After a difficult breakup, Emma Perrier spent the summer of 2015 broken-hearted. When September rolled around, the restaurant manager realized it was time to move on. There are only so many times she can watch The Notebook alone in her London apartment. But how do you put yourself out there these days?
Despite some of the horror stories she heard about meeting apps, she decided to try one. She downloaded an app called Zoosk. Their logo featured an engagement ring, suggesting that the 38 million members on the app wanted something serious- not just a one night stand offered by many other apps.
Creating her Dating Profile
Emma was from a volcanic city close to the French Alps and the source of Perrier mineral water. It was difficult for her to meet men because she worked late hours at the coffee shop in the city’s financial district. For the most part, only stockbrokers came into the cafe, and they were looking for cappuccinos, not love.
She thought, why not try an app? A lot of love stories come out of it. She was nervous but ready to move on. Emma, who is a petite brunette, was required to take three selfies to “verify her identity.” At 33 years old, she opened up her profile and was suddenly swipe-able like most other single adults.
Emma’s heartbreak came from Connor, one of her customers. He was considered one of London’s most eligible bachelors and was 11 years younger than her. He called Emma at work to ask her on a date, which evolved into a romance that lasted eight months. They went night-fishing near his parent’s house in Kent and felt an immediate spark. As their lines were dangling in the water, the couple was holding hands in the darkness.
Their relationship seemed to be blossoming until one day when they were at the train station. Connor told Emma that it wasn’t working out; he would rather hang out at nightclubs than be in a serious relationship. When she tried to talk things through, he told Emma that he never loved her.
Checking the App
She finally felt prepared to join millions of people around the world using dating apps. But like the rest of us on these apps, she wasn’t sure if fate could really happen through computers. As soon as she opened up that app, Emma’s phone was filled with messages from a bunch of strangers. She had a wide variety of suitors and started to see that there were plenty of people out there.
That night, she received a message from a man named Ronaldo “Ronnie” Scicluna; he was a dark-haired Italian that looked like her high school crush. The message was blurred out, though- the app was holding his text ransom.
Paying the Subscription Fee
Later that night, Emma video chatted with her sister and showed him Ronnie’s pictures. He looked boyish, mysterious, and attractive. He kind of looked like a male model, but according to his profile, Ronnie was a 34-year old electrician in England’s West Midlands- only about 100 miles away from Emma.
Emma’s twin sister Gaelle was living in France, married with an 11-year-old daughter. Emma moved to the United Kingdom five years earlier, but the sisters Facetimed daily. Emma learned English pretty fast and was ready to meet that special someone. Ronnie seemed like a catch, so she decided to pay the £25 ($34) subscription to Zoosk.
Ronnie’s message finally materialized, and it said, “You look beautiful.” Emma quickly realized that she and Ronnie were two lonely Europeans working in England. Ronnie tried to speak French, so Emma wrote to him in Italian. She was surprised that he didn’t speak it. Ronnie explained that his mother was English, and his Italian father also spoke English, “except when he swears.”
As these online dating apps go, at a certain point, they switched from messaging on Zoosk to WhatsApp. She was glued to her phone, constantly texting Ronnie. She wondered how someone like him was even interested in her. Emma said, “I’m very natural. I mean, I’m nothing. I’m very simple, you know… so I was flattered.”
Too Good to be True
One of their conversations went like this. Ronnie said, “You could have easily picked someone else,” and Emma’s response was, “No. You’re the only one I wanted to talk to… I paid because of you.” Ronnie wrote, “As soon as I saw your picture, I wanted you.” Emma replied, “Makes me happy to know that.”
In Emma’s favorite picture of Ronnie, he is wearing a leather jacket, making him look like a pop star, but he seemed so down to earth! When he sent her back four heart emoji’s, Emma couldn’t help but feel butterflies. He appeared to be attentive, mature, funny, caring, and attractive, but there was one little problem. He didn’t exist.
Meet Alan Stanley
As it turned out, Ronaldo Scicluna was a fictional character created by a short, balding 53-year-old named Alan Stanley. He lived by himself in Stratford-upon-Avon. Alan was extremely insecure and used a disguise to fool women into talking to him. “Ronnie” was a charming and attractive ladies’ man- the opposite of Allan.
During an emotional interview, he said: “I was in a pretty lonely place. I wasn’t feeling the most attractive of people, I might say. You know, I always struggled with self-confidence and… I was going through a messy separation, and I just felt like I needed somebody to talk to.” Not an excuse! If you need someone to talk to, go to a therapist, don’t trick women.
Alan had an adult daughter, but after his 22-year marriage ended, Alan found himself depressed and uninterested in the opposite sex. He explained that he “just had enough.” He consumed himself with his decorating work for a while, but then he started getting bored. Alan wanted to “mix” with new people, but he was scared of public rejection. Then he found the Zoosk, the online dating service.
The app had a selfie-based verification system to avoid these types of situations, but Alan managed to bypass the system. He admitted to stealing pictures of a random male model off of google. He explained, “I’m always nervous about posting personal images of myself. I just don’t like pictures of me. It goes back a long way, to be honest.”
The first profile Alan saw was Emma’s, and he was captivated. This wasn’t his first rodeo, though. Alan admitted to having done this at least five times before. He was pen pals with single women all over the globe- but avoided meeting and video calls. He enjoyed the thrill of the chase and attention. He wasn’t interested in awkward situations like first dates.
Emma was just another one. He said that their flirty conversations were innocent and fun, but Allan seems to think this kind of behavior is normal. “Catfishing is prevalent across the internet. Everybody does catfishing.” No, Alan, not everybody does catfishing. It might be more popular among sociopaths.
Catfishing is “Simple”
Sadly, with the rise of social media platforms, Alan was right. Catfishing was becoming more common (still not a normal). According to cyber-psychologist Mary Aiken, “Now you don’t need the imagination of a Tolstoy or Dickens to create a totally believable but fictional identity. It’s a matter of cut and paste.” Unfortunately, sometimes the results can be devastating.
In 2006, a 13-year-old found herself in an online relationship with a fake teenage boy created by her neighbors. After the online relationship soured, Megan Meier tragically killed herself. Catfishing became so prevalent recently that in June, Facebook announced that they are piloting new tools to prevent people like Alan from stealing your profile pictures.
Let’s Go on a Date
His conversations with Emma progressed rather quickly. From pet names to late-night phone calls, Emma could just imagine his West Midlands accent matching perfectly with the attractive model in the pictures. In October 2015, she told “Ronnie” how excited she was to meet him. He asked, “Are you not usually happy, stinky?” Emma’s response was, “I am, but you changed something.”
They both agreed to delete the dating app, and understandably, Emma was waiting for a physical date. Obviously, Ronnie kept making excuses because he had no intention of going out with her in the first place. Alan already knew how to prolong a fake relationship with false promises. He told Emma he had to go all over Europe for work.
Sorry, But I’m Always Busy…
This should have been an obvious red flag, but you know what they say, love is blind. During his free time, Ronnie was either drinking whiskey with his dad or at his parent’s villa in Spain. He even told Emma that she could stay there one day in “bedroom three.” But all Emma wanted was a simple local dinner- he was only 100 miles away.
Ronnie complained, “it’s hard to keep everyone happy. Dad loves me working and wants me to keep doing better. Mum wants me to quit. She worries about me. My health. Stress. Dad thinks I handle it well.” Emma said, “I think what you need is a [girlfriend] to look after you,” before Ronnie changed the subject.
Please Meet Me
One night, Emma asked Ronnie, “Do you know why I started online dating?” She said it was “because I wanted to… meet that someone and to start something with that someone… not to have a broken heart… which is even more painful when you have never met someone.”
Instead of doing the right thing and stop leading this poor girl on, Ronnie’s response was, “Me too. We both want the same thing.” Emma wrote back, “Give me a date, then I will suit your availability.” She waited for his reply. When he finally answered, he said, “I don’t think you realize how difficult it is for me to get time off.”
Begging For a Date
He was clearly saying anything to get out of meeting her, but Emma was making it difficult for him. She wasn’t taking no for an answer. She begged, “Just a dinner to start with. I can do the travel… then if the connection is really there, we will find a way.” He asked, “Do you think it will be there?” and Emma said, “I have never been so sure.”
He then asked, “Do you have faith in us?” and Emma answered, “It could work perfectly well.” Ronnie then wrote, “And I love you,” and she replied with, “And I love you too.” Saying I love you before meeting someone is also a red flag, but maybe that’s just my opinion.
Since catfishing rose with social media, there is little research about it. What experts do know is the catfish victims tend to be lonely, vulnerable, or incomplete in life. Clinical psychologist and author of Psychology of the Digital Age, John Suler, said that victims without a real-world social network, can miss obvious red flags and don’t realize when things are too good to be true.
He said, “It always helps to have friends and family reality-check relationships online.” Emma had very few close friends or family in London and wanted to find love. Unfortunately, that made her the perfect target for a catfish.
She Ran Away to London
When Emma was 15, when she met her first boyfriend. Their high school romance lasted ten years, but when it ended, she ran away. She went to the French Alps looking for seasonal work. When she didn’t find love there, she continued to run; this time she went to England. Ever since she was a little girl, Emma dreamed of living there.
She was 28 when she arrived, and there were 127,601 French-born residents in London. That number doubled by 2015, and according to London’s mayor, it’s the sixth-biggest French city. Emma almost quit after two months because of the language barrier. She explained, “It’s not like the same as you listening to that song in your bedroom when you’re 16.
Talking to Each Other
Emma really enjoyed talking to Ronnie. Their conversations included British slang, construction-site bonhomie, and flirtation. One day, he sent her a black and white picture of him in a tiny pair of Speedos. Emma sent back laughing emoji’s and wrote: “I love that picture thank you, I saved it.” Alan was a fitness fanatic and spent his mornings running.
Decades of physical work and manual labor kept him in shape, but he was bitter about losing his hair and at such a young age. He explained, “In my 30s, it started falling out. I was exactly like my dad.” To him, Emma was more than just a friendly voice on the phone; she became his project.
The New Job
When he found out that Emma was spending three hours commuting to work every day, Alan encouraged her to find a closer job. He said, “I was on her journey in life, trying to guide her,” which sounds beyond creepy. But by January 2016, Emma found a job at an Italian restaurant three miles from her apartment.
She was the new assistant manager of Zizzi in Richmond and couldn’t be happier. When she started telling some coworkers about her “long-distance” love, the busboys asked her why she hasn’t met him yet. Emma just said that he was “extremely busy.” However, as time passed, Alan was running out of excuses.
Keeping Up the Lie
Alan didn’t know how he was going to keep this up. “It was eating at me because I knew the longer it went on, the more problematic it would become in the long run,” he said. He loved talking to her, though. In a world where he felt sad and invisible, Emma gave him adoration. Alan downplayed his lie, saying, “Everything I told her about me apart from who I was, and the age, was true.”
One night at the end of her shift, Emma and a popular baby-faced Spanish waiter named Abraham closed up the restaurant. As they were putting away the cutlery, Emma confessed how much she wanted to meet her boyfriend. After listening for a while, Abraham said, “But Emma, the guy doesn’t want to meet you… maybe it’s not even him.
He’s Probably an Old Man
It seems like Abraham knows how to read red flags. When Emma insisted that they speak on the phone, Abraham he said that he was “probably an old man.” He wasn’t wrong. Abraham told Emma that there is an app that might be able to help and added that “he could be a psycho.” After Abraham left, Emma found herself alone at the restaurant, hurt and confused.
She looked out the window, watching happy couples strolling along the black cobbles of King Street. She yearned for the day Ronnie would show up at Zizzi and sweep her off her feet. She wanted to prove to everyone that he is real. When spring came around, Emma’s family suggested she cut all ties with Ronnie.
He refused to meet her for six months. Her family knew something was up if he wanted to meet her; it wouldn’t take him half a year. Emma said, “I didn’t want to listen to them.” But one night, Emma was in bed and downloaded an app called Reverse Image Search to her iPad.
The purpose of the app is to find the original source of a picture online. She uploaded her favorite picture of Ronnie wearing that leather jacket, and seconds later, the results arrived. The man in the picture was Adem Guzel, a model and actor from Turkey. Shocked and confused, Emma found his management website, his Facebook, and his official Twitter account.
The only connection between Adem and the United Kingdom was the fact that he attended the Gaiety School of Acting in the Republic of Ireland nearby. She sent “Ronnie,” a text asking, “Do you have anything to tell me about Adem Guzel?” Thinking fast, Alan said, “It’s me.” He explained to Emma that those were, in fact, his modeling pictures, but he used a different name once.
Instead of giving up the jig once he got caught, Alan promised Emma that “it was a long time ago.” He couldn’t come clean and tell the truth, even when he was given the opportunity. Emma demanded that they video chat, but his response was that Facetime was for teenagers. When she insisted, he got upset and yelled, “Stop! Don’t ask me anymore!”
Ignoring the Obvious
Emma still wanted to see the fantasy, not the truth. “I couldn’t believe it because, you know… when you talk to someone, every day, and you share your life… he was my confidante,” she explained. Also, why would anyone pretend to be someone else online? A digital sociologist at the University of Southern California can answer that.
Albright says that catfishing can be addictive, “Suddenly finding success with romantic partners online is exciting, and in fact intoxicating for some people.” She went on to explain that catfish normally have more than one target, “Putting several hooks in the water and getting several relationships going is the way to hedge your bets.”
Who is Alan Stanley?
In August 2016, almost a year after matching with Emma, Alan was having computer problems. When he got a new one, he set it up with his real email address. He sent Emma a message that sounded like it was from Ronnie, but it said it came from “Alan Stanley.” Rookie mistake for a professional catfish.
Alan lied to Emma once again, “I said, no, I bought this computer from somebody else, and they haven’t changed it yet.” Now Emma’s doubts were becoming real, and she couldn’t deny it any longer. She allowed her relationship to continue throughout the summer and started what she calls “my investigation.”
One day Ronnie sent Emma a picture of an aquarium with the fish from Finding Nemo. It was either a False Percula clownfish or a real one- only a saltwater expert could tell the difference. Emma decided to upload the photo to her app. She said, “This Nemo sent me to TripAdvisor. It showed a review written by Alan S.
That’s when Emma knew. She decided to search Alan’s email address on google, and she found everything she needed. She discovered “his twitter accounts. Where I’ve seen his face.” She sadly explained that “it was devastating, and I felt sick. You have no idea how much I’ve been hurt inside.”
Alan was stuck in traffic when he got a call from Emma. She flat-out asked him, “is your real name Alan?” and he said no. Sobbing on the phone, Emma said, “But it is, it is, it is!” Alan got mad and accused her of having trust issues. She clapped back, saying, “Don’t talk to me about trust, Alan Stanley.” The call and Alan’s scheme were over.
From a quiet corner of his shop, Alan called Emma back. Emma felt so stupid, and they both cried. Alan then told her it was a “big error of judgment, the worst and biggest mistake of my life.” Now that “the truth” is coming out, Alan continued to lie, telling Emma he was 50, taking off a few years.
Understandably, Emma had a lot of questions. Was he a pervert? Alan finally sent her a real picture of himself, with wrinkles and everything. Emma later explained, “it might sound cruel what I’m going to say, but I carried on talking to him after I knew who he was, only because I wanted to know why he did that to me.”
She went on to say, “I’m 34 at the time, but maybe another girl, when she finds out, she could maybe go too far, maybe kill herself.” After the big revelation, Emma asked Alan if he would like to meet her. “I really wanted to go to get the end of the story.” I would want answers too, but was Alan dangerous?
Messaging the Model
Emma fell for his tricks for long enough and wasn’t going to let this happen to anyone else. She took it upon herself to protect other people from his vicious scam, but she didn’t really know what to do or where to start. On September 16th, 2016, Emma decided to send the Turkish model a Facebook message saying…
“Hello Adam, we don’t know each other, but a year ago, I met a guy online, and that man is using your picture and pretends he is you under another name. I wasn’t sure if getting in touch with you was a good idea, but I needed you to know.
Kind regards, Emma.”
The Real “Ronnie”
Adem almost ignored her message. The 35-year-old model woke up in the Bohemian district of Cihangir, near Istanbul, and he was sick with a cold. It was the first message he had ever gotten of this nature. He poured a cup of tea, drew a bath, and sank into the water. Adem thought it might have been the cold, but it was like someone was yelling at him to “pick up the phone.”
After his bath, he took out his phone. Something about Emma’s sincere message really stuck in Adem’s mind/ He wrote back in broken English, and the conversation started from there. Adem was furious when he heard that Alan tricked Emma. She asked him if he would like to video call (I would also need reassurance after all that trauma).
Facetiming, the Turkish Model
When Emma got his response, she ran home, showered, and felt butterflies in her stomach. She said, “it was crazy” when she saw Adem’s face on her phone. “I wasn’t sure it was him. I was always in doubt.” But there he was, the real man in the pictures was on a video call with Emma. Adem later said, “I never do Facetiming, but somehow I wanted to do it with her.”
She wanted to know about this man. He explained to her that he grew up in a Turkish Village but moved to Istanbul to pursue a modeling career. He was pretty successful, but his real dream was to become an actor. His acting was stalled when he rejected the chance to join a Turkish reality show. Instead, he was a temporary manager at his friend’s aparthotel and moved into there.
She could not believe he was real and was crying with excitement and disbelief. She screamed, “You really exist!” While Adem and Emma were video chatting, Emma called her sister on Facetime and showed the iPad to her phone. Gaelle waved at him from the opposite side of Europe. She was thrilled to finally get some kind of closure and match the real person to his picture.
After the call, Adem and Emma continued to talk through text messages. But after a little while, Adem packed his suitcases and returned back to the village. The cellphone signal in this little Turkish village wasn’t great, and eventually, their conversation fizzled out.
Tell Me Why?!
Emma still wanted Alan to explain himself. On November 11th, 2016, Stanley got off the train at London’s Paddington Station. That evening he left his hotel and made his way to London Hilton, where Emma was anxiously waiting for him. She needed to see the truth for herself and finally close this chapter in her life.
Alan also “needed to apologize to her face-to-face.” He was humiliated and said that “the hug went on for about a minute. I was just, like, quite tearful.” They sat next to each other and made small talk than Alan told Emma he was sorry. He told her he did it because he was depressed and lonely. Looking at him, Emma saw a man just a couple of years younger than her own dad.
Alan Enjoyed his “Date”
Emma and Alan wanted some fresh air, so they left the Hilton and took a walk on a pathway known as Lover’s Walk. According to Alan, they passed by “Winter Wonderland” at Hyde Park, where couples were ice-skating or riding the Ferris wheel together. He said that this walk was the best and longest of his life. According to his health app, they took 20,000 steps together.
Emma said they continued to talk. Alan considered that night a date, but Emma said the walk was not romantic and thought the park looked empty. Alan described the evening as “a perfect night.” He added that “She paid for dinner that evening. Italian restaurant in Paddington.”
Hanging with her Catfish
Emma looked at the situation differently. She didn’t feel any romance; in fact, all she did remember was stopping by a memorial for the 52 victims of London’s July 2005 bombings. She asked him if he was lying when he told her he was drinking whiskey with his father. He told her that his dad actually died a few years ago.
After their, what Alan thinks was a date, he suggested that Emma come back to his hotel for the night. He explained, “as a gentleman, I’m very reluctant to talk about this side of it.” Emma straight up denied it, “I was pleased I met him obviously, and that was it.” But for some reason, Emma could not erase Alan from her life.
Let Him Go, Girl
After the first meeting in London, the couple saw each other several times. By Christmas 2016, Alan gave Emma a Swarovski bracelet. He excitedly said, “She bought me Hugo Boss socks! They’re not cheap.” Emma described their toxic relationship as “a relationship that we built… You develop a friendship, you talk…”
It was like Emma was helplessly bonded to him. Alan was obsessed with her and needed her virtual validation and explained that “she made me feel like a teenager again.” I wonder what Alan was thinking. Did he really think he and Emma would meet up, and she would ignore the differences between him and the model? Or overlook the fact that he catfished her?!
The Model or the Catfish? Difficult Choice…
Obviously, Emma could tell the difference between Alan and this model. He said, “Things started to get a little bit sour between us,” he explained that “there was a kind of breakdown after Christmas… her attention suddenly turned more focused toward finding him.” Alan quickly realized he was competing with a Turkish model for Emma.
He dug his own grave on that one. Alan deleted all his fake accounts and dedicated all his attention to her. He was so scared to lose her by the man he pretended to be. How ironic? Karma sucks, Alan. “I just put two and two together, I reckoned that they are talking behind the scenes,” he said.
You Actually Want to Meet me?
In January 2017, Adem and Emma’s conversation rejuvenated. Adem said, “I’m not a religious guy,” but believes they were pulled together by fate. The stopped talking about Alan and the catfish scam; their conversation shifted to each other. After deceit and heartbreak, Emma felt emotionally charged.
Emma told her sister Gaelle that she feels like she is started another long-distance romance. She reassured her sister not to worry because she wasn’t going to be played for a fool again. Without wasting any time, Emma invited Adem to come to London. Emma insisted, “It wasn’t to flirt, believe me.” He immediately said yes, excited to meet this beautiful French girl in London.
Cutting Ties with Alan
On March 31st, 2017, Emma finally sent her catfish a goodbye message. “Alan, I wanted to tell you that tomorrow I’m going to pick up Adem at the airport. And I still don’t know if it’s good or bad, but I’m going to meet ‘my Ronnie.’ You built up all this shit, I’m not sure if I should thank you or detest you for that. But this is happening.”
It was April Fool’s Day 2017, and Emma was waiting at the arrival’s board looking for Adem’s flight at London’s Heathrow Airport. She told a woman beside her that she was waiting to meet a guy from the internet, who she never met before. She warned Emma telling her that not everyone is who they say they are and “to be very careful.”
Not an April Fools Trick
Emma began responding, saying, “well, actually, I know…” but then the Turkish passengers were filling up the arrival halls. She saw the man from the pictured walking towards her in a white T-shirt and blue cardigan. He was taller than she thought, but she couldn’t help but feel breathless when he recognized her. The hugged right there, and Emma said he smelled “fantastique.”
She brought Adem an egg salad sandwich in case he was hungry. When he lifted it up to eat, Emma noticed he was shaking too. Adem was just as nervous as she was. They waited for an Uber outside, and there was quiet and nervous energy between them. But when he stepped off of the curb looking for their car, he turned around, and Emma was at eye level. She kissed him.
Falling in Love
They had an undeniable spark. Adem said that “Three minutes later, I felt like I know her a long time.” She gave him a key to her apartment at the two of them goofed around in the city like tourists. They had a selfie stick and everything. Emma was even more star-struck when he opened up his suitcase later that day.
She noticed the leather jacket from her favorite picture of Adem. The model couldn’t believe how lucky he was. His soulmate just magically appeared in his inbox. Yea, he is pretty lucky. Now, if only my soul mate would show up in my inbox. That would be nice.
Viral Catfish Story
Less than a month later, the story became a tabloid sensation all over England. “My catfish became cupid, and now we’re living happily ever after,” Emma told the Daily Mirror. It didn’t take long for more of Alan Stanley’s victims to reach out to Emma. One girl from New York said she and Ronnie have been in a relationship for “years.”
After he was called a “love rat” in the media, Alan had to deal with some uncomfortable meetings at work regarding his behavior. He also had an “awful” conversation with his daughter- that must have been mortifying. Alan was so humiliated that he moved away to a different town. The catfish said he is happy the story ended in comedy and not in tragedy.
Alan went on to say, “I think it’s brilliant Emma and Adem have met. It’s almost like fate.” He added that he no longer uses fake pictures anymore and met that he met a special someone. On Twitter, he wrote that she’s “a European lady, younger than me, younger than Emma.” I think he suffered enough embarrassment, so no comment.
Alan was so overwhelmed by shame that he wasn’t even sleeping. I don’t condone this behavior, but I truly hope he has changed. He also said that there is a match for everyone out there, “I don’t consider myself to be particularly good looking… I’m not David Beckham, or a Tom Cruise, or an Adem Guzel.”
Happily Ever After
The couple has been living together in London together and couldn’t be happier. Emma described her model boyfriend, “a lovely man.” Adem is pursuing his acting dreams in London. Emma explained that Adem is completely different than the outgoing man Alan portrayed. Adem is actually shy and sensitive.
One evening, Emma was closing down Zizzi after a busy night. Emma used to feel so lonely during these late shifts hoping “Ronnie” would show up and sweep her off her feet. That night, the Spanish waiter Abraham and the rest of the crew noticed the handsome gentleman at the door waiting to take his princess home. If only every fatfish story had a happy ending.