Stories of catfishing, which is when a person creates a fictional persona or fake identity on a social networking service, usually don’t end well.
But one South Florida woman’s story proved to be the exception. Her saga began with lies and ended with her finding love with the man whose pictures were used to trick her.
For Nicole Hayden, nothing seemed out of the ordinary when an attractive guy named Marcus sent her a message on Instagram and struck up a conversation. But things suddenly turned very strange, very fast.
‘It started getting really hot and heavy. I think he even told me he loved me after a day,” she said. “He's like, ‘I love you. I'm going to marry you. You're the woman of my dreams.”
Then, he asked her for a favor, saying his mom was in the hospital and he needed $6,000. Nicole quickly realized it was probably a scam and said she wasn’t sending the money.
“At that point, that's when they got really belligerent and said we can access your phone, we can get all of your pictures,” Hayden said.
The scammer threatened to photoshop nude photos of Hayden and post them on the internet while also threatening the safety of her children, saying she had two days to comply “or else.”
“I was scared, but then I realized I live in a gated community, my kids go to a charter school, I am safe,” she said.
Hayden then saw a suggested friend request on Facebook. It was Marcus’ picture, but a different name - Alessandro Cinquini. The man had been warning people that his pictures had been stolen. Nicole sent a message and their friendship bloomed.
“It breaks my heart to see that women are sending scammers who they think are me thousands and thousands of dollars and sometimes I feel powerless,” he said. “A woman said she paid me $3,000 and then she went into debt. I was like we need join together and teach people.”
Since both Nicole and Alessandro live in South Florida, they decided to meet up with the mission of joining forces to educate women about the dangers of scammers. One meeting turned into more and the conversations turned more personal and before long, they realized they had something real.
“So together we actually make each other better,” Nicole said. “He's more adventurous. If I didn't have a family so young, I think I always tell him he's like my male spirit part because he's like the mirror of me only, and a male version.”
While a fake profile brought them together, the couple doesn’t want to discourage people from finding love online – but they say tread carefully.
“Don't trust someone that is asking for money, no matter how much you trust them,” Alessandro said. “You will be sorry.”