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BYU students compare notes on significant others, discover woman carrying out ‘catfishing’ scam

PROVO, Utah -- It's known as catfishing: someone creates a false persona online to deceive another into a relationship. Recently, eight women from Provo fell victim to this hoax by the same person, and some of the relationships lasted as long as two years.

"Having someone do that to you makes you question things, it makes you question yourself," said Hillary Hayes, a student at BYU.

A man Hilary Hayes had never met in person claimed to be falling in love with her, but Hilary said she was falling for his hoax.

"I would get home from school and he would call me, or I would call him, and we would just talk on the phone about our days, just casual things," Hayes said.

In November of 2013, Hilary first got a text from an unknown number, and the person on the other end claimed to have gotten it from a mutual friend at a party. He told her his name was Hunter Anderson, and that he was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who was about to go on a mission.

"He was just really good at figuring out what was important to me, what mattered, and how to get to me," Hayes said.

The two talked for months, and he even sent her Valentine's Day Flowers but he wouldn't meet her. After a series of random events, Hilary met Sara Vanwagenen--who was also talking to a man who wouldn't 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 Sara Vanwagenen, a BYU graduate.

The man Sara was talking to went by the name Hyrum Young. She and Hilary soon found out the phone number of the men they were talking to matched. After a month of investigating and recounting text messages and phone conversations, the pair found the person they were talking to was actually a 24-year-old woman from Texas.

"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 expressed similar feelings.

"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.

Up to eight Utah women fell victim of this catfish scam, and now Hilary is dedicating her capstone project, cyberIQ, to educate others.

"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.

The victims say after confronting the woman, she said she did this because she was gay and Mormon and that this is how she was dealing with it. She says she is going to law school in Texas and is still a member of the LDS Church but not actively attending.

The women filed a no contact order but could not pursue any criminal charges because BYU police say everyone involved were consenting adults.


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7 comments

  • miles (dave)

    i dont see falling victim of “cat fishing” as being too bad a thing, not if your dating correctly, sure if your in a “relationship” with someone on line then thats not bad even if your getting personal about it (however you need to be careful about giving out traceable information). but also its important to keep your self open in the real world, i just dont think its a good idea to say i have a boy or girl friend if you have never met that person. and if you get hooked up in real life before this person who supposedly likes you on line stops making excuses then too bad for the online person.

  • ANOTHERBOB

    Sounds like the 24-year-old woman from Texas is mentally sick. I’m not sure what part of the “community” she fits into.

  • J

    Maybe I’m just tired, but all I can think is that the 24 year old woman must have a very manly voice to pass as a man on the phone for hours at a time…

  • tandee

    Two of my sons fell for girls they “met” online and spent hours and days composing love letters. They were just consumed with her. She was in high school, “17” and this went on for many months. She always had some dramatic thing happening, like her parents died in a car crash, her sister was withholding her inheritance, her ex-boyfriend was stalking her. “She” led them on and on. One finally wrote this girl a very romantic letter asking her to marry him. She didn’t respond and he never heard from her again. They both thought these girls were real people, and of course their pictures were very beautiful and provocative. I think it was probably some kind of police sting, where they were trying to lure some “predator” in to take advantage of an underage girl, but my boys were barely over 18 and hadn’t dated anyone before. This was just a devastating and cruel heart break for those boys. Talk about innocence lost. When I ran a search on this girl’s name, I discovered another young man who had been corresponding with her as well, and that correspondence had ended as abruptly for him as my son’s.

  • David Mohr

    I am in an on-line relationship and I am thankful for Skype. Many people tell me to be very careful but I reply….we talk almost daily on Skype so I have actually seen this person. To me the only difference is that she is located in the Philippines and I am in Canada. No one is asking for money and we have both invited the other to visit and accepted the offer – just putting together the ticket price is all that is stopping us. Just like finding someone at home there are steps you need to take to assure yourself that the other person is who they say they are. And many talks with the Lord will help for confirmation.

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