A woman seduced by a high-flying London lawyer who used a false name and picture on Tinder has called for those who create fake online profiles to be prosecuted.
Anna Rowe, a teaching assistant from Rough Common, fell in love with the man after connecting through the popular dating app and believed she would marry him – only to learn almost a year later that he had a wife and children.
The hoaxer even used a picture of a famous Bollywood actor to draw Anna in, continuing to use a fake name before casting her aside after a passionate relationship in which he asked her to marry him.
Now, 44-year-old Anna, of Ross Gardens, has launched a petition calling for a change in the law to act as a deterrent against men or women misrepresenting themselves online.
“This man used me like a personal hotel with benefits under the guise of wanting the romantic, loving relationship he knew I craved,” she said.
“He broke my trust, took away my right to choose. I did not consent to having a relationship with a married man, or a man who was actively having relations with multiple women simultaneously.”
Anna met ‘Antony Ray’, a businessman who frequently went abroad, on Tinder, which states that its users must not provide “information that is false or misleading”.
They embarked on a passionate relationship which lasted less than a year – until she found out that he was not who he said he was.
He was a married man with a wife and children to whom he went home at weekends. This internet charlatan is also a top lawyer in the City of London.
Six months after their whirlwind affair, Anna has decided to go public with her story for one reason: she wants to change the law so that men or women who create fake profiles on internet dating sites in order to get sex can be prosecuted.
Creating a fake persona on the internet with the intention of duping others into a relationship is known as “catfishing”.
Anna said: “I am a victim of a catfish approach. Using a fake profile and online identity as a platform to lure women or men for sex should be illegal, but it’s not.
“The result is the other party believing they are beginning a real relationship with the hope of a future together and having sex is part of that believed relationship.”
Anna has launched her campaign with an online petition.
The former Barton Court Grammar School pupil was married and divorced in her 20s and then had two children with another man. She and her boys’ father split in 2010 and by the summer of 2015 Anna was ready to find love again.
She signed up to various dating websites, including Tinder, which operates via a mobile phone application.
It wasn’t long before she was matched with a man called Antony Ray.
They chatted on the app for a few weeks and Anna remembers that she was drawn to his profile: “It was grounded, sincere. He said he was single, solvent, honest, genuine, not afraid of commitment.
“He disliked mind games, endless cyber chat and communication was key. By late October I was hooked. He had drawn me in. He clearly stated it was more than sex he wanted, it was a meaningful relationship, passionate one-to-one.”
His profile picture was Antony’s first deceit. It wasn’t him. It was in fact a photograph of the Bollywood actor Saif Ali Khan.
He and Anna, however, switched to communicating via WhatsApp, another online messaging service, through which he sent real photos of himself.
They met for the first time on November 3, 2015, when Antony drove from London to Rough Common. Anna was instantly smitten. She said: “He walked into my house with a quiet confidence, calm and an ease that felt like he had done the same every night for years.
“It was like he was supposed to be there. He instinctively knew how to hold me. It was like I’d known him and him me for far longer than we had.”
They were intimate that first night, the springboard for six months of an intense and passionate relationship.
“He asked me to marry him several times, called me his life, his heart, his soul,” she said.
“He called me his wife and told me to call him my husband. He would be there for me always and we had the rest of our lives together.”
Antony visited Anna about twice a week. He explained his periodic absences by saying that as a director his work often took him abroad, to places like Germany and Ireland.
As 2015 turned to 2016, Anna says Antony’s passion appeared to be cooling and that he explained this because his mother had become ill, showing signs of ovarian cancer.
“He constantly told me he loved me and sent me voice messages saying we would get through any obstacle that came our way,” she said. “He told me he couldn’t get through this without me.
“My heart hurt for all he was going through. He would tell me how much it meant to him that he knew I was there for him, that I had his back.”
Antony visit’s to Rough Common became infrequent. He arrived on May 3 – the last time Anna would see him for five months until she confronted him about his lies.
Work, his unwell mother and a troubled son were apparently getting in the way of their relationship.
By September of last year Anna sensed all was not well. The distance, the lack of the contact, the unanswered phone calls. It was too much to bear.
She took action and reloaded the Tinder app to her phone. There he was: Antony Ray, in action, again looking for women.
Anna was in emotional turmoil. Desperate for the truth, she created a fake profile and began communicating with Antony.
She said: “I found the match and pretended to be someone else. He gave the fake me the exact same speech that I had been given when we started chatting the summer before. He wanted a relationship, meaningful and passionate. It would be all or nothing from day one.
“I let on after a day it was really me, and our relationship was over. He told me his head had been a mess over his mum, who by then he had also told me had had a series of mini strokes, some with lasting speech conditions.
“He wasn’t looking for a relationship until things were settled at home, maybe then we could start again.”
Then she found out who Antony really was, a top legal executive who spent his working week in the capital and his weekends at home with his family in the north of England.
She said: “His alias was a clever twist on his real name. Then I sat and cried and cried.
“Worst of all was finding out he was married. Everything that hadn’t added up over the months, all the red flags and bad gut feelings over things that I had felt and pushed aside because I trusted him more than I did myself, or he had given me a reasonable answer to a question or I’d told myself I was being paranoid.”
Anna has been left devastated – and even after finding out the truth is struggling to come to terms with it.
But she insists her decision to go public is not motivated by any vindictiveness. She says the law needs to change and that she is far from the only person to have been duped as a result of catfishing.
She has started a petition. Its aim is straightforward: “Creating a fake online profile with the intent to use women or men for sex, should be a crime under the fraud act, communications act and sexual offences act.”
The longed-for relationship may have evaporated into nothing, but Anna has a new purpose.