Cyber bullying: 'He told me he was a footballer. I wasn't to know I was a victim'

Growing numbers of young people are being targeted by online bullies and duped by fake profiles on social media – sometimes with distressing results

When 15-year-old schoolgirl Lain Lerouge was contacted through Facebook by a professional footballer, she was not star-struck in the least. The player, who starred for a Football League club, was already friends on the social networking website with mutual acquaintances and she assumed that was how he came to first contact her. After their initial internet meeting, she and the 19-year-old player developed a closer relationship, chatting every day via their accounts and even talking regularly on the phone.

Lain, from Birmingham, said: "We just had normal, friendly chats. He would ask: what are you studying? Where are you from?"

Even when her online friend declared his love for her and asked her to send naked pictures of herself, she had no reason to doubt his identity. "I refused but then we'd talk on the phone. There was no question that it was a guy from London. His Facebook was flooded with girls, but I just thought he's a footballer that's totally normal. I know that I never met him and didn't really know him, but if you chat to someone a lot you sort of feel like you know them. He seemed so normal," she said.

The suspicion that she had been deceived came only when she received his telephone call and the number came up with Birmingham dialling code rather than a London one. This rang immediate alarm bells, and after some detective work Lain eventually traced the Facebook account to an older girl who went to the same school as she did.

It quickly emerged the student, who was in the year above, had set up a fake profile with pictures she had secretly downloaded from the account of a very real professional player. For her part, Lain said she simply felt embarrassed when she discovered she had been duped. "I never did get to the bottom of what motivated the hoax, but I was just so thankful that it wasn't an old man."

Lain's bizarre experience is by no means an isolated case. Campaigners warn that growing numbers of children and teenagers are being bullied or even lured into sexual exchanges through bogus online profiles. Some young people are becoming depressed, even suicidal after falling victim, according to a survey by the charity Beatbullying.

Richard Piggin, deputy chief executive of Beatbullying, said: "Young people have told us about this alarming trend of fake profiles being used on social networking platforms to cyber bully and to engage in sexual bullying. The psychological impact of this form of bullying can be hugely distressing for many young people, with tragic and terrible consequences." In a survey carried out by the anti-bullying charity, it discovered that nearly one-third of the 500 young people questioned say they have had a fake profile made about them on a social networking site. A further 65 per cent said they knew someone else who had been impersonated through a phoney account.

Beatbullying said the poll also showed that high numbers of the under-18s questioned had developed serious mental health issues after being targeted. Nearly one in 10 said they became depressed; 4 per cent developed an eating disorder; 7 per cent had suicidal feelings and the same number self-harmed. Another 13 per cent reported feeling afraid.

The extent of fake profiles on Facebook was revealed in the firm's own financial records last August, which showed the site had 83 million fake profiles. But a Facebook spokesman stressed that the majority of these accounts had no malicious intent and were pages set up for businesses, pets or small children. He added that unlike with many other social networking sites, fake profiles can be reported directly to Facebook, which will then remove them. The spokesman stressed that the company acted swiftly on such reports. "Everyone on Facebook has access to simple tools to block and report people who make them uncomfortable."

Mr Piggin added: "What social networking sites like Facebook need to do is work with organisations like us. They're experts in technology, but they're not experts in bullying and sexual bullying."

Tony Neate, chief executive of the partly government-funded Get Safe Online, said: "Social networks are a great place for young people to talk to their friends, share photographs and play games – but children and parents must be educated on the risks that are around."

The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
Cristiano Ronaldo in action for Real Madrid
The comedian, 42, made the controversial comment following the athlete’s sentencing to five years for the culpable homicide of Reeva Steenkamp on Tuesday
peopleComedian's quip about Reeva Steenkamp was less than well received at music magazine awards
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?