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Male model called in private detective after his picture was used by men to entice women on dating sites

Manchester Evening News logo Manchester Evening News 3 days ago Katherine Bainbridge

A model who had to hire a private detective to track down a man who stole his identity to dupe women online says ‘catfishing’ should be made illegal.

Matt Peacock was horrified when he found scores of men had taken his pictures and posed as him on dating websites to entice women – a practise known as catfishing.

He thinks more than 40 fake profiles were created using his images.

He said it had a devastating effect on his family, but also on the women targeted, many of whom fell in love with someone who turned out not to be real.

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In many cases, women were pressured into sending explicit photos and videos to perpetrators.

One vulnerable young single mum reported having suicidal thoughts when she found out what had happened.

Matt’s wife was contacted on numerous occasions by people wrongly telling her he had been speaking to other women online.

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Pictures of his nieces and nephews have been used by catfish claiming their fake persona was a ‘caring dad’.

Matt launched a campaign to lobby for a change in the law so people who steal people’s pictures and create fake online profiles can be brought to justice.

He has been backed by Stockport MP Ann Coffey, who is set to bring up the issue in Parliament.

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Matt said: “I am a fashion model by trade so there are a lot of pictures of me out there.

“I started getting messages from girls I had never seen before saying they had been talking to someone pretending to be me.

“There were 43 different profiles that used my picture, and it wasn’t just one person doing it.

“It affected me and my whole family. We spoke to one girl who the catfish had targeted, pretending to be me.

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“She told me she had felt like committing suicide after being deceived by this man.

“I vowed then to do all I could to sort this out. Something needs to be done and if people knew pretending to be someone else online was an offence then they might be put off.”

With the help of a private detective, Matt tracked down and confronted one of the men using his pictures to dupe women.

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The man was apologetic and swore he would stop – but just three weeks later he started doing it again.

Matt went to the police, but they said there was nothing they could do as the perpetrator wasn’t breaking any laws.

“That’s when I knew I had to do something,” Matt said.

“I am going to be a dad next year, and I don’t want my children to come into a world where this goes on.

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“I got in touch with Ann Coffey and I can’t sing her praises highly enough – she has been fantastic. She really took it to heart and understood the seriousness of it.”

Ms Coffey is due to speak on the issue during an adjournment debate in the House of Commons today (Tuesday), and call for a specific law against stealing another person’s identity to lure people into sexual relationships.

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She will also urge social media companies, such as Facebook, and dating sites to be more proactive in monitoring and warning users against the dangers of catfishing.

“Catfishing is a modern day menace affecting the lives of many innocent people,” she said.

“It can cause years of heartache. We must do something to deter this and a change in the law is the most effective deterrent.

“Without a specific offence, ‘catfish’ who cause so much distress to individuals and their families will continue to exploit and harm other people.”

Matt added: “If we can get some legislation put in place it really will make a difference – social media sites will have to protect their users.”

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