Eight women at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, were the victims of a catfish scam carried out by the same person. They originally thought it was a man, but as it turns out, it was actually a woman in Texas.
Catfishing is when a person creates a fake personal online to fool another person into having a relationship with them.
Hilary Hayes was one of the students taken by the Texas woman's catfish scheme.
In November of 2013, Hilary received a text from an unknown number. The sender claimed to have gotten Hilary’s phone number from a mutual friend at a party, reports FOX 13. He introduced himself to her as Hunter Anderson, and told her he was a member The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who was about to go on a church mission.
“He was just really good at figuring out what was important to me, what mattered, and how to get to me,” Hayes said.
Hayes and Anderson communicated for months but never met in-person.
Then one day Hayes met Sara Vanwagenen, a BYU graduate, who was also in a “relationship” with a man who would not meet her.
“Week after week it was excuse after excuse, and we would get in fights about it all the time, it was: ‘Why can’t we meet?’ and it was this excuse or this excuse,” said Vanwagenen.
Vanwagenen’s boyfriend went by the name of Hyrum Young, and she and Hayes soon discovered Young and Anderson shared the same phone number.
The big shock came a month later when they had spent time investigating and recounting text messages and phone conversations, which led them to discover who was actually on the other end of their relationships—a 24-year-old woman from Texas named Kayla.
“I was really, really hurt,” Vanwagenen said. “I was angry and I was mad. I was really hurt and confused. I had a lot of ill feelings towards this person … because I had trusted them.”
Hayes felt the same way.
“I was so confused and I felt so lost,” she said. “Somebody that I had shared so much with was, everything he told me was a complete lie,” Hayes said.
The Texas woman responsible for the catfishing was confronted by her victims. She said she did it because she was gay and Mormon and this was her way of dealing with it.
The Texas woman’s catfish scam claimed up to eight victims in Utah. Two tried to pursue criminal charges last year but were unable to because the imposter was in a different state, reports New York Daily News.
The victims did file a no contact order and other attempts at criminal charges were denied because BYU police say everyone involved were consenting adults.
Hayes has now dedicated her capstone project, cyberIQ, to educate others on online safety.
“It’s an initiative to help teach teens how to be safe online, and after this whole experience it’s strengthened my cause and belief in this project,” Hayes said.