By Eve White
Just three weeks after giving birth, the last thing 21-year-old Elise Haynes expected was to find out she’d been impersonated on social media platforms by someone under the name ‘Amber Woods’.
A stranger had spammed Elise’s Instagram with likes trying to draw her attention to her messages- “They had sent me a message saying they follow this girl called Amber Woods and they then came across my Instagram on the ‘Discover’ page and could see that Amber Woods was impersonating me.” Elise recalled.
Elise asked people on her Facebook to report the account and then received multiple messages from girls as a result. These girls had been speaking to Amber Woods both over text and by voice recordings sent via social media for years.
It was discovered that the catfish, someone who impersonates another person online, had made the account in 2018 and Elise had reported it herself soon after. The account was made again in 2019 without Elise’s knowledge and was continually used up until she was made aware earlier this year.
However, the nightmare didn’t end there. Amber Woods had been posting photos of Ivy, Elise’s new-born daughter: “I didn’t know if they were male, I didn’t know if they were female and I didn’t know what their intentions were with this account.”
Messages between the catfish and unsuspecting people say how in love with Ivy they were and even going as far as to say that labour ‘was a dream’.
The catfish also claimed to be having relationship problems with Elise’s actual boyfriend, Bailey. When Elise told him about the account, he was angry- both because of the pictures of his daughter being used and for the way his relationship was being violated.
It seemed that other new mums had some feelings towards the catfish as they had sent pictures of their children to Amber Woods. Some would even arrange to meet up with her, but the catfish would make an excuse or just not show up at all.
A survey by Phys.Org revealed that 41% of people listed loneliness as their reason for catfishing, however, most catfish impersonate others for romantic reasons.
Manchester based social media manager Mikki Wright says that the reason people intentionally catfish is because they believe they wouldn’t get attention by ‘showing who they really are.’
“I was confused, I was angry, I was upset, and I was quite scared because I’ve never really had something like that happen to me” Elise reported, “it just made me think ‘if I didn’t find out when I did, how long would it have continued for?”
Elise said that she is now more cautious of what she posts online but she still thinks that there are issues with social media, saying that no matter how private you are, if someone wants to, there will always be a way for them to get round it if they’re smart enough and if they have the right technology.
Mikki agreed: “We don’t want to spend our lives being paranoid, but we must be very aware of the fact that it’s so easy nowadays to use someone else’s pictures.”
The Amber Woods profile went undetected for three years because of the way it looked. There were regular pictures and posts and the account had lots of friends: “It didn’t look like someone was impersonating someone’s life. It looked like a genuine girl’s account that had a family and a baby.” Elise explained.
So, when speaking to people online, especially in Elise’s case, Mikki had some advice on how to spot a catfish: “If they make excuses not to video chat, it’s a big warning sign.”
Unfortunately, the most apps and social media platforms are doing to stop catfishing is sometimes asking users to verify themselves. Mikki said, “There are a lot of laws that should be put in place for social media use and proving your identity is definitely one of them.”
For Elise though, the ordeal isn’t over. Having traced the account to somewhere in Derby, Amber Woods was narrowed down to being one of two people. Elise got in touch with both girls, but neither would confess: “I didn’t get full closure and I don’t think I ever will” she said, “I don’t think anyone will ever openly admit to doing it because to pursue something like that for three years, it’s a task.”