In this series, we explore how our online identities intersect with who we really are.
When I first discovered someone was using my photograph to make fake profiles to talk to women online, my initial reaction was this sick feeling. I was more concerned about the safety of the people he was talking to. There's this man out there, luring these women, essentially.
I had made the decision a couple years ago to create a personal Facebook profile, specifically for my professional brand or persona. I wanted to make sure I was very open with the travel industry, in which I work, and with all our company's contacts around the world, so everything I publish on there is public.
But when you do that, of course, you open yourself up to everything from automated scamming devices to people you don't actually know reading up on you. So I regularly get friend requests and messages from people I don't know and I always make sure, before I respond to them or even accept them as a friend, that I have some mutual connection. I look at their page to check whether they know mutual friends or they also work in the travel industry.
Often, it's people from Southeast Asia, which is interesting, and a lot of women. That had been going on for a while. What changed, though, is I suddenly started getting more Southeast Asian women friend-requesting me and writing me, saying, "Hey, it was great to chat with you," and that kind of thing. It seemed almost like a phishing scheme. So I would ignore them. But I had one woman in particular who wrote on my actual wall. She wrote, "Hey Tim, can you check your messages?" and she left a little smile or winking face. Usually the scammers, the phishers, are more automated, but this seemed a little more personal.
So I checked my inbox, and there was this message from her saying, "It was great to chat with you. Can't wait to chat some more." It was odd, so I wrote back, saying, "Sorry, I don't think I know you. I don't think we've chatted before."
That's when she said, "Oh, well, we've been talking on Tinder and WhatsApp."
It just went from there and I explained to her it wasn't me. I'd never been on Tinder. She sent me all these screen shots of my photograph, used in a fake Tinder profile of someone claiming to be named "William." (Although the user name is "William," the bio states, "I'm Tim by name," and mentions the name of my company and the university I attended.) After our exchange, I found similar messages from a couple more people in my inbox.
I posted about this on Facebook to warn people there was someone posing as me on Tinder. As soon as I did, I got even more people writing to me, saying, "Oh, he's on this other site, too, and I talked to him." So there's this community of women he's talking to. It's scary.
It sounded as if he was just starting out. He was making an initial connection with these women and was building up to meeting in person or talking on the phone. Obviously, once anyone actually met him, they'd realize it wasn't me. So it's hard to know what his end goal is. It could be just to chat and have some companionship online, all the way to extortion or continued fraud. You never know.
One of the women told me she actually wanted to try to catch him in this lie. I was telling her, "Don't do that, be careful. Be careful." But she said she was asking him for pictures of where he was. I told her one thing she could do was to ask him to take a picture of himself, holding three fingers up or something very specific. She said as soon as she did that, he stopped responding to her. That's good. There's little tools like that that people can use to try and make sure the people they're talking to are real.
I quickly found out where he claimed to be and where these women were and where he was saying he'd meet them, which always seemed to be around Penang. Even though he'd say, "I'm in Australia right now," or "I'm in Japan right now," he'd say, "Let's meet in Penang."
So I contacted the Royal Malaysia Police. And because he provided a 204 phone number, which I thought was curious, I contacted the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, too. It's a Manitoba area code, which is where our head office is. I'm located in Toronto now, but I still have a 204 number.
The RCMP responded almost immediately and started looking into it. These things take time, but I was encouraged by that. I've heard nothing yet from the Malaysian police. But I asked the women to report the fake profile to Tinder and WhatsApp. Separately, I sent reports to those companies, letting them know about it.
I called the 204 number he provided myself and it just rang and rang. No one picked up. So I'm not sure if he's even answering that number or if he's just using it to chat with people online. But it must be registered to someone. I hadn't figured out what I was going to say to him if he answered. But I wanted to hear his voice. I basically just wanted to ask who he was and find out some information about him and to tell him I was the person he was posing as and that the police knew about it and that he should stop what he was doing.
Really, what I hope will happen is that all this stops so we don't have to worry about the safety of anyone any more, and that there's some kind of justice.
Nothing like this has ever happened to me before. But it just reminded me of the dangers of not only putting your information out there, but also how we're often quite willing to accept what people tell us online as being true. So it's just another reminder to do your due diligence.
Tim Morgan is vice-president of TPI, Canada's largest network of independent travel advisors. He is definitely not "William," the self-described 38-year-old from "Minnipeg, Manitoba," who has been using his photo on the social media app Tinder and the messaging app WhatsApp.
As told to Wency Leung