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: Scott Teitler

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.

 

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