UNSW Unsolved: more clues on ‘Amelia’ the UNSW Discussion Group catfish

by Emma Partis

On the 3rd July 2021, it was revealed that numerous male undergraduate UNSW students had been contacted by a mysterious catfish who went by the name ‘Amelia,’ via their student emails. She propositioned them for a range of sexual favors including foot pictures, casual sex and ‘friends with benefits’ relationships. Since our last article, we have received tips from five more students who have had interactions of their own with her. 

To date, it appears that thirteen male undergraduate UNSW students have been contacted by her, the earliest being in May 2018 and the latest in July 2021.

As with the previous article regarding this case, we will be referring to Amelia with female pronouns for purposes of clarity, despite her true gender identity remaining unknown. 

One individual who reached out to us was cyber security consultant, Julian Walker. He had an encounter with Amelia in May 2018, whilst he was still an undergraduate at UNSW. 

During his encounter, he sent her a link that revealed her IP address and found that she appeared to have an Australian IP.

He stated that this could be evidence that Amelia is based in Australia but cautioned that she could have used a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to mask her true location. During our interview, he also checked if any of Amelia’s emails had been involved in any data breaches. This a common occurrence in emails that are used to sign up for services, like most primary emails. He found that none of the emails had, suggesting that they were all likely burners used for the sole purpose of catfishing; unsurprising, considering one email literally contained ‘burner’ in its name.

Another unanswered question is whether Amelia is locally-based. Her Australian IP address suggests that she could be based in Sydney, had she not possessed the foresight to use a VPN. One student recounted that Amelia “had a fairly thorough understanding of Sydney suburbs, and where students tended to stay,” suggesting that she was either local to the area or incredibly well-researched. She also appeared to possess some knowledge about the UNSW campus throughout her interactions with the students, and used images of a woman who had connection to UNSW to catfish the students. 

Even small details such as her knowledge of the ‘firstname.lastname@student.unsw.edu.au’ UNSW email format and her apparent focus on contacting UNSW students suggest that she may possess some sort of personal connection to UNSW, perhaps as an ex-student, staff member or even a postgraduate student.

While Amelia’s true identity remains unknown, there are a few plausible theories as to her true motivations.

Theory 1: Sextortion Scammer

One theory put forward by Julian is that ‘Amelia’ could be a sextortion scammer. 

Sextortion is a form of blackmail wherein a scammer threatens to publish or share sexually compromising images of their victims unless they comply with their requests. These scams can begin through seemingly benign interactions over dating apps, social media and email wherein the perpetrator gains the victim’s trust and convinces them to share compromising media of themself, then uses that media as leverage.

In short, Amelia’s true goal in getting sexual images off the students may have been to use those images to blackmail, extort money out of,and otherwise manipulate them. Details such as her consistent requests for images and sexual favors from students and her commitment to anonymity suggest that this could be a kind of sextortion scam. 

Many recounted that Amelia had a clear sense of urgency and aggression throughout their interactions, one said that she would “freaking out” whenever he didn’t quickly respond to her messages, and another recounted that she became “incredibly aggressive” when he didn’t reply to her messages for periods longer than an hour, lamenting that she had been ghosted. This may have been a tactic to make students feel entrapped and to further manipulate them into sending explicit photos of themselves.

So, if this really is some kind of sextortion scam, why did Amelia ask so many of the students for foot pictures? 

Some speculated that this was a way to warm them up to sending more revealing images. One individual, who sent Amelia two non-explicit pictures, reported that she attempted to progress their relationship to video chat, stipulating that she could not have her camera on throughout the exchange. He also recounted that the photos he took were “specifically composed as per [Amelia’s] request,” and that she had told him that he could ‘keep the clothes on, for now,’ whilst asking for the images. This creepy message further suggests that she was simply warming him up for more explicitly sexual content.

Overall, we cannot confirm this theory, because (luckily) none of the students that we have been in contact with have admitted to sending sexually compromising photos of themselves to Amelia. We also don’t have any indication as to whether or not any individuals have gone to police for assistance after sending intimate images, as the NSW Police media line declined to entertain our inquiries. 

Sextortion is also a frequently under-reported crime due to the associated shame and guilt that victims feel after being caught out by such a scam. Due to this, it is fairly likely that no police records would exist regarding this case, even if Amelia had successfully extorted money from any victims.

Theory 2: Lonely Catfish

Another theory is that Amelia is simply a lonely catfish who has been targeting UNSW students over the years for sexual gratification.

An ABC survey of self-identified catfish found that some used false identities to explore their sexuality or gender identity. 

When talking to one of the students, Amelia made references to using Grindr, a dating app for queer men. Perhaps Amelia was using another persona to act out a sexual fantasy, or to explore online dating via a different gender identity. 

The survey also indicated that loneliness was a key motivator for catfishing, with 41% of respondents citing it as a reason behind their actions. Perhaps Amelia’s neediness and aggression towards the students’ late replies was out of genuine desperation and loneliness.

Or maybe ‘Amelia’ just wasn’t having much success getting foot pictures off people on Grindr and decided that hitting up university students using a fake identity would be a better way to fulfill those sexual desires.

However, the systematic manner in which she approached all of the students and the long timespan over which she has been contacting UNSW students both suggest that Amelia is a little more dedicated than your standard lonely catfish.

Theory 3: Fetish Model Scout

Yet another theory is that Amelia is some sort of ‘model scout’ for a fetish or porn website, or perhaps sells those kinds of images to websites or clients.

This would line up with her requests for niche, soft-core images such as foot pics, as well as her persistence in contacting students. Furthermore, it aligns closely with her offer of  ‘modeling’ gigs, whether or not she ever intended to pay the students for their content or tell them what their images were truly going to be used for. Scams like this have occurred in the past, wherein university students have been asked for foot and hand images for an ‘art project,’ when in actuality their images were being used for a niche fetish website.

Amelia told one student that she and a ‘friend’ of hers had noticed him and thought that he would be “interesting to model.” She also suggested that they could set him up with “an agent who may be able to get you work.” Perhaps these messages had some ring of truth to them, despite all of her other deceptions.

Amelia tried to get images from a majority of the students that she contacted, offering some students money in exchange for the images and telling another that they would “send each-other photos at first” and then “sort out a friends with benefits situation” if that “worked out.” One student claimed that she had offered to pay them $80 an hour for the ‘modelling gig.’

As detailed in this article, selling foot pictures can be a somewhat lucrative income stream, with highly established individuals making up to $70 000 a year selling pictures of their feet to fetish websites and clients. Perhaps this whole situation is really just someone’s unorthodox and highly unethical side hustle; manipulating uni students into sending foot pictures and then selling them to clients or websites.

Other than that, Amelia’s references to a modeling gig may have been yet another lie designed to entice students into sending her pictures of themselves for numerous other possible reasons.

How to avoid getting catfished, sextorted and all of that bad stuff

During our interview, Julian provided some suggestions on how to avoid these sorts of creepy interactions. First, as was most likely drilled into you during your primary school internet safety class, don’t accept friend requests from random people you don’t know. Reassess your Facebook privacy settings and ensure you’re aware of what information non-friends can access. Julian also suggested that you should ensure non-friends cannot view your friends list; more thorough scammers may trawl through your friends’ profiles to mine further information about you.

In the unfortunate case of one getting caught up in a sextortion scam, Julian recommended that victims call the scammer’s bluff and refrain from paying them. He also stated that victims should collect as much evidence as possible and report the situation to relevant authorities, as embarrassing as the situation may be. Sextortion is a punishable offence in NSW, incurring punishments including fines up to $11 000 and up to 3 years of jail time

Overall, this situation is a great reminder to reassess your social media privacy settings; that is, if you don’t want a random creep to be able to mine your information in order to pretend they’re a girl at your uni who has a crush on you and just really wants to see your feet.