A woman discovered her boyfriend of a year was a scammer based in Nigeria who has conned hundreds of women out of thousands of pounds on the premiere of Catfish UK.
Inspired by the hit US TV show, which has run for eight series, the highly-anticipated British spin-off premiered this evening.
Hosted by radio and TV presenter Julie Adenuga and journalist and author Oobah Butler, each week Catfish UK will be helping love-struck hopefuls get to the bottom of their online relationships and uncover the truth of who they have been speaking to.
The first show sees mother-of-two Emma, from Brighton, try to track down her online boyfriend Harlin, who ghosted her out of the blue after spending a year chatting virtually.
Mother-of-two Emma, from Brighton (pictured), appeared on the premiere of Catfish UK. The show was inspired by the hit US TV show, which has run for eight series
After a video call with her supposed boyfriend, Emma was convinced his profile was legitimate – despite him constantly asking her to send over £50 at a time, claiming he needed internet while overseas in the military.
But after Julie and Oobah tracked down the true owner of the social media pictures, they discovered a scammer had stolen an Instagram video from the same profile and cleverly edited it to look like a video call.
Further investigation found that hundreds of women had been duped by a group of scammers, who have conned vulnerable women out of thousands through romance fraud.
‘I met Harlin on a dating site on the internet,’ Emma explained ahead of the devastating discovery. ‘I’ve never been on there before. He seemed very interested and like a real gentleman and he worked for the Navy.’
Hosted by radio and TV presenter Julie Adenuga and journalist and author Oobah Butler, each week Catfish UK will be helping love-struck hopefuls get to the bottom of their online relationships
When asked what attracted her to ‘Harlin’, she said: ‘He was very good-looking and attractive and also has a boy of a similar age to mine.
‘He seemed really down-to-earth and sent messages every morning and every night to see how my day went.’
She added: ‘He made me feel really special. This has been going on for a year now and I just didn’t hear from him for a bit, I got a bit worried and want to make sure he’s okay.’
Upon meeting the hosts, Emma revealed that Harlin had shared intimate details of his life with her while chatting, and had told her he loved her over text.
The mother grew suspicious of Harlin after discovering that multiple other profiles were using his photographs – all using different names and ages.
After confronting him about the profiles, Harlin video-called Emma while she was in the car with her children, and after Emma hung up the call, Harlin stopped answering his phone and disappeared.
Upon meeting the hosts, Emma revealed that Harlin had shared intimate details of his life with her while chatting, and had told her the loved her over text
The mother grew suspicious of Harlin after discovering that multiple other profiles were using his photographs – all using different names and ages
As Julie and Oobah’s investigation got underway, a reverse image search of Harlin’s social media photographs and number revealed no other matches online.
After searching through the submariner hashtag on Instagram, the pair discovered a the photograph was being used by a man called Ben, whose profile suggested he was engaged to a different woman.
The pair messaged Ben, who revealed: ‘I get messages on social media every day from people saying they’ve been speaking to someone using my pictures or pretending to be me. My fiancée gets messages as well saying that I’m cheating on her.’
Ben revealed he had ‘no idea’ who was using his profile, and that the person who video-called Emma was not the same person as the man in Harlin’s social media photos.
As Julie and Oobah’s investigation got underway, a reverse image search of Harlin’s social media photographs and number revealed no other matches online
Emma was lost for words after Julie and Oobah broke the news to her, but maintained she still thought the same man in the pictures had video-called her.
‘I just want to know who was doing it,’ said Emma. ‘They’ve taken a whole year out of their life, chatting to me asking about my day everyday, it’s really strange. Why would anyone want to do that?’
‘I had an inkling after he asked me for money, it was always £50 for internet was all he ever asked for, so he could talk to me I assumed.’
A phone call to his number revealed a US voicemail, despite being a UK number and Emma claiming his location on the dating app was as close as seven miles away from her.
Julie and Oobah then met Paula, a woman who was duped by someone using the same photos but going by the name of Philip.
Despite her heartbreak, two months later Emma was feeling far more positive, revealing she’d ‘learned a good lesson’ from the experience
‘He was on a dating app, very charming. What was a little bit weird, he deleted his account straight away. It wasn’t long before he told me he loved me, this was within two weeks,’ she explained.
I tried to ask him about FaceTime because I had doubts, there would be an excuse, and that’s when I cut off all contact.’
Soon after their meeting with Paula, the pair received an email from Ben who said there was another woman who has been scammed by someone using the photos, and she’d sent him £1,730 (2000 euros).
‘She’s literally saying he’s properly a fraud,’ said Oobah. ‘We’ve got to catch him soon or he’ll keep doing this to people. We’re not dealing with a catfish, we’re dealing with a criminal.’
After further investigation, the hosts stumbled across an online forum of hoards of women who had been scammed by the same person, all using Ben’s pictures.
‘This is so much bigger than we thought, this is someone stealing thousands of euros from loads of people, loads of vulnerable people,’ said Oobah.
The duo revealed Emma’s story has largely helped the authorities in their hunt for the scammers
They turned to finance crime and fraud prevention consultant Nick, who told the duo that in 2019, £68million had been stolen from vulnerable people in the UK as the result of romance fraud.
Speaking of the suspicious video call, he said: ‘We live our life online, they will take videos from Ben’s profiles and edit them and turn them into what they want’.
Oobah soon found a video on Ben’s social media, matching the footage Emma had described seeing on the video call.
After discovering that she had been talking to a scammer, Emma said: ‘This person is like a serial catfish, doing it to so many people in so many different countries, why pick on me? How can you live with yourself after doing that to people?
‘I’ve told him stuff about my children. Why would someone do that to you? I’m gutted it wasn’t him.’
Despite her heartbreak, two months later Emma was feeling far more positive, revealing she’d ‘learned a good lesson’ from the experience, with the duo revealing her story has largely helped the authorities in their hunt for the scammers.