You might recognise Sabrina Nichole. If you spend time on Instagram or any of the dating apps you might have even talked to her. Well, not her exactly. You see, the 25 year-old former-Playboy model and now OnlyFans creator has a problem. That is: catfishes can’t get enough of her content.
I stumbled across Sabrina after someone using the name “Savage June” slid into my DMs using her photos. They hoped I’d buy some nudes so they could “send money to my sick grandma in Sweden.” A reverse image search quickly revealed who the real Sabrina was, and with a little more digging the scale of the problem emerged: an uncountable number of active Insta accounts using her photos and some version of her actual name; just as many fake Twitter accounts doing the exact same thing; and Reddit post after Reddit post of dating app profiles featuring her face. And between it all, a few accounts that could have possibly been the real Sabrina, expressing serious signs of frustration.
While it’s difficult to quantify, the sheer weight of anecdotal evidence collected by her fans suggests that the Texas-based model is likely one of the most popular faces for catfishes in the world. All that comes at a cost to the victims of these scams. But what about how it impacts Sabrina herself?
I sat down for a video chat to find out what it’s like to be the face that launched a thousand scams, at least. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
VICE: Hey Sabrina. So the idea for this story actually came about because someone pretending to be you tried to catfish me.
Sabrina Nichole: You and everyone else. I swear, this is a plague on my life.
So when did you realise this was starting to happen?
I can remember the first time that it got really serious. This was maybe six years ago. I had a group of people who got into my DMs on Instagram back when I was pretty small, talking to me like they knew me. That really bothered me, like “I don’t fucking know you, why are you talking to me like we’re friends?” One of them even started getting mad at me because I didn’t go and see him.
It turned out there was this giant Facebook page pretending to be me—I don’t have Facebook—that had garnered a huge amount of fans and was scamming people out of money, getting people to buy them plane tickets, stuff like that. That was the first time it really took off for me, but it’s only gotten worse since.
Do you have any idea about how widespread this problem might be?
I have to assume it’s so far beyond my reach. Of course not all of them are going to try and pretend to be Sabrina Nichole; they use a huge variety of names, and I can’t take time out of every day to find them, because if I take them down they just come back. There’s no repercussions for them. If they’re really big I do try and take them down because that’s more influence that they have over people.
Have you ever tried contacting these catfishes? Like DMing them and saying “hey, what the fuck are you doing?”
They don’t care. I used to reach out to them because it used to really get under my skin. Now I don’t give a fuck. There’s no reason to talk. They’ve already pissed me off so I don’t think I could have a genuine conversation with them. Some of them who have gotten into my DMs have video-called me and I wish I would have caught it in time to answer. They’re not going to be me—I don’t know what they’re expecting from video-calling me. Like, what are you doing?
So why you? Why do you think your images are so popular?
I don’t know. That’s a really good question. I don’t sit around and ask my friends if their content is used by catfishes as much as mine, but I don’t ever really see other people being imitated, at least to my level. Because on like a daily basis 90 percent of my DMs are like “I found this profile”, “this person is reaching out to me”, “Why aren’t we talking anymore”, “I thought you said you loved me?”, “I gave you this money”.
Nobody actually wants to talk to me. They’re just like, “hey, you scammed me,” or “hey, I found this fake profile”. I can’t escape it.
So how has this affected you professionally?
I am sure there are thousands and thousands of dollars of my content that’s been sold that I did not make—but I used to dedicate a lot of time to it, mainly because I was sick and tired of people bitching at me as if I had something to do with it. They acted like I could click my fingers and they’d all be gone forever.
So I had this personal guilt and would spend hours on end searching for people, reporting them. I would go through my DMs, see what they were saying. It didn’t matter if they were small or big, had few followers or not, I would get them all taken down. I’d do that on a daily basis, reporting maybe 17 to 20 a day. But like, I’m not being paid to do this, and I have so many other things that I need to be doing. Like, there’s no point.
How many do you think you’ve reported over the course of the years?
Hundreds and hundreds. This was back when I was still pretty small. I had a lot of time on my hands, so I had lot of time to do that. It was just daily, going, going, going.
What about how it affects you personally? Does it creep you out? Does it worry you?
It’s so bad that I can’t even be on any dating app; I get banned off every single dating app because I get reported as a catfish. For so long I told my fans that I’m not on any dating apps, and then finally I got an account and my fans were like “that’s not her!” But it was me.
I’m not even able to talk to the people who own the dating websites because they don’t believe me. Hinge I really liked, but I only got to use it for less than 24 hours which was really sad. I thought if I messaged customer service beforehand and provided them proof of identification, I would be spared from being blocked. The lady assured me I wouldn’t be, but less than 24 hours later I got my account taken away.
Now I’ve appealed twice, but they’re like “we don’t care”. I am a single woman and it’s hard during corona. The catfishing problem is so severe that I am banned off Bumble, Hinge, Tinder, Her—I’m banned off all of them.
What about the people who fall for the catfishes—how do you feel about them?
I’ve heard that people have spent thousands of dollars on the catfishes, which makes me feel really bad. But at a certain point it’s not my problem. I don’t need to give them their money back. In the nicest way possible: I wasn’t dumb enough to fall for it.
In my mind, there’s no one that I have never met in person, who I have no proof that they actually exist, that I would ever give a thousand dollars to. I still feel bad for them, but I just wish that they would have thought so much harder before letting go of their hard-earned cash to somebody who [they] have no face, no name, no address [of].
Do you think social media platforms have a responsibility in this? What do you think they should be doing to stop this sort of thing?
I don’t know what they can do, unless each person has to confirm their identity with like a driver’s license, and if they don’t do that they have restricted access to messaging people. I don’t know about that business side of things for them.
What’s your advice to someone who finds themselves entering the industry and then having their content stolen for this sort of stuff?
DMCA [Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown notice] everything. Make sure you have a good cover letter, if you can get a lawyer to write one up, or google what a really good DMCA takedown notice looks like. DMCA everything, because it is a legal thing, and if they don’t take notice of it you can take legal action. It’s going to take a really long time, it’s really arduous, and if you have an assistant make them do it because it’s really painful.
People just think it’s you taking photos, but it does take time. You have to get ready, you have to think about your poses, you have to edit the photos if you edit your photos—you have to put in all that effort, for someone to just take it and sell it themselves.
And what about the people who might fall for the catfishes? Any words of advice for them?
I would just honestly love for people to use their brains. Think: should you send money to a stranger? No. Should you buy a stranger something? No. We’re in the age of technology, where you can FaceTime anyone. If they say they don’t have a way to FaceTime you, sorry, that is a lie. Because if there’s a pretty girl in your DMs, I’m going to say they are probably privileged enough to have an item with a camera on it that they can therefore video chat with you.
Please, take more time to care about yourself instead of going “oooh, hot girl. Let me give her money. She will love me.” And then don’t go yell at the person who it actually is after you’re done. Yelling at me does not get you your money back. Yelling at me does not get you your respect back.
Interview by Chris Shearer