EXCLUSIVE: Tom Ernsting Talks His Headline-Making Catfish Scandal

Credit: Ron Reagan

Being painfully good looking can come at a price. Model and all-around good guy Tom Ernsting has had to deal with a lot of difficulties lately for reasons that are completely outside of his control.

The Florida-mainstay’s bevy of gorgeous photos have been used by internet scammers who have sucked the financial life out of many people across the world. It’s something that he has had to deal with personally from some of them even though he had nothing do to with any of it in the first place.


“It’s just crazy,” he told The Detroit Free Press. “It definitely took off during COVID because I think people were even more desperate and more lonely. It’s sad because they fall in love with me.”

Tom went further into detail about the experience in our EXCLUSIVE interview with him while also dishing on his career as an in-demand model, being a beloved “daddy”, his love life and what’s next for him. 

Credit: Kenneth Gruenholtz

You made headlines earlier this month over a catfishing scandal where primarily women were duped out of hundreds of thousands of dollars thanks to scammers using your photos. How did you find out about it originally?


About two or three years ago it was a slow trickle of people letting me know my identity was out there being used to scam people out of money. Most of them contacted me via Instagram or Facebook after doing a Google search with my picture. These are all typically women between 40 and 60 and single. As COVID kicked in it felt like the number of people reaching out to me doubled to 10 to 15 a day. It scares me that this is just a small slice of people letting me know who spent the time researching my identity. I’m sure it reaches far greater than just those that I know about.

What have you or anyone else done to alleviate some of the stress that this has caused for the people that fell for this scheme?

For the longest time I struggled with how to turn the negative of my identity being scammed into a positive. The best thing I learned on with educating the landscape of social media users is to not trust anyone and how to cross check people’s identity. Google search is a big factor in that. I’m grateful for the press its received in the last couple of weeks because I do believe knowledge is power. As we discussed, a lot of this is big business in Africa with small groups of men In conference rooms landing on a person and blanketing the world with fake profiles. I’ve been told my picture is used so frequently because I’m “attractive but not threatening.”

Credit: Bryan Kasm

Furthermore what advice would you give to people that are only relying on a set of photos and not much more when talking to someone else? 

From what I’ve seen gaming process goes something like this. These men and women are contacted and if somebody is savvy they will do the Google search and end it right there. However some are taken in right away but may still question it so they will ask for passport pictures or drivers licenses (which I have seen my picture photo shopped into both of these documents). Generally it falls apart when a visit is planned and they need money for the airfare, or a health issue, or a sick child is involved. Some people back out right then and there but others are already so in love that they just send money.

Let’s talk more about you now! At what age did you take modeling seriously?

Ha ha. It really began when I moved to Naples, Florida six years ago and grew a beard (after my corporate job in the hotel business did not allow facial hair). I started receiving more attention and my look was a bit more unique. So a good stylist friend of mine introduced me to an agency in Miami and the rest is kind of history. Since then I’ve worked all over the country including Tampa, Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta and New York City. 

Credit: Photographer provided without mention

When did you know that you became something from it? Was it from being noticed in public, something on social media, etc?

I think my first time that I was proud of what I was doing was when my son called and said that one of his friends that works for a marketing agency in NYC had just hired me for a Florida Visitors and Bureau job. Otherwise I’ll admit it feels good when people say they recognize me from TV or one of my commercials or print ads. 

Do you have a favorite shoot to date? And if so why?


My all-time favorite shoot was last December for The Moorings, a luxury yacht provider that offers five-star experiences all over the world. We spent a week been treated like one of their luxury guests and doing all of the activities one normally participates in on those trips (kayaking, paddle boarding, snorkeling, hiking, shopping, and lots of eating).

A lot of people view you as a daddy type. Is this something you embrace?

I’ll admit I was a bit hesitant at firs but now I take pride in being part of the entire explosion of daddy culture as I think it now represents older men who are fit, engaged and relevant.


During our IG Live you mentioned that you were single. What are you looking for, if anything, in another man?

COVID really made me realize that as independent as I am, experiences like this just bring couples together and I wish I had someone to experience it with along with life in general. And I guess what I’m looking for is somebody who I can relate to in life experiences, enjoys being active, who is inquisitive and interested in the world around us.

Finally what are you looking forward to the most moving forward in your booming career?

Good question. Modeling came to a stop as did most things for 3 to 4 months due to COVID. I’m happy to say it’s slowly coming back but I’ll admit I’m happy in life I’m leading, the friends I’ve made, and the time I get to spend with my son.


3 thoughts on “EXCLUSIVE: Tom Ernsting Talks His Headline-Making Catfish Scandal”

  1. I was catfish Ed by a fella saying he was Tom. He said he was coming over to work on a gas rig in the Irish sea and wanted to meet me. I’m a disabled woman recently split from my husband. He started to play on me by calling me his Queen and when his job finished on the rig he would move to my area to be with me. He started to ask for amazon cards to top his phone back up. I kept quite a serious watch on him he only got £150 ou of me but not through lack of trying to get alot more. I got even more suspicious when he asked for £500 to be sent to a security firm that was closing down he needed to get his box wit $2,000,000 dollars in it even made a video to convince me he was real I got really suspicious then and so did my kids then I messaged Andrew serkin to ask him where tom was working. He put me in touch with Tom I showed Tom the pictures he had sent. Tom sent me the real pictures that had been doctored. I sent the scammer a message and attatched pics of Tom, his son casey and some with serkin he replied that Tom was a fake and get rid of him then mentioned money again this time 150 for his boss to release to him 10,000 pounds to get his box and he can take 2 weeks vacation. I replied no don’t have that sort of money plus I don’t want a scammer coming to my home then deleted, blocked and reported him he has tried a few times on my phone but he’s blocked if he tries again ee will change my number.

  2. Hiya. From Canada. Just recently found out that on YouTube and Google Chat, that some guy by the handle of thomsonsmith3220@gmail.com is using Tom Ernsting’s photos and videos and dedicating a song, comments and a shower picture to me. Claims to be 62, 5’2″ with black eyes, widower, adult son, 37 years as an engineer based in Miami Florida, but currently in Aberdeen Scotland looking for someone to bring him home. I have no.money and this guy knows it and continues to try for money. He does have a YouTube site under the email above. I have deleted and suspended all communication. This guy said we have to keep our ‘relationship’ a secret until he comes to Canada. The real Tom sounds like a very nice guy and I am sorry that his image, etc is being used to reel in we females. Thank you for listening.

  3. Yes I was catfished by a person that said they were Tom and they did get some money but not a lot of a son he wanted a whole bunch of my tongue to go fly a kite they literally took a picture of me that the sky had and had it where Tom was holding the picture and telling me how much he was in love with me and that he wanted to marry me I was on the internet and all of a sudden they said you might know this person and Thomas picture popped up and it showed that he was model you probably could have picked my job from the floor I was so mad got me angry so I question this person about and I since you’re nothing but a scammer and from there on I deleted everything and to this day now this has been over a week and a half and he still is trying to text me through other means say it and say you know he loves me and this and that and the other but I would like Tom to be a friend of mine I would appreciate it I lost my husband in December 24th Christmas Eve and I have been by myself since and I was married for 45 years and I was with him for 47 so right now I need someone a friend to talk to and I would appreciate it maybe Tom would talk to me or get ahold of me so we could become friends thank you very much for listening sincerely Sue dunlevy


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