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Imagine being a parent and discovering that your beloved teenage son had killed himself after being tricked by an online catfish? The catfish in question? Natalia Burgess of New Zealand. Burgess was a drug addicted 20-something adult, who enjoyed acting out through online characters and personas while pretending to be a teenager.
She kept different SIM cards for each of her online conquests, as her phone was her only real “friend”. She would use sites such as Relay Chat, Facebook, and Bebo to meet and lure victims into her complicated web of lies. Unfortunately, her deceit would risk the lives of several young adults and leave one boy dead.
She would only spend 26 months in jail for two counts of obtaining by deception and another count of interfering with a computer system.
Natalia Burgess was disturbed. It was 2001, if not sooner when she began using fake names online. According to her, she was a teenage prostitute addicted to drugs. However, her problems didn’t disappear with adulthood.
Five years later, at the age of 22, she began to pursue underage boys and came in contact with one who was only 16 years old. She faked being pregnant with his child, to gain residence at a shelter for pregnant teens.
She wasn’t pregnant, and the shelter became suspicious when she wouldn’t pay her share of living expenses ($1400). They demanded “proof” of her pregnancy, which she attempted to forge with a handwritten note. The note had so many typos that the shelter realized it was fraudulent and kicked her out.
Despite her early beginnings as a catfish, it wasn’t until 2007 when she first appeared in court for identity theft. While the judge issued a stern warning, she laughed it off and continued her behavior. From 2008, onward, she continued seducing young boys.
Some were only 13 and, whenever she tired of her relationship with them, she would fake her persona’s death (by suicide) and create a memorial page about her character’s passing. It was this sort of behavior that led to some of her victim’s attempting suicide themselves, distraught that their online love had died. The mother of one boy who died by his actions partially blames Burgess for his death.
Burgess also began to look for money from her victims. She told the mother of one boy that she needed $379 for their child (who didn’t exist) and tried to get a hold of his banking information.
She was mad he wouldn’t share his bank information and refused to pay back his mother. This particular boy attempted suicide twice, while in contact with Burgess.
By 2011, Burgess’ crimes were beginning to catch up to her emotionally. She was distraught but still didn’t accept responsibility. Instead, she saw herself as a victim of others. She contacted the New Zealand Herald requesting a story be written about her persecution from the family of the dead boy.
She was frighteningly direct with the reporter she met, claiming that she had a borderline personality disorder and was stopping her medication. She might kill herself, she announced, just as she had killed off her online lies and persona two months before. She felt burdened by the secrets the boys had shared with her and ready to live a “normal” life.
Sadly, this wasn’t the case, as she attempted suicide the following day. Sent to the Acute Mental Health Unit at Middlemore Hospital, she continued to tell the Herald about her death wish.
At the time of her suicide attempt, she was still in contact with a boy of 17, who had fallen for her catfish scams but wanted to connect with the real her. She said that he felt hurt by her fake character and hoped their real-life friendship might ease his pain. Burgess insisted it wasn’t romantic, only a friendship.
This same year, a group of boys from Christchurch reported that Burgess had impersonated an attractive teenage girl in an attempt to get their bank and social media information. She was arrested for those actions.
Finally, in 2013, 29-year-old Natalie Burgess went to prison! She pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 26 months in jail. She was denied early parole in 2014, as the parole board felt she was a risk to society and had nowhere to live if set free.
Finally, after completing her 26-month sentence, she was set free. While the public hoped that her weekly counseling, while in jail, would have helped a warrant for her arrest was re-issued in 2016 after she broke the conditions of her release from prison.
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