THE victim of a "sadistic" internet scam has spoken of the emotional trauma she faced after falling for a man online... who turned out not to be real.

Trusting Kate O'Flaherty was approached in a Twitter group by a young man called Cillian O'Donnell and the pair hit it off immediately.

Before long they had swapped numbers and were speaking on the phone - Kate in Dublin and Cillian in Glasgow - for hours every day.

But the online romance was brought to an abrupt end when Kate was told Cillian had died by suicide, leaving her devastated.

Then, in a bizarre and alarming twist, the 20-year-old discovered her bereavement was nothing but the twisted fantasy of a female internet fraudster.

There was no such person as Cillian O'Donnell - his existence had been invented by a sick scammer from Baillieston who the Evening Times has chosen not to name.

Kate, who is still recovering from her ordeal, said: "It wouldn't be uncommon for me to make new friends on Twitter.

"I was in a group that was supporting people who were struggling with mental health. It was a great idea with 40 to 45 people in it.

"Not many people knew each other but there was no reason to be suspicious."

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Of the group, Cillian stood out to Kate and they started talking to each other.

She added: "He had a lot of pictures of himself and he was really charismatic.

"This person started messaging me in private and we started talking. We'd have phone calls and text messages every day for six weeks.

"I find it really hard to find people in relationships who understand me because I struggle with my mental health so when I started talking to this person and I had a lot in common with this person it felt like I could trust them.

"We talked every day for six weeks. Then they told me they loved me and I said the same back."

From there, Kate naturally wanted to meet her new friend in person and so they arranged for Cillian to fly to Dublin to visit.

He even shared a screengrab of his flight booking details with her.

But just before he was due to arrive in Dublin, he called the meeting off. This pattern occurred three or four times.

Kate said: "Each meeting fell through because of something they had going on in their life.

"If I complained or asked why then they would make me out to be making it all about me, that I was selfish.

"I never said I would go to Glasgow, I always said, 'You will have to come out to me.'

"Every time they would cancel it was really traumatic for me. But there was always something to look forward to, they always made a new plan, so it was ups and downs emotionally."

Cillian told Kate details about his life, saying he was a huge Celtic supporter and that he was vegan.

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He said he was a budding singer/songwriter and would send Kate clips of him singing songs he told her he had written for her.

At one point he said he had been discovered by a record label in London and she shared his excitement as he said he was moving to the city.

With the highs, Kate also shared Cillian's lows, saying he would speak to her for hours about issues in his life while she supported and counselled him.

And this is one of the bizarre elements of the deception as Kate swears Cillian sounded like a man.

Later, when she used an app to search for the songs he had sent her, Kate found they had been stolen from the Spotify account of a different man.

After several more weeks, Cillian contacted Kate to say he felt unhappy that he was having a negative effect on her and they should end it.

Kate says she felt that showed respect for her and she agreed it was time to finish the relationship.

A few nights later Kate as on a night out with friends when Cillian began phoning her.

She said: "About 4am I started getting calls from this person I saying, ‘I love you, I miss you, I can’t live my life without you’.

"I said no, it was definitely over but I would speak to them the next day and they said no, they were going to change their number tomorrow.

"I tried text messaging, calling, but there was no way of reaching them."

And this is where the situation takes a truly sinister turn.

Kate was contacted by a friend who asked if she had seen Cillian's Twitter page, which she had not as he had blocked her.

Kate said: "My friend said to sit down and take a deep breath and keep calm and then they sent me screen shots of these tweets supposedly posted by his sister saying Cillian had passed away.

"They said he had been struggling with his mental health and to please text for funeral arrangements.

"I thought, ‘Oh my God, this is my fault. It’s all my fault.’

"My mum was well aware. She had her doubts at times about the situation but was as convinced as I was that Cillian was real. Everyone was as convinced as I was.

"The pair of us broke down. My mum made me a cup of tea and told me to get a good night’s sleep so in the morning we could start to look at flights and how we would get over for a funeral and how we would do something to pay our respects.

"I couldn’t sleep, I was devastated."

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At this point, while she was grieving a person she believed she had loved, Kate's friends started to raise the possibility that something was badly wrong.

One friend contacted a woman on social media who Cillian had said was his ex-girlfriend.

Kate said: "She replied, ‘Does this guy live in Glasgow and is a vegan, age 23 and a big Celtic fan?’

"Then the girl said ‘That’s not a real person.’"

The two women had been through the same situation with the same fraudster... but the other woman's ordeal had lasted for more than a year.

And she revealed the name of the woman behind the scam.

The Evening Times believes she has had multiple victims in a scam known as catfishing over a number of years.

We visited the culprit's home on multiple occasions but a man who identified himself as her dad said she was unwell.

Eventually he told us his daughter, also 20, was in hospital... even though we could see her sitting in the living room of the house.

When we asked who the woman was he shut the door - but at no point did he deny his daughter's actions.

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Kate said: "Being catfished is the kind of thing you hear about but you never think it would happen to you.

"People will think ‘How could people be so naive to let that happen?’ There will be a lot of prejudice about it, I know that.

"My head was absolutely in bits over this person."

Kate has tried and failed to get in touch with the catfisher to ask for an explanation.

She also cannot find the man featured in any of the dozens of photos she was sent during the scam.

Now she says she has gone through a phase of questioning who was and was not real in her life, "second guessing" everyone she knows.

Kate has seen a counsellor to help her process what happened and she hopes by speaking out no one else will be conned in the same way.

She added: "I don’t think there is anything worse than feeling that someone you love has died. So anything is better than a person being dead, but as time has gone on I am so confused.

"I don’t understand what about me drew this person in. It’s really scary.

"They put me through so much emotional stress and I stuck by them through that.

"What do they get out of it? It must just be a sadistic thing."

What is a catfish and is it illegal?

CATFISHING is when someone creates a fake profile on social media with the intention of tricking people into thinking they are somebody else.

It can be done in order to try to scam money out of an unsuspecting victim.

These cases are called “romance fraud” by police.

But without money changing hands, catfishing is not illegal in the UK – despite several campaigns to make it so.

Scammers steal photos and create stories to create a bogus identity.

They can also create multiple fake accounts so it seems the catfish has friends and family to make them seem more convincing.

Despite it not being illegal, victims speak of the emotional trauma they go through when they discover they have been tricked and have shared intimate moments with someone out to deceive them.

Rely on your instincts and be careful of giving personal details.