babe" for one woman to handle.

In her time, she bumped into several people she was convinced were freelancers doing the same job she was. This is now a genuine worry for women using these sites, even if they don’t realize it.

Because while it may be easy to detect scammers who are only after your money, and even the catfish who are clearly not who they say they are, there’s no way of knowing the person you speak to online is the same one you meet in person.

They could be a freelancer making their way through those shitty early years. They might have nothing better to do. They might be working for a humorless client who doesn’t understand irony. 

If you're not sure, take my friend's freelance situation: He had been working with a client who was paying him well but wasn’t treating the women very well and wasn’t reading any of the messages that had been exchanged.

My friend spoke to a woman for several weeks before unleashing her on the client, who met her in person at a local fast food place (because apparently, he was also a cheapskate). Knowing that the client wasn’t reading the messages and didn’t deserve the woman, and knowing that he was ready to quit soon anyway, he claimed to be an expert in things that the client knew nothing about.

He professed his love of jazz, which the client hated, and spoke of his love of freestyle verse, even though public speaking, hip-hop, and poetry were the client’s pet hates.

What followed was, no doubt, one of the most awkward dates the client had ever been on. The only regret my friend has is that he wasn’t there to see it.

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PJ Aitken is an author and a freelancer. His work has appeared on countless websites and in dozens of newspapers and magazines, including the Daily Mirror, Daily Express, Good Sam and many more.