‘Catfish' scam targeting Central Floridians

Con artists use Facebook to trick victims out of money

By Mike DeForest - Investigative Reporter

PORT ORANGE, Fla. - Elaine Clark is worried.

A close family member of Clark’s who recently lost her husband has met a man on Facebook who claims to be an oil rig worker.

“She was looking for a relationship.  She was lonely,” said Clark, who did not want to embarrass the widow by revealing her name.

“She fell in love with him,” Clark told News 6.  “She fell in love with him deep.”

Clark became concerned when her family member started wiring cash to the man, who supposedly needed it to fix equipment on his oil rig.

“He kept sending notes saying he didn’t have money and couldn’t get to his money,” Clark said.  “She got taken for thousands of dollars.”

Clark became convinced the woman was the victim of a “catfish”.

Named after a documentary and TV show that brought worldwide attention to the issue, the scam involves con artists using false names and photos to befriend social media users, often with the intent to obtain money.

“I don’t want to see her in love with something that isn’t really there,” said Clark.  “His grip is very powerful.  I can’t break through.  I’ve tried.”

Shortly after Clark began having suspicions that the widow was being scammed, a stranger by the name of Murphy O’Brien sent Clark a friend request on Facebook.

Soon she began chatting with O’Brien, both online and over the phone.

“He said, ‘I would like to get to know you’.  And then within a week he was calling me his wife,” Clark told News 6.

Clark immediately knew the man was attempting to ‘catfish’ her.

“He was saying all the right things, saying I want to come home and take care of you,” Clark said.  “If I was looking for somebody, he would be the one.  That’s how good he was.”

O’Brien sent Clark a few additional photos that resembled the man seen on O’Brien’s Facebook profile image.

“They were very good pictures.  Very handsome.  Very attractive,” said Clark.

When News 6 examined the photos using an online reverse image search tool, we discovered images of the same unidentified man have been used in similar scams around the world using names such as Georgia Horsford, Marc Bacon, and Leo B.

As News 6 reporter Mike DeForest was interviewing Clark for this story, the man identifying himself as O’Brien called Clark on the phone.

O’Brien told News 6 he worked on an oil rig and needed Clark to wire him $5500 to fix a piece of machinery.

When asked if he was committing fraud, the man on the phone told News 6, “No.  Hell, no.”

Instead, the man insisted that he loved Clark.

News 6 has been unable to identify O’Brien’s real identity or when he is located.  Similar catfish scams are frequently based overseas.

When Clark contacted some of O’Brien’s other Facebook friends, she discovered she was not his only target.

“Once girl actually lost her home,” said Clark.  “It’s gone.”

Clark wants others to know just how convincing the people behind ‘catfish’ scams can be, especially to vulnerable people like her widowed family member.

“He was good,” said Clark.  “Somebody’s going to fall for this and lose everything they have.”

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