Unfortunate ‘catfishing’ testimonies vs Sam Morales surfaced online. Is this alleged scheme a crime?

March 31, 2020 - 7:42 PM
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A man holding a smartphone from Unsplash

A Twitter user’s harrowing tale of alleged “catfishing” supposedly perpetuated by a budding multimedia artist and filmmaker triggered other victims to speak about their similar experiences of the elaborate online scheme.

Cambridge dictionary defines catfishing as “the practice of pretending on social media to be someone different, in order to trick or attract another person.”

In a series of tweets, a transwoman interior design student in Cebu City identified as Jzan Vern Tero was the first who shared her “catfishing” story on Monday. Her long thread was shared more than 91,200 time and earned 240,000 likes on the microblogging platform, as of writing.

In her Twitter thread, Jzan disclosed how she met a guy named Bill who claimed to be residing in Makati City through a dating app. Their relationship which went on for eight months often involved the intervention of a certain “Sam Morales,” whom Bill introduced as his friend.

There were several times when Bill’s actions drew suspicions from Jzan. However, a video call and text often led them to continue dating for a couple of months.

She later found out that Bill’s name was Bilko Argana and that he was an accessory to Sam’s plot of deceiving transwomen into engaging in fake relationships online.

When she confronted Sam about it, the multimedia artist apologized and reasoned that she grew “hatred” toward members of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community after being bullied by them when she was younger.

The multimedia artist also claimed her uncle did the similar scheme before and cited that it became “an addiction.”

According to Jzan, Sam admitted to have hired other people to help her with her design plates because “they felt guilty.”

Jzan said there were three of them in the scheme—Sam, another girl and one of her guy friends.

When Jzan’s Twitter thread blew up, testimonies of other supposed victims also circulated on the microblogging platform and on Facebook. Most of them were transwomen or other members of the LGBT community but some were also female.

Twitter user @lahingpalaka shared that Sam also supposedly manipulated his mom into raising funds to help a cancer patient.

The user even shared a screenshot of their conversation as proof.

“She was manipulated by Sam, by actually telling her na may cancer daw ang nanay nya and my mom as a cancer survivor helped her. Even raised funds for her mom then lahat pala yun ay gawa gawa lang!” the user said.

One Twitter user took the time to compile the testimonies against Sam and shared it on the platform.

One of the earliest testimonies mentioned allegedly occurred in 2008.

While these posts have yet to be verified, modelling agency New Monarq Manila issued a statement, saying it is “not liable in anyway nor related” to Sam’s actions.

“Her career and behavior are outside the agency’s care,” the agency’s Facebook read.

“We at New Monarq Manila will always be in full support of the LGBTQ+ community. We do not tolerate any harmful actions towards a loving community,” it added.

New Monarq Manila is an international modelling agency that represent models all over the world. Our business is only…

Posted by New Monarq Manila on Monday, March 30, 2020

A love or romance scam

Several stories of getting “catfished” via online dating apps have been recorded and reported in recent years.

A number of articles and tips have also been published on how to protect yourself against such perpetrators when dating online.

According to The Conversation, a catfish is a “person who sets up an intentionally fake profile on one or more social network sites, often with the purpose of defrauding or deceiving other users.”

The Philippine National Police Anti-Cybercrime Group described this as an online “love scam” or “romance scam” and there has been a rise of Filipino victims in recent years.

“One problem here is the love scam is really one where the victim has consent. They are willing victims,” ACG Spokesperson Senior Insp. Artemio Cinco Jr. was quoted as saying in 2018.

“We need them (complainants) to file a case [for us] to investigate. Without them, we cannot do anything,” he added.

This fraudulent activity is listed as among PNP’s most common internet fraud scams. The agency warned that a scammer normally go to great lengths to gain the victim’s trust including sharing personal information and sending gifts.

“Once they have gained your trust they will ask you either subtly or directly for money, gifts or banking/credit card details.  They will pretend to need these for a variety of reasons,” PNP-ACG said.

The agency also provided prevention tips such as being vigilant for possible online perpetrators and limiting of the amount of photos or contact details shared on social media.

Sam, who became the trending topic on local Twitter since Monday evening, has yet to issue an official statement regarding the allegations against her. Cursory check of Interaksyon showed that the multimedia artist has deactivated her social media accounts.

A number of poser accounts have also surfaced and were reported by online users.

Several celebrities have stood up for Jzan, the LGBT community and Sam’s alleged victims after complaints of catfishing surfaced online. They called out the multimedia artist for allegedly “manipulating the emotions” of her supposed victims.

The celebrities who spoke up on the catfishing issue include actresses Janine Gutierrez, Alex Gonzaga and Bela Padilla, social media influencer Mimiyuuuh and photographer BJ Pascual, vocalist Quest, among others.