I fell head over heels for an attractive man I met online... only to discover his vile catfishing secret that blew my life apart

A woman who fell in love with a charming and attractive man online has opened up about the horrifying secret that blew their relationship apart - and led her to uncover a sinister web of lies that connected a group of victims across the country.

Back in 2011, Anna Akbari, a sociologist who now lives in California but was residing in New York City at the time, connected with a man named Ethan Schumann on a dating site, and immediately, it felt like love at first sight.

Sparks flew right away, with the two messaging back and fourth for hours on end; but when it came time for them to meet in person, Ethan would make a slew of excuses and always cancel.

He would suddenly have to travel for work, or the bad weather made it impossible for him to get into Manhattan from New Jersey where he claimed to live.

But when Anna started to suspect something was up, Ethan then told her that he was secretly suffering from cancer and that he had really been avoiding getting together didn't want her to see him until his treatment was over.

A woman who found out that the man she was head over heels with was actually a lady the entire time has revealed how she and the other victims exposed the elaborate catfish

A woman who found out that the man she was head over heels with was actually a lady the entire time has revealed how she and the other victims exposed the elaborate catfish

Anna Akbari, a sociologist from California, spoke exclusively to DailyMail.com about how she uncovered the truth, and what happened in the aftermath of the shocking revelation

Anna Akbari, a sociologist from California, spoke exclusively to DailyMail.com about how she uncovered the truth, and what happened in the aftermath of the shocking revelation

But she wasn't convinced and started to do some digging - and what she eventually uncovered would turn her whole world upside down.

It turns out, Ethan was not a 35-year-old male mathematician from New Jersey like she thought he was.

In reality, he was a woman named Emily who had spent years tricking over 10 different females into believing they were talking to the man of their dreams.

Now, Anna has recapped the entire ordeal in a new book, entitled There Is No Ethan: How Three Women Caught America's Biggest Catfish, which is set to hit stands next month.

Ahead of its release, she spoke exclusively to DailyMail.com about how she uncovered the truth, and what happened in the aftermath of the shocking revelation.

Anna explained that when she matched with Ethan on the dating site OK! Cupid back in 2011, she was immediately drawn to his 'approachably handsome' looks.

'He was very cute, but not in a "this guy's not real" kind of way,' she explained. 'He was incredibly articulate and very chatty. 

'When you have an attractive, chatty, articulate guy, and you are an educated woman living in New York, you think, "All right, this seems promising."'

Anna said she connected with a man named Ethan Schumann on a dating site back in 2011, and immediately, it felt like love at first sight

Anna said she connected with a man named Ethan Schumann on a dating site back in 2011, and immediately, it felt like love at first sight

But when it came time for them to meet in person, Ethan would make a slew of excuses and always cancel

But when it came time for them to meet in person, Ethan would make a slew of excuses and always cancel

They hit off right away, as Anna recalled, 'We were typing as fast as we could think. Minutes turned into hours, which turned into several days.'

Ethan told her he had a PhD from MIT and was a mathematician working part time for Morgan Stanley and also for the government.

'Every single thing that he said was spot on in terms of, it made sense. It was happening in the world,' she continued.

'It was spoken with a level of fluency that I don't think many people could invoke in any context, let alone in an online dating exchange.'

Anna explained that he said he lived in New Jersey, but just 'far enough' that he couldn't easily get to Manhattan where she lived.

He also said he had to travel to Washington, D.C., a lot for his job, which made it difficult for them to find time to meet in person. 

'But he was keeping in regular contact with me. He was keeping me incredibly up to date and sharing a very high level of detail on everything that he was doing to try and get out [to the city to see me],' she continued.

 Every single thing that he said was spot on in terms of, it made sense... I was just thrilled to explore our connection

'Keep in mind that this was before the term catfish even became part of our cultural vernacular, and so honestly, nothing about our exchanges seemed fishy.

'Ethan was really masterful in making me second guess myself. If I didn't just take him at his word for everything, [I'd think], "Was I being too pushy? Was I expecting too much? Why should I be a priority? We haven't even met." 

'It's a very delicate line that you end up towing where you want to be sure that no one's pulling a fast one on you, but you also don't want to try and demand too much too soon from someone that you have don't have an in-person relationship with yet.'

Despite never having met in person, Anna said Ethan 'made it very clear that he was not pursuing anyone else' and that he 'was very interested' in her. 

'I really took him at his word ... because we clicked. We've all had that feeling where things are flowing, and it's just so seamless,' she added.

'And you think, "Well, even if I don't want to rip their clothes off when I see them there's an electricity here, there's a chemistry." So I was just thrilled to explore this connection.

'I think it's really important to emphasize that this was another era of online dating, where it was quite normal to exchange very extensive conversation before you ever met up.

'And so we knew each other really, really well in many ways at this point - or so I thought.'

After 'several failed attempts to meet up' and many weeks after they first started talking, Anna said she and Ethan 'finally' set up what she thought would be a concrete first date.

But suddenly, when it came time for them to meet up he 'became hard to communicate with.' 

Anna started to do some digging - and what she eventually uncovered would turn her whole world upside down

Anna started to do some digging - and what she eventually uncovered would turn her whole world upside down

It turns out, Ethan was not a 35-year-old male mathematician from New Jersey like she thought he was. In reality, he was a woman named Emily

It turns out, Ethan was not a 35-year-old male mathematician from New Jersey like she thought he was. In reality, he was a woman named Emily

'He just sort of disappeared. That night [when we were supposed to have our date] the communication stopped, and I was not pleased with that,' she revealed.

Things then took a shocking turn - as Ethan told her that he had been diagnosed with cancer and that's why he had bailed on their date.

'He ended up writing me this very long explanation. He said he didn't want to meet me before he got his surgery and his chemo and asked if we could just meet after that,' she explained.

'Because then he said he could show up as the man that he wanted to be, and that I would most likely desire.

'Do you abandon someone that you have seemingly come to know so intimately over the course of a month? I had shared so much of myself with him.

'I just felt like, I can help. I can be here for him. If he won't meet me right now, fine, I can wait a few weeks. If this ends up working out, what's a few weeks?'

Anna said Ethan gave her 'a lot of play by plays,' sharing intimate details about his treatment and cancer battle. 

But as time went on, he also started to become extremely 'toxic,' exhibiting 'incredible anger' and even 'abusive behavior.'

'He would lure you in and really get to know your vulnerabilities and say the right thing in a really emotionally intelligent and astute way that made you feel like it was safe to be vulnerable with this person,' she recalled.

Anna has recapped the entire ordeal in a new book, entitled There Is No Ethan: How Three Women Caught America's Biggest Catfish, which is set to hit stands next month

'He would put you in a position where you were completely trusting, only to then take advantage of that, and exhibit incredible anger and abusive behavior.' 

At one point, Ethan spoke about the high school he had attended and Anna realized she had a friend that went to the same one at the same time as him.

She decided to ask her pal if she knew Ethan, but when the friend said she had no idea who he was, Anna found it a little odd.

'I decided I was going to sort of split myself into [two] - on one hand, I would start thinking really critically about this situation and investigating and trying to understand the fuller picture of, who is Ethan Schumann?' she said.

'And, on the other hand, I would still continue the connection, because I still believed that there could really be something there.'

Anna joked that she became a 'master Googler,' and started trying to find any information about him that she could online - but when very little came up she became more suspicious. 

During her 'investigation,' Anna also began contacting many people that she thought may know Ethan in the hopes that they could potentially give her more information on him - people who went to the same college or worked at the same company.

Then, one person told her that another woman had also reached out to them because she was suspicious of Ethan.

Anna got in contact with the woman, named Gina Dallago, who explained that she too had connected with Ethan through OKCupid.

Her story was eerily similar to Anna's - they would text nonstop but had yet to meet in person because he kept canceling their plans or making excuses when he wouldn't show up. 

They immediately started comparing what Ethan had told them, and his lies began to unravel.

'We knew something was off about Ethan, but we still couldn't figure out what was fact and what was fiction,' she continued. 

'So what we ended up doing was compiling all the details that all of us had, and we really looked at, what was consistent and what was inconsistent.

'We knew some things had to be accurate because again, the level of fluency that this person was speaking with, you just can't fake that. 

'This was not some guy that was like, "Hey, you're hot. Wanna meet up?" We weren't having superficial conversations.

'This felt like someone who was a serious person, who definitely was educated, who definitely knew a lot about a lot of things.'

Over the course of their investigation, they found a third woman who was also in the same boat as them. 

Eventually, the three became convinced that Ethan was not who he said he was, and that someone was pretending to be him.

In a previous essay for the Observer, Anna explained that they 'combed through their old correspondences for clues as to Ethan’s real identity.'

One of them remembered Ethan mentioning an old roommate he had named Emily, and after doing more research, they were able to find her online.

Anna told DailyMail.com that one thing that still bothers her to this day is that they never really got an explanation regarding why Emily did it. Anna is seen around the time that it happened
'It wasn't for financial gain and it wasn't for any kind of immediate sexual gratification,' she added. She is seen around the time that it happened

Anna told DailyMail.com that one thing that still bothers her to this day is that they never really got an explanation regarding why Emily did it. Anna is seen around the time that it happened

Now, Anna has turned her harrowing story into a book, and she hopes that being so open about what she went through will spark a 'conversation' about internet safety

Now, Anna has turned her harrowing story into a book, and she hopes that being so open about what she went through will spark a 'conversation' about internet safety

And when they noticed a lot of similarities between what Ethan had said about himself and what they could see about her on the web, they believed they found the culprit.

'Gina called Emily’s parents and said that she was an old college friend. The parents ... gave Gina her number - [and it was] the same number from which we received regular text messages,' Anna wrote on the Observer.

While chatting with DailyMail.com, Anna said it was a 'relief' to finally 'know the truth,' but also extremely upsetting.

'It was a mix of emotions. On one level, we were relieved to know the truth. But we were also really pissed,' she recalled.

'We all felt very manipulated and lied to. This felt like an unforgivable, unethical violation of all of us.'

She wrote on the Observer that one of the other women confronted Emily about it, who confessed that she had been posing as Ethan since high school, using one of her old classmate's photos.

Anna told DailyMail.com that one thing that still bothers her to this day is that they never really got an explanation regarding why she did it.

She pointed out that Emily didn't ask for money or sex, leaving her wondering, 'Why would you do this to people?'

'It wasn't for financial gain and it wasn't for any kind of immediate sexual gratification,' she added.

'Ethan told us that it was basically out of boredom. But we don't really believe that that's the full story.'

While she did not take any legal action against the woman who posed as Ethan, who according to Anna, is a doctor living in New Jersey, she said they 'notified her place of employment because they felt it was the ethical thing to do.'

'Cyber issues are in this very confusing gray area,' she said of why they never got the police involved.

'What we have is kind of a lawless digital space in many respects. And we see people like this who get away with things for years as a result of no one really knowing how to prosecute it, even though there are very real damages.'

Now, Anna has turned her harrowing story into a book, and she hopes that being so open about what she went through will spark a 'conversation' about internet safety.

'I think there's something valuable in showing how any person can find themselves in one of these situations and still find a way to triumph,' she added of her decision to write the tome.

'I think my hope honestly is that it will start some really important conversations.'

Make sure to read Anna's memoir, There Is No Ethan: How Three Women Caught America's Biggest Catfish after it drops on June 4 to uncover the full story of how she and the other women teamed up to unravel Ethan's - or should we say Emily's - web of lies. 

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