“Have you and I been dating for the last couple of months?”
It was at the moment former Home And Away star Lincoln Lewis learnt his identity had been stolen as part of a cruel catfishing scheme.
Lydia Abdelmalek stalked five women over the course of around four years after tricking them through the fake online personas she created.
Mr Lewis was one of those false identities, along with British soap star Danny Mac.
Abdelmalek, 33, harassed her victims and their families and used the private details she obtained to blackmail them.
It eventually led to a woman taking her own life in 2018.
As part of the lengthy legal trial into the matter, Mr Lewis was called to the stand at Victoria Country Court on September 27 and 28 last year to give evidence.
But the twisted saga, which began when the messages started being sent in 2011, potentially reached its conclusion on Tuesday when Abdelmalek’s prison sentence was increased to four years by the Victorian County Court.
Judge Claire Quin said while the case sounded like something straight out of a television show, it had “significant consequences” for those who had been affected.
“Despite the content of some of the material being reflective of a fictional soap opera, it was not fantasy. It was real and impacted real people,” she said.
“What may begin as lighthearted can quickly escalate and have significant consequences for the psychological wellbeing of those to whom the ruse is directed.”
“THIS IS GOING TO SOUND REALLY WEIRD”
A phone call between Mr Lewis and a woman, who cannot be named, was organised in 2011.
He did not know what it was about and pressed for more details, but the person who helped set up the call would only say the woman had to ask him something.
“I think it’s best that she asks you,” they said.
Mr Lewis remembered how “rattled and coy” the person sounded, which was followed by the woman being “a bit panicked” when they finally spoke.
“Lincoln, I‘ve got to ask you something and I really hope it’s the answer that I’m hoping for because if it’s not I don’t know what I’m going to do,” he recalled her saying.
Mr Lewis said he was “a bit thrown by that”.
“What’s going on … just ask me,” he said.
That’s when the awful truth started to come out.
“This is going to sound really weird saying it like this,” she said
“Have you and I been dating for the last couple of months?”
Mr Lewis remembered that “really threw” him.
“I said, ‘What, no, what are you talking about’? and then that’s when she started to sound really stressed and panicked and started sort of mumbling a bit and then started saying, ‘No, tell me you’re lying’,” he recounted.
The woman believed they had been dating for the last couple of months.
“She said, ‘Linc I don’t know who this is now’,” he said.
“‘Linc this person has photos and videos of me. I thought I was dating you. I thought you were the one asking for these things. I thought you were the one I was sending all this stuff to’.”
Mr Lewis said she described the content she had sent as “intimate” and “very revealing” photos and videos.
Abdelmalek would use them to blackmail the woman and also harass her family and loved ones.
The woman later committed suicide.
“A VERY SIMILAR STORY”
It soon became clear the catfishing extended beyond just one person.
My Lewis said “many months later” he was contacted by another woman, who also cannot be named.
“(She) told me a very similar story where someone who I didn‘t know was pretending to be me and was forming or had formed online relationships with these girls,” he said in a police statement.
“(She) told me that the person was creating Facebook accounts in my name, editing my existing social media outlets and giving out my actual home address.”
Mr Lewis said he remembered telling the “very rattled” woman he hoped she was “OK”.
He said “all of this was concerning” for him and his family as well.
“BROTHER, IT’S ME”
The extent of the catfishing even made its way overseas after Mr Lewis was confronted by a man in Bali who believed they were friends.
The actor was with a group at a sports bar when he was approached by a random stranger.
“He shouldered me and then just looked at me straight in the eye with a big smile on his face,” Mr Lewis recalled.
“I just looked at him and my mates were all standing just kind of a bit confused, and he said, ‘Brother it’s me’.
“I wasn‘t sure what to do, I’d never seen him before in my life.”
The stranger said they were mates and had just been messaging each other about how they were both in Bali.
“Bro, we’ve been messaging. What are you even talking about mate?” the man said.
That’s when what had happened started to click in Mr Lewis’ mind and he pulled the stranger aside.
The man said they had been friends for a couple of months and were even meant to go the footy together and hang out.
“Mate, I’m sorry. I don’t know who you are. I’ve never met you before. I apologise, but I’ve never spoken to you before in my life,” Mr Lewis recalled saying.
“He got a bit embarrassed and … said, ‘Brother, I’m so sorry mate. I apologise … I thought that we were mates’.
“I said, ‘Don’t worry about it mate. I apologise that you thought we were friends and whatever is going on’.”
“THAT’S WHERE SHE BECAME SUSPICIOUS”
While speaking to the court, Mr Lewis went into the methods Abdelmalek potentially used to trick her victims into believing she was the well-known actor.
He was shown various photos and was asked about where they might have come from.
On one occasion, Mr Lewis asked the court to zoom into an apparent picture of him as he undid his collar.
“Now, I have two really apparent moles, like one’s here on the collarbone and one’s here (under my neck),” he said.
“I can see the one under my neck but the one on my collarbone that’s there, I can’t really see it.
“That‘s probably the most prominent mole I’ve got on my body and if it’s not prominent in that photo, then to me it looks doctored.”
In another instance, he pointed out the inaccuracies with a fake Queensland driver’s licence.
“That’s obviously my face, but that is not a face I’ve had on any driver’s licence,” Mr Lewis said.
“What should be my signature is actually my autograph.
“The effective and expiry dates, I have not held a licence that only went for one year. Every time I‘ve done my licence, I’ve got it for the maximum amount of time.”
The first woman who approached Mr Lewis told him that his real voicemail was used in a phone number that had been given to her by the catfisher.
On how that could have happened, the actor assumed his voicemail had been recorded.
“I was getting a continuous amount of phone calls by a private number and if I answered this number there would be nothing on the end,” he recalled.
“After a while I just let it go to voicemail continuously. I just screened the call, turned it on to voicemail and let it go.
“The only conclusion I can come to is that it was recorded.”
Another common catfishing tactic that Abdelmalek employed was keeping her conversations with victims strictly online and avoiding real-life contact.
Mr Lewis said the first woman became “suspicious” when she was always given an excuse for why they could not meet up.
“Every time she tried to plan something to see each other in person a new excuse would pop up,” he said.
“Whether I’d be apparently filming, I’d apparently have an audition, I’d apparently have an appearance … something would always pop up.
“That‘s where she became suspicious about the whole thing because there was always an excuse as to why we couldn’t see each other.”
The second woman also went to Mr Lewis’ family address, but the catfisher stopped her from going inside.
“(The woman) had my home address that was given to her by who she thought was me,” he said.
“She went to visit my family’s home and had then messaged who she thought was me saying, ‘I’m here. Would you like me to come in and see you’?
“And got a response saying, ‘I’m not home. Sorry. You can’t come in’.”
“I WAS SHOCKED HE WOULD NOT SUPPORT ME”
Both of the catfished women were told by Mr Lewis that he did not want to be involved with the matter, the court was told.
A police statement provided by the first woman was read out while the actor was being questioned by Abdelmalek’s defence.
She said Mr Lewis initially agreed to meet up with her before later deciding against it.
“Lincoln Lewis did not meet up with me and he later told me that he wanted nothing to do with making a complaint to the police because of his reputation and his job as an actor,” the statement read.
“He did not want his work prospects in the future to be affected by making such a complaint. He was worried the story would be made known to the media and he did not want that to occur.
“I was shocked he would not support me in making a complaint to the police.”
Mr Lewis defended his actions when questioned by Abdelmalek’s barrister Richard Edney, saying he did provide a statement six years later when “it actually became crucial” that he did.
A male friend of the woman, who cannot be named, also told the court that Mr Lewis “sort of completely blanked her” when the two randomly ran into each other in public.
A man who was with Mr Lewis said the actor did not want to be involved in the issue or contacted about it again.
“He was actually quite a nice guy (Mr Lewis’ friend) and he said, ‘Oh, look … really sorry’ and you know ‘Lincoln doesn’t want anything to do with this, it wasn’t him, can you not contact him again’,” the woman’s male friend said.
“Something to the words of the effect that you know ‘he doesn’t want anything to do with it, he’s worried about his career and his public image’.”
The other woman who was catfished also gave evidence that Mr Lewis said he wanted to stay out of the matter.
“I then received a message from the real Lincoln Lewis, who sent me a message via his Facebook account,” she said.
“The real Lincoln said … he would prefer to stay out of it.”
Mr Lewis suggested the woman go to the police with the details of the fake accounts in his message.
Abdelmalek was originally sentenced to two years and eight months in prison in the Heidelberg Magistrates Court back in June 2019.
She was later released on bail after she appealed the conviction but failed to overturn the six counts of stalking in May 2022.
Judge Quin told the County Court at the time that she was “satisfied the appellant was responsible for the stalking behaviour” and described the alleged crimes as “extremely bizarre”.
But just a week later Abdelmalek’s lawyers said they would appeal the decision and continue to fight the original sentence.
Judge Quin warned she might impose a more severe sentence if Abdelmalek continued with her appeal.
But Abdelmalek persisted, which led to her original sentence effectively being increased by one year and four months on Tuesday.
Judge Quin said she regarded the offending as a “very serious example of stalking” and material she had received from the victims demonstrated the “cruel, brutal and ongoing impact” it had on them and their families.
She also noted Abdelmalek had shown no remorse or insight into her offending.
She has a non-parole period of two years and eight months.
Taking to Twitter on Tuesday, Mr Lewis thanked those involved in the investigation and court proceedings and said he was glad the incident was “finally over”.
“It’s hard finding the proper words or to articulate the feeling of relief that the cruel and horrendous actions committed by this person starting over a decade ago has finally ended with justice prevailing,” Mr Lewis wrote.
“From my end I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart to the detectives and prosecution team who’ve worked so tirelessly over the years on this case with the greatest amount of professionalism, dedication and empathy.
“Words aren’t enough for the incredible work you’ve done.”
Lastly, I hope all of this opens conversations when talking with friends or between parents & their kids about staying safe online. Social media is great but always make sure you know who you’re talking with & especially, always look out for each other.
— Lincoln Lewis (@linc_lewis) October 25, 2022
Mr Lewis said the process had been incredibly difficult not only for himself but especially for Abdelmalek’s victims.
“I hope the sentence helps provide the victims, their families and those affected with some closure that can now help everyone heal and move forward,” he said.
“Lastly, I hope all of this opens conversations when talking with friends or between parents and their kids about staying safe online.
“Social media is great but always make sure you know who you’re talking with and especially, always look out for each other.”
https://www.theaustralian.com.au/breaking-news/how-home-and-away-star-lincoln-lewis-used-in-catfishing-and-stalking-plot/news-story/1765944da7daf2d1d0e098bc13c669f1 Lydia Abdelmalek uses Home And Away star Lincoln Lewis in catfishing ordeal