Catfishing is unfortunately a pretty common occurrence these days because the anonymity the internet provides is just too tempting for people who’d rather be somebody else. However, there is one recent case of catfishing that went to the extreme, so much so that it has upheaved more than a few lives. This is the case of the Leah Palmer.
— #MyDigitalCareer (@DigitalCareerUK) May 26, 2015
According to BuzzFeed, the story began back in July of 2012, when the alleged Leah Palmer began flirting with a semiprofessional athlete who wished to be known as Justin for the purpose of anonymity (ironic). Leah’s social media presence indicated that she was a jet-setting fashionista who seemed like she had a pretty awesome life, not to mention she always looked super cute in her pictures. This Justin was reeled in, and the two started an online relationship of sorts. However, anytime he tried to escalate things to where they’d actually meet in person, she’d have some excuse why she couldn’t.
More: How to spot a catfish
He told BuzzFeed, “Given her apparent career in fashion, she was supposedly away a lot with work. She pulled at the heartstrings a little, claiming the death of her brother, and various other family tragedies, throughout the time we were in contact. So I often gave her the benefit of the doubt when it came to meeting up.”
This behavior on her end continued for months, and finally resulted in Justin dating another woman with whom he could actually have an in-person relationship. That’s when things started to get scary.
Sonja Polimac, a 24-year-old law graduate, noticed messages from Leah popping up all over his Twitter feed, but didn’t think much of it at first, because they weren’t exclusive. Then she noticed Leah was referring to Sonja as a “slut” or “bitch” who was trying to steal her man. She told BuzzFeed, “These things when you read them, especially for someone you don’t know, feels very creepy to me. I had chills running down my spine when I read it because I thought, You don’t even know me. Why are you so obsessed?”
It got so bad in fact that Sonja went to the police. However, they said there’s nothing they can do, because apparently there’s “no legislation” for this type of online harassment. When she confronted Justin about it, he got very defensive, and lied, saying he and Leah had in fact met. Eventually he left Sonja for this woman who he’d never actually met, only to discover months later the pictures of the woman he’d fallen for belonged to someone else.
— Melissa Stewart (@MelissaOnline) March 12, 2015
That woman is 25-year-old Ruth Palmer, who lives in Dubai, and is an account manager for a multinational firm. Just like Leah claims to, Ruth travels a lot for work, and her pictures show her looking very happy and glamorous with friends and her husband. Between 2012 and 2015, “Leah Palmer” systematically stole Ruth’s social media identity, taking over 900 pictures from her and claiming them as her own.
She created several Twitter accounts, as well as an Instagram and Facebook account using those pictures. She even inserted pictures and posts of Ruth’s friends (using their real names) into this fictitious online world of hers, and labeled her current husband as an “ex.” Eventually it got back to Ruth that someone was exploiting her in this way, but no matter what she did, she couldn’t nail down the perpetrator.
— S Moda (@smoda) May 25, 2015
The scariest part is it’s likely “Leah” is someone Ruth knows, since the stolen pictures were mostly from her private Facebook account. Even when Ruth got Facebook to shut down the Leah account, a different one promptly popped up. Anyone else getting an image of Medusa’s replicating snakes?
Ruth contacted Justin in January — a year after his relationship with “Leah” ended — to explain how he’d been duped. Naturally the conversation was a difficult one for both parties. He was far from the only guy she had catfished, but he seems to be the one who was the most convinced she was real.
Sadly, most people expect to see this kind of behavior online. A somewhat known DJ Fenton Gee with whom “Leah” had gotten involved told BuzzFeed, “I think it comes with the job or whatever, but I believe everyone is fake until I meet them. This isn’t the first time it’s happened to me — she’s probably the third or fourth who’s done this.”
It’s scary to think we have to be so guarded and dubious when we interact with others online, but as long as social media provides the anonymity it does, there will be “Leahs” out there who will covet others’ lives. The internet is a place where many fantasies play out, but most are only screen deep.