Catfishing on the internet is nothing new. It happens every day to someone. But what happens when the victim of a catfish finds the real person someone was pretending to be?
That's when things got really scary for one Scottsdale woman.
Cynthia Sassi lives her life online. It's where she runs her business called Fabulous Arizona.
But being so public took a turn recently when weird messages started coming into her email.
Sassi says some of the emails contained alarming messages like, "Who is Cynthia Sassi? She's scamming people. I need to know more about her."
First, the emails went to her employees and then to her. Moments later, a scary message came from her apartment complex.
"They're very concerned. Someone has called the front office looking for me," Sassi recalls.
It was a man who had flown to Arizona from New York to meet "Cynthia."
He says they've been talking online for months through WhatsApp and Google.
Only the real Cynthia had no idea.
She says, "I did call this person because I was just like I need to get to the bottom of what's going on here." During their initial conversation, the man claimed to be her boyfriend.
"He says, 'Do you have a boyfriend?' And I said yes. And he goes, 'is his name Eric?' and I said no. And he goes, 'Yes it is. I'm Eric. I'm your boyfriend.'"
Through that phone conversation, Sassi learns this man thinks he's been talking to her for months.
"He sent me screenshots of their conversations. This person was taking videos off of my Instagram account and sending them to him directly as if they were me," Sassi states.
She believes he may have sent this imposter money, too.
Sadly, this man is not the only person duped this way.
In 2021, the FTC reported victims had lost a record-high $547 million in romance scams.
Cyber Security Expert Victor Benjamin says these kinds of threats don't stop. They just evolve.
"There is somewhat of an arms race between the people who are proliferating fake content on these platforms and trying to scam people versus the actual social media platforms," he remarked.
Sassi is making changes to what she posts online and is thankful her followers have encouraged her to stay online. Benjamin says that's one way to take power back.
"How to best defend yourself against it, having frequent communication with your users. Building trust with your users so that they would know this behavior is typical from this person," he advises.
Sassi has been in contact with the police after the man showed up at her home. She also says a fake Instagram account has popped up with her photos in a crypto-scam.
Instagram support told her the account will stay up until they can look into it and she should block the account until it's resolved.