Celebs who have been catfished

Con artists and their scandalous scams are nothing new, but these days, people who choose to fool others by faking their identities are called catfish. These fiction-fueling folks can target anyone from anywhere at anytime, and while many prospective targets have become savvy enough to be suspicious of potentially shady and manipulative behavior, there are times when more trusting or vulnerable people might fall for it, especially in the age of social media.

“While they’re all different, [these schemes] boil down to an age-old … fundamental truth about humanity, which is [that] we’re all looking for affection and attention and love,” the host of MTV’s hit series Catfish, Nev Schulman, told BUILD Series in 2017. He went on to explain that we’re “always vulnerable to some outside force sort of bringing in new energy that might inspire or engage you in a new, exciting way, and that’s what a lot of this is about.”

Sometimes, those who end up becoming the prey of personality-swapping predators are well-known celebrities. That’s right, despite finding success in one of the most competitive and cutthroat industries around and making the kind of moves that earn them both fame and fortune, a number of actors, music icons, sports stars, and well-known figures from television have come up against catfish and got caught up in their net of lies. Let’s dive into the celebs who have been catfished in various devious ways.

Criminal Minds alum Thomas Gibson was catfished for two years

Former Criminal Minds star Thomas Gibson may have been savvy at profiling suspects with the FBI as Aaron Hotchner on the long-running CBS series, but he wasn’t as skilled at figuring out the identity of a woman who catfished him in real life.

For two years, Gibson thought that he was carrying on a secretive flirtation with a woman he had never met after she “contacted [him] on Twitter … and told [him] she was a huge fan,” according to a 2013 TMZ report. She also happened to be using “a photo of a scantily clad woman” in place of her own image and, apparently, “Gibson took the bait.” From there, the two “[exchanged] multiple explicit photos and video,” which, for her part, were stolen from adult websites.

Despite the lengthy success of the scheme, Gibson eventually discovered that the woman wasn’t who she was pretending to be, and the actor’s lawyers sent her a letter “demanding she cut off contact.” In turn, she went public (in a way) by sending TMZ what the website deemed “might be the most hilariously embarrassing video [they’ve] ever seen,” which featured Gibson speaking softly in a hot tub. While the cringe-worthy clip had some people wondering if he’d been cheating on his wife (don’t worry, the now-divorced pair were already separated), it backed up the scammer’s claims about her long-distance dalliance, and let the world know that Gibson had indeed been catfished.

Iggy Azalea was catfished by her own mom

Being catfished by a stranger is one thing, but being fooled by a family member surely sparks another level of surprise. And that’s exactly what happened to rapper Iggy Azalea when she was catfished by her own mother. While sitting down for an interview with Power 106’s The Cruz Show in 2015, Azalea outed her mom, saying, “She’s been like catfishing, I know that for sure.” The “Go Hard or Go Home” rapper explained that she knew this to be true because she had fallen for her mom’s ruse.

“There was this one fan [on social media] and I was like, ‘Ooh, I like this fan, this fan’s cool, I’m going to add them,'” Azalea explained. However, that was when her mother let her daughter in on the truth. After the two had been “talking to each other back and forth,” Azalea said, “Then she texted me and was like, ‘Um, you know I’m Azalean for Life [the social media account in question], right? That’s me.'”

Azalea admitted that it was “so lame” that she had unknowingly become social media friends with her mother and revealed that she was “so embarrassed” by what happened — and even tried to act like she’d known the entire time that it was her mom behind the fan account. But at least her mother seemed to have sweet intentions when she unintentionally catfished the star, right?

NFL star Manti Te'o got in on the lie after getting catfished

Former NFL player Manti Te’o may or may not have been a victim of an elaborate catfishing scheme, but one thing is certain: once he was entangled in the story, he started to participate in the massive lie.

The sports world initially grieved alongside Te’o in 2012, when he announced that his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, died around the same time as his grandmother, per the New York Post. Te’o kept the public updated on Kekua’s alleged battle with leukemia, which had followed a serious car accident. The news of her passing was devastating, and Te’o earned admiration for playing on the day that she’d reportedly died, which is what she’d supposedly wanted.

However, Deadline later revealed that Kekua’s story was fake … as was the woman herself. Apparently, a man named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo was the real person behind Kekua’s online presence. While some believe that he acted with Te’o’s knowledge, the athlete claimed in a statement (via ESPN) that he had been “the victim of what was apparently someone’s sick joke and constant lies,” adding that the experience was “painful and humiliating.” He also told the media outlet that he lied about meeting Kekua in person because he felt like people would think “that it was crazy” that he was in a relationship “with somebody that [he hadn’t met].” 

While that might have been tough to face, it wouldn’t have been as scandalous as what really went down.

Tracie Thoms was catfished by a 'superfan' who killed off one of their fake identities

Fans of actress Tracie Thoms know that she’s popped up in several movies over the years in roles like Joanne Jefferson in 2005’s Rent and Lily (the friend of Anne Hathaway’s career-driven character) in 2006’s The Devil Wears Prada. However, those who watch MTV’s Catfish program, which delves into real-life cases of catfishing, may have seen this Broadway star turn up in a Season 3 episode. According to Bustle, it featured a situation involving Thoms and a so-called “superfan.”

A woman named Sammie, who was an avid supporter of Thoms on Twitter, reportedly created two additional accounts using fake identities in order to get additional opportunities to interact with the actress. However, when Sammie “realized she had taken it too far,” she came up with a lie and told Thoms that one of the women she was pretending to be had died of cancer. Sammie even “sent a video of a coffin being carried out of a funeral home and tweeted a funeral car tag.”

When Catfish exposed what Sammie had been up to, she claimed that she “was really just lonely” and promised to change her ways. After the episode aired, Thoms took to Twitter to share her reaction to the outcome, writing, “Happy endings…. Ish.” Perhaps that’s the best you can hope for following a situation that was filled with lies, deception, and a fake death.

R. Prophet stayed friends with the person who catfished him

R. Prophet (whose real name is Kenneth Ryan Anthony) was another famous face who appeared on MTV’s Catfish in order to get to the bottom of a suspicious situation. The Grammy-nominated rapper popped up on the show back in 2015, and revealed that he had been in an online relationship with a woman he believed was named Trinity — a fellow Louisville, Ky. resident, with whom he’d obviously clicked, according to Bustle.

The shady story started innocently when R. Prophet first started using social media and came across Trinity’s profile. The Nappy Roots rapper reached out to her, she responded, and things took off from there. The so-called Trinity even helped R. Prophet get through a rough period of his life, which involved a 2013 lawsuit for alleged police brutality, per TMZ. When the truth came out, however, Trinity turned out to be a woman named Crystal, who was using the photo of an Instagram personality named Jasmine Sanders and had initially created the fake account in order to check in (or, er, spy) on her ex-boyfriend’s Facebook account.

R. Prophet actually took the entire catfishing situation relatively well, and Bustle notes that “the two seemed to be friends still when [the show’s hosts] Nev and Max caught up with them at the end of the episode.” All’s well that ends well, even when it comes to catfishing?

Chris 'Birdman' Andersen was catfished by a woman who went to prison

When a catfish targeted (now-former) NBA player Chris “Birdman” Andersen, he wasn’t the only victim of the scheme, which ended with the catfish in question serving time behind bars. In 2017, it came out that a woman named Shelly Chartier had fooled Andersen into believing that he was interacting with a model named Paris, who the athlete didn’t know was just 17 years old at the time, according to ABC News. Chartier also pretended to be the basketball player in order to lure Paris into the scam, and became the invisible person in the middle of their supposed relationship. Things progressed so far that Paris actually flew out to spend a weekend with Andersen while the two still believed they were communicating directly.

After the encounter, a (fake) person named Tom Taylor contacted Paris and, along with claiming to be Andersen’s best friend, began to make threats against the young woman. At that point, Paris told her mother what had been going on, and they contacted police. Authorities unraveled Chartier’s web of lies, and she was sentenced to 18 months in prison. In an unexpected outcome, ABC News notes that “prison life helped her become more socialized,” which means that she’ll hopefully leave her catfishing ways behind.

However, if you want to find out more about this twisted tale, you can relive Chartier’s story thanks to the 2017 documentary, Indictment: The Crimes of Shelly Chartier.

Wipeout host John Henson revealed a massive catfish controversy

John Henson knows a thing or two about dodging dangers thanks to his gig as the host of Wipeout. However, he wasn’t able to avoid getting pulled in by a catfish, although he was the one who brought this celebrity-snaring scheme to the attention of the media.

Henson was the first to connect with a Nightline producer, who went on to uncovered a catfish named Hope Jackson, who had gone after multiple celebrities. “Henson had just spent two weeks in an emotional email back-and-forth with a distraught mother about to lose her daughter to a severe type of childhood cancer called neuroblastoma,” according to ABC News. Jackson reportedly claimed to be a woman named Katherine whose ill daughter, Scarlet, was a fan of Wipeout. While Henson was responsive at first, he grew suspicious of Katherine’s story, especially after she was reportedly unable to offer any details about her child’s supposed doctors.

The TV host’s hunch to be cautious was validated when a private investigator he knew confirmed the whole thing was a hoax, which Henson assumed to be “a nefarious financial scam.” In fact, Henson was far from the only famous face targeted by this particular catfish, whose scheme reportedly involved the likes of Little Big Town, American Idol contestant and Grammy-winner Mandisa, singers Natalie Grant, Francesca Battistelli, and Carmen Hope Thomas, members of the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders, and more.

Brad Paisley and Kimberly Williams-Paisley were also victims of the same catfish

Country music singer Brad Paisley and his wife, Nashville actress Kimberly Williams-Paisley, were catfished by the same woman who targeted Wipeout host John Henson. As officer Kevin Lovewell explained to ABC News, “I was contacted by Brad Paisley on September 18th, 2012 and [he] advised me that he had been scammed by a female (later identified as Hope Lyn Jackson).”

The Paisleys were reportedly contacted by Jackson via email and, while claiming to be a woman named Carrie, Jackson told the stars that she had a daughter who was “dying of a neuroblastoma” and had requested that her mom get in touch with the couple. Jackson (as Carrie) reportedly exchanged “dozens of emails, phone calls, and texts” with Kimberly, while Brad even “got on the phone and sang ‘Amazing Grace.'” He later told the outlet, “You’re singing to someone’s dying kid. And in the middle of it, there’s no way that’s not real. How can that not be real?” 

Granted, it wasn’t real and that started to become clear when the woman they knew as Carrie reportedly told them that her daughter had died, but refused to provide them with information about the funeral. Although Brad was upset about being taken advantage of, he ultimately felt that “the sickest part about” what had happened was the fact that Jackson used “real photos” of “real kids” in the scheme. This is what understandably made him “really mad.”

Kate Gosselin dedicated an episode of her show to this same catfish

Kate Gosselin was a victim of the same woman who catfished Wipeout host John Henson and celebrity couple Brad Paisley and Kimberly Williams-Paisley. Yes, Hope Jackson was a seemingly prolific scammer — however, when she went after the reality TV star, she reportedly altered her scheme slightly.

ABC News reports that Gosselin had been involved in conversations with Jackson for months, and was reportedly led to believe that the woman she was communicating with had died. This prompted Gosselin to dedicate an episode of her show at the time, Jon & Kate Plus 8, to her, which included the message, “In Loving Memory of Hope,” alongside the onscreen credits. The famous figure only became aware of the fact that she had been catfished when she was contacted via email by Nightline producer Sally Hawkins, who revealed the truth about the scheme. “This is the first email in a LONG time that I read, and realized my jaw had actually dropped and my mouth was hanging open,” Gosselin admitted in response. 

In the end, Jackson claimed in 2013 that she was seeking counseling and taking medication for her issues. Let’s hope that’s true.

Nev Schulman came up with the term catfish because he was famously catfished

Although Nev Schulman wasn’t famous when he was first scammed, he certainly is now — and also happens to be the reason we have the term “catfish.” His story was, in fact, the subject of 2010’s Catfish documentary.

All the way back in 2007, Schulman was contacted by someone he thought was an eight-year-old girl named Abby. The child had allegedly used one of his photographs as inspiration for her art, and he began interacting with her entire family, including Abby’s 19-year-old half-sister, Megan. As time went on, Schulman developed feelings for Megan and for seven months, believed they were in a relationship.

But when Schulman discovered that songs Megan claimed to have written and performed were stolen, he confronted her. “I became infuriated and I called Megan and … [called] her a liar,” Schulman told 20/20 (via ABC News). When the truth came out, it turned out that he was being fooled by the family’s mother, Angela. But that’s not where this story ends. “After I sort of cooled off, [Ariel Schulman, his brother] said to me… ‘Don’t you want to get to the bottom of this? If nothing else, don’t you want to … find out what’s real here? Who these people are?'” 

That’s a question Schulman’s been asking for years as the host of his MTV show, which now has many viewers wary of being catfished themselves.

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