When is a missing person not a missing person?

The answer is when they’re a case of mistaken or stolen identity.

While most of our cases at National Personal Finder involve families or friends trying to locate a missing person, we are increasingly being hired to investigate cases of stolen identity, especially where these cases involve ‘catfishing’ – the theft of an identity to entice other people to send money based on a fake romantic relationship.

A recent high profile case has brought some of the murky practices of catfishing into the public eye. When Matt Peacock, a male fashion model, began to receive phone calls from women claiming they had been dating him online, his only way of finding out what was going on was to hire a private detective agency to help him.

Often the first time that people know they’ve been catfished is when their online romance simply disappears. From being intimately involved with a man or women, often sending explicit photos and money for air tickets so their love interest can visit, they find themselves alone, with their lover’s online profile having disappeared and addresses and phone numbers leading nowhere. That’s when they contact us – to help them find the missing person they had learned to love.

Matt Peacock’s case led to the discovery that more than forty fake profiles had been set up on dating sites, using his photographs and false names. Some of the women had sent intimate photos and videos to their supposed romantic interest. In these cases, which are very distressing to the victims, the perpetrators aren’t actually breaking the law because – unlike classic catfishers – they aren’t trying to make money from the stolen identity.

Matt Peacock is now trying to force a change in the law so that people who steal the identities of others and use them to create fake online profiles from which they are not seeking to make a profit, will still be classed as criminals.

When someone goes missing, it can be a criminal matter

This is an unusual case, but we’ve had experience of several missing persons investigations where we’ve discovered that a missing girlfriend, often claiming to be from Eastern Europe or South East Asia, has conned an online boyfriend out of money for visas or airline tickets and not only that, but has replicated the scam hundreds of times across hundreds of platforms. It’s always a shock for their victims to discover that they have been defrauded by a skilled operator who may not even be of the same gender as their profile pictures, but at least they have a resolution to their concerns about their loved one suddenly going missing.