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What It’s Like to Be the Bait in a Catfishing Scheme

‘Victims started reaching out to my parents and my fiancée’s parents in a threatening tone — that’s when I got nervous for the safety of people around me’

Every person has a lowest point: A moment in their life where, whatever the cause, it seems impossible that things could get any worse. These intensely personal experiences come in many different forms, but they all share one thing in common: The question of, how will I ever dig my way out? In this series, we’ll be talking to the people who somehow managed to pull themselves from the deepest depths and once again find steady ground.

Name: Nick Bare
Occupation: Fitness entrepreneur, social media celebrity
Rock bottom moment: Finding out his likeness was being used to scam people 

Going Viral

When I was in college, I started a dietary supplement company. I was also in the ROTC. As soon as I graduated, I commissioned into the Army as an infantry officer. I went to Fort Benning for a year, then got stationed at Fort Hood. In 2014, when I got there, I decided I wanted to start a YouTube channel to document my fitness, my business, my training and nutrition. Then I started incorporating some Army stuff from my job as an infantry platoon leader. When my unit got sent to South Korea for nine months, I kept documenting the process, so almost all of my content was military-type stuff. It was niche in the fitness industry at the time, so it separated me, and that’s when I really started to grow.

In 2016, one of my Army videos went viral. I got like a million views in a month and 50,000 YouTube subscribers. That’s when people started using my military photos. By 2017, I started seeing fake Instagram accounts — people impersonating me. Someone would send me a DM with a screenshot of an account, or sometimes, it still happens today where these accounts using my name and my photo will follow my account. So if you search “Nick Bare” on Instagram, there’s a shitload of accounts that pop up.

Usually if I see someone using my name and following me, I’ll go report them. But I can only report so many accounts in a day. Plus, as soon as they get taken down, they get created again.

My military background gives scammers a story. They use my military photos, and they’ll email women, usually older women, saying, “Hey, I’m overseas, I need money to get home. The Army won’t help me get home. Please send me money.” So the women pay these scam artists. Scammers are using my photos to catfish women, catfish men, catfish anyone.

It Gets Real

The first time it really hit me was when someone sent me a DM saying, “Hey, my mom thinks she’s dating you. She’s talking to this guy online, and I just want to see what’s going on.” There was another girl, a Disney Channel kids star with a couple million Instagram followers who sent me a DM saying that her mom thought she was dating me, and she just wanted to give me a heads up. That’s when I was like, “Wow — this is actually out of control now.”

When these people find out they’re being scammed and they confront the person, sometimes the scammer says my account is the manager account, but the manager has a bunch of sub-accounts that he uses to talk to women. They’ll play it like that. I imagine there’s this database somewhere where scammers go and get photos, and mine’s there. The majority of fake accounts are on Instagram, but they’re also on a lot of dating sites, too.

I’m creeped out by it. We have a warehouse here in Texas, and one time one of those women who’d been scammed actually came here. My boys were like, “Sorry, Nick’s not here, but you’re not dating him — I can assure you of that.” Women call our customer service line. The weirdest thing was when a woman found out she was scammed, she sent us this big box of homemade beef jerky, homemade pies, cheese and stuff. We just threw it away because I didn’t trust any of it.

But I was really creeped out when victims started reaching out to my parents and my fiancée’s parents. They’d do it in a threatening tone; they wanted my parents to do something about it. That’s when I got nervous for the safety of the people around me. Like, who’s gonna show up at my door? Who’s gonna show up at my parents’ door? Stuff like that.

They Harass My Family

My fiancée gets harassed, too. People will write on her posts or send her DMs calling her inappropriate names, telling her that, “Nick isn’t really dating you, Nick isn’t being loyal to you, he’s dating me.” A lot of times, these women are like 50 or 60 years old and don’t use social media much, so they’re easy targets to a lot of people.

I’d imagine people have lost thousands of dollars over this. In the most recent one, some girl reached out to me that someone was using my photos and scamming her. She was like 16, and the scammer had her try to get a debit card set up through her parents and send it to the scammer with a pin number. That’s one of the ones I responded to, telling her to tell her parents what’s going on. But I mean, I run a business, I can’t spend my day just taking care of all these people getting scammed by someone using my photos, you know? So normally when victims reach out to me I just say, “This is my only account. I’m engaged. I’m sorry, but you’re being scammed.”

I haven’t heard of anyone getting busted for it.

Instagram Won’t Help

The thing I’ve been pursuing is trying to get my account verified so that I can say, “Hey, if you see a blue checkmark, that’s my account. And if there’s no blue checkmark then that’s not my account.” I got my Facebook account verified and that helped, but Instagram is very picky with what accounts they verify. I try to reach out and tell them what’s going on, that people are getting scammed out of thousands of dollars, but they never approve my requests for verification because there aren’t enough public sources on me, I’m told. 

To be honest, the only way out of this besides verification that I can see is if my name or brand or business was more well-known. I mean, think about The Rock: If you think you might be getting scammed by Dwayne Johnson… you know that’s not true.

Late last year, I created a video so that I could just send it to people who reach out to me. I’ve probably sent it out 50 times now.

The whole thing is a pain in the ass.