Debate on Catfishing in Westminster Hall
A new law to tackle the growing menace of online sex predators who create false identities to lure people into relationships will be called for in the Commons today.
Ann Coffey MP will highlight the plight of Matt Peacock, a male model from Stockport, who has had his identity stolen online for the past four years by a ‘catfish’ who has used his pictures on dating websites to create fake social media profiles to entice women.
During an adjournment debate in the Commons, Ms Coffey will warn of the growing phenomenon of ‘catfishing’ – where someone takes over another persons’ identity online and uses social media to trawl for dozens of unsuspecting victims at a time.
She will call for the introduction of a specific law against stealing another person’s identity and posing as them online to lure people into sexual relationships. At the moment there is no such law.
A new law should make it very clear that if someone takes someone else’s identity and poses as them online then they are committing an offence.
Ms Coffey will also urge social media giants, such as Facebook and online dating sites, to be more proactive to help prevent people from being deceived via their platforms, for example better monitoring and flashing messages to warn users about the growing phenomenon of ‘catfishing’.
Mr Peacock’s family has been put under tremendous strain and his wife has been contacted on many occasions to be wrongly told that her husband was cheating on her, asking women for illicit photographs, videos and arranging meetings.
Photographs of Mr Peacocks’ nephews and nieces have also been used by the catfish who claimed they were his children in an attempt to attract single mothers by appearing as a ‘caring dad’.
The police told Mr Peacock there was nothing they could do and so he hired a private detective for help. They tracked down the catfish who admitted using Mr Peacock’s identify to deceive dozens of women, which crucially Matt and the detective captured on tape.
They handed over the full taped confession, to the police. But the police said again that they could not take any action as they did not consider any notifiable crime to have been committed.
Ms Coffey said:
“Catfishing is a modern day menace affecting the lives of many innocent people. It can cause years of heartache. We must do something to deter this and a change in the law is the most effective deterrent.
“A new law should make it very clear that if someone takes someone else’s identity and poses as them online then they are committing an offence.
“Without a specific offence, ‘catfish’ who cause so much distress to individuals and their families, will continue to exploit and harm other people.
“The internet has brought about many positive changes but it has also brought complex problems of how to safeguard people from those who want to deceive and harm them online.”
Mr Peacock said: “It affected me and my whole family. We spoke to one girl who the catfish had targeted, pretending to be me. She told me she had felt like committing suicide after being deceived by this man.
“I vowed then to do all I can to sort this out. Something needs to be done and if people knew pretending to be someone else on line was an offence then they might be put off.”
Ms Coffey has also been contacted by other victims of catfishing, including Anna Rowe, who started a petition Change.org in February 2017 calling for it to be made illegal to create a fake online profile with the intention of using it to lead others into sex. So far she has collected 41,472 names.
Anna’s “catfish” created a fake online persona using Facebook accounts, emails, Skype, Snapchat and Instagram accounts to create a background story of a man divorced for 15 months and looking for a meaningful long term relationship.
She eventually discovered that she was in a relationship with a man who was married. Since she publicised her case, Anna has been contacted by many other women who said they too had been deceived by the same man.
In a third case, a mother who was worried about the awful effect being ‘catfished’ had had on her son, contacted Ms Coffey.
Axel Grassi-Havnen has been catfished for four months and he was so upset by the emotional strain it put him under that he has made a video on YouTube to warn other young people of the dangers.