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Catfish Nation: Hundreds Targeted in Same Sexual WhatsApp Scam as Law ‘Struggles to Keep Up’ with Phenomenon

As Westminster is rocked by a ‘honeypot’ scandal, Byline Times has uncovered two strikingly similar catfish conspiracies targeting celebrities and the public over the past five years

Photo: Marvin Tolentino/Alamy

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Hundreds of people including celebrities were catfished by someone with apparent knowledge of their private lives trying to obtain potentially compromising pictures and other digital material, a Byline Times investigation can reveal. 

The many victims include at least two television personalities who have described being targeted in a manner similar to the ‘honeypot’ scandal currently rocking Westminster around admissions by the Conservative MP William Wragg that he passed on personal numbers of other MPs to someone he met on a dating app. This newspaper is not directly connecting the two scams.

A journalist and a presenter, who have both asked not to be identified, were targeted through WhatsApp messages from an unknown number in which the scammer claimed to be a close friend who had damaged their phone while appearing to possess knowledge of the men’s lives, which was used in an attempt to obtain sensitive information.

The two are speaking out as police launch an investigation into the targeting of up to two dozen men working in Westminster, including several MPs and journalists, in a similar sting.

One of the victims, a TV host, told Byline Times: “It was a really unnerving experience. Realising that someone has been targeting you maliciously is horrible. It makes you question so much, and suspect people close to you. It is disgusting behaviour with a huge human impact. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.”

It comes nine months after Byline Times reported how the now-disgraced former TV host and journalist Dan Wootton used various online pseudonyms to catfish sexually explicit material from friends, colleagues and celebrities via text, social media, and emails over at least a 10-year period.  There is no suggestion that Mr Wootton is connected to these new incidents.

William Wragg resigned the Conservative whip after admitting to giving out colleagues’ personal phone numbers to someone he had met on a dating app. Photo: NurPhoto SRL/Alamy

Number Ending 7415

While the prevalence of sexual catfishing is increasingly widespread, according to one eminent sexual offences lawyer, the law – which does not list the act of catfishing itself as illegal, and instead relies upon crimes being committed through catfishing, such as harassment or obtaining by deception – is struggling to keep pace. 

Dino Nocivelli, partner at law firm Leigh Day, said: “The harms from catfishing are increasingly well known and yet the criminal law does not seem to have caught up with this issue.  

“The impact of catfishing, especially where it then results in sexual images being obtained by deceit, is very serious and could cause lasting trust and relationship issues.”

The phone number used in the scam – which ends in the four digits 7415 – has been prolific in its use for catfishing over the past five years. In that period the number has been searched 3,622 times on the online telephone number searching directory “Who Called” by people trying to find out who it belongs to. 

Around 60 people – among them several young men at performing arts colleges – have left messages on the site warning of the nefarious sexual motives behind the number’s use. 

One of the conspiracy’s victims, a TV journalist who is engaged to a woman, contacted Byline Times after reading our three-year Wootton investigation, which launched last July.

He told how he was approached last September by someone purporting to be one of his oldest ‘female friends’, who claimed her phone was damaged, told the man that her relationship was struggling and asked for advice.

The journalist said the scammer made comments about his relationship with his fiancee which only someone who personally knew either him or his partner would have known, and encouraged him to divulge personal information about their own sex life.

He said: “This friend of mine is the only person I would have such a conversation with because she’s like a sister to me. The person who was doing this appeared to have known that, which suggests the person behind it knew me. It was so sophisticated.”

Westminster MPs and journalists targeted by a sexual catfisher by the names “Abi” and “Charlie” have made similar allegations about the “sophisticated” ruse, including the knowledge of their lives supposedly possessed by their scammer.  

The journalist became suspicious when the person posing as his female ‘friend’ – who, it turned out, had no clue about the interaction – requested a ‘threesome’ with him and his girlfriend, claiming they were ‘testing’ how strong their relationship was.

He added: “It was so fucked up. We have considered going to the police, but would they do anything about it? Technically none of it is a crime but I felt violated. Catfishing with a malicious or sexual motive like this should be made a crime in and of itself.”

When another victim – a TV presenter who approached Byline Times after the Wootton expose – was targeted, the catfish impersonated him in messages to one of his friends.

Claiming the victim’s usual phone was broken, the catfish tried to obtain information about the sexuality of celebrities who worked with the victim, while peppering the conversation with seemingly insider knowledge of the victim’s work life.

The presenter said: “It felt, from what they said to my friend, very much like this scammer knew me. Thankfully they didn’t get anything from my friend, but it was very unnerving and made me question lots of people I knew, which wasn’t pleasant. This sort of thing really should be a police matter.”

Previous Warnings

The 58 user warnings on the “Who Called” website all paint a similar picture, with many victims saying the scammer had pretended to be a friend or relative messaging on a different number as they had broken their phone, before the conversation became sexual.

The most recent warning comment, six months ago, said: “Known catfish with sexual motives.”


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Another, a year ago, wrote: “Very convincing catfish! Knew all about me and my life history. Has since been sharing my nudes around my workplace!!!!!!! No idea how they get all this information. Scary as F**K!!!” 

One, two years ago, read: “Caller claimed to be a friend of mine, soon became sexual, saying weird stuff. I cannot see a motive other than emotional harm to a victim or sexual gratification. He needs to be stopped.”

Dozens of victims called for the police to investigate. As long as five years ago, one said “Police need to get involved”, while another added, “this needs to get escalated to police”.

Several victims alleged that the con artist had pretended to be “well-known soap actors”, with one saying they’d claimed to be EastEnders actress Barbara Smith, who played Dana Monroe from 2021 to 2022. 

One victim said two years ago: “Pretending to be Barbara Smith who is an actor in EastEnders. Very convincing catfish and very, very scary. DO NOT RESPOND.” There is no suggestion Ms Smith is even aware her identity is being used in this way.

*If you’ve ever fallen victim to a catfishing attempt on a number which ends in the four digits 7415, please contact Byline Times in complete confidence at

What is the Current Law on Catfishing?

Catfishing is not currently an offence in its own right.

Internet law specialist solicitors Cohen Davis explained that with the exception of harassment, “there are no criminal laws against impersonation on social media”.

A 2014 review of social media and the law by the Lords Communications Committee concluded that existing laws were enough to prosecute criminal offences committed over social media.

But “while fake online profiles on social media might not by themselves be illegal”, Cohen Davis added, “there are other activities that engage catfishing or fake online accounts that may turn otherwise lawful activity into activity which is unlawful”.

Catfishing “might be illegal” if the fraudster obtained money or goods “due to the fraud”, they added.

A catfish could also be charged “with a number of non-consensual sex-related criminal offences” if “romance fraud had led to sexual contact”, because “any consent given by the victim to the contact could be rendered void”, according to the firm.

And if a victim has shared private information, they “may pursue a claim for breach of privacy against the fraudster in the civil courts”.

When asked whether it intended to make catfishing a criminal offence, a spokesperson for the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology told Byline Times: “The Online Safety Act will crack down on catfishing by giving people greater control over their online experience, requiring platforms to give adults the ability to restrict unverified accounts being able to interact with them.

“The Act will ensure tech companies take proactive action to stop criminals from using their platforms to commit fraud or other kinds of offences through catfishing or will risk facing fines that could reach billions of pounds.”

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