You’ve probably heard the term “catfish,” especially if you are on any form of social media or dating website or app. Catfishing is the act of pretending to be someone else, real or fictional, to trick an unsuspecting victim. There is more than one reason for catfishing someone online. Perhaps the other person is jealous, trying to catch a cheating partner, or doing it as a form of cyberstalking or cyberbullying. However, the one doing the catfishing is most likely trying to scam his or her victim.
How It Happens
Social media sites are rife with people on both sides of the catfishing scheme. While dating sites are most often the trolling place for scammers, other social media sites like Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram are also possible sites for the tricksters. For argument’s sake, let’s use an example from a dating site.
Sally signs up for a dating website. She posts her picture and some information about herself. Soon, Sally starts to get messages from people interested in talking to her. At first, Sally is excited. She looks through pictures, at information and answers a few messages. Then she notices some of the people are behaving in a strange manner. Here are some of Sally’s red flags:
No profile picture.
Several of the men contacting Sally don’t have a profile picture posted. A small percentage may have a legitimate reason for not having a picture, such as a high-profile job, but more often than not, the poster may be married or not who he claims to be.
He looks like a movie star
He just might be. If a photo looks over done or professional, chances are it’s not real. Use a reverse image search in Google to uncover the user’s true identity. Some of the most popular services include Google Reverse Image Search or TinEye. Upload the person’s picture and search. Try more than one service to make sure that the picture isn’t located elsewhere on the internet. You may find it linked to other dating websites as well.
Scammers are typically non-native English speakers. It becomes obvious quickly when chatting via message. They often use incorrect words, the wrong tense, or confuse things such as there, they’re and their. Also, non-English speakers tend to not use contractions. The lack of good grammar is a glaring sign that someone is not who he claims to be.
The Same Old Story
Scammers aren’t very creative. Sob stories generally include the person losing his entire family, being stranded overseas, or having lost his wife to cancer and left with a child to raise. If a story sounds familiar, enter some of the text into a Google search. You might be surprised at what appears on your screen. The same can be said for overly produced poetry he uses to profess his love.
From 0 to 60 in a minute
Scammers aren’t patient. They want to gain your trust and get your money as soon as possible. For that reason, they tend to go to any length to win your trust and affection. Poetry, gifts, words of affirmation and love are just some of the ways in which a scammer will try to win you over. The more you accept those gestures, the harder the scammer tries.
Once a scammer feels he has your trust, he will ask for something. It usually starts as something small, a small token of your affection. He may even send the first gift to get the ball rolling. Perhaps it’s simply a phone call or video chat. Rest assured that it’s only the beginning of something much bigger.
- Airline ticket. He tells you that he is stranded overseas or wants to visit you, but is short of cash. He says he has had a medical emergency or has been robbed. You have to pay for his ticket and as soon as he arrives, he will pay you back. The problem is that once the ticket is sent, he never arrives, and the money is gone.
- Financial emergency. There has been an accident. The rent or insurance is past due. He was wrongly terminated from his job. He only needs a small loan.
- Make a trip. He can’t visit right now, but you can make a trip to see him. Risks include being stood up at the airport, stranded in a strange city or country or being accosted by a stranger. The least of it is being out the money for the airfare.
- Send money/packages. Some scammers benefit by convincing their partners to send money to a third party or forward a package. While it may seem harmless, it could land you in legal trouble.
Take Steps to Protect Yourself
Follow these steps to protect yourself as much as possible.
- Use a VoIP phone number or email set up specifically for the dating site.
- Download a caller ID and phonebook app that will allow you to record, block and/or trace phone numbers.
- Never send money to a stranger.
- Insist on seeing a picture. Use an image search to verify identity.
- Approach the situation logically and discuss it with a trusted friend before making any decisions.
- Beware of sharing personal information about yourself, your job or your family.
- Always meet in a neutral, public place.
- Get to know the person in real life situations before giving your complete trust.