The sad tale of Manti Te’o and his fraudulent girlfriend has brought a problem with online dating to light: the risk of catching a catfish. “Catfish” is the term used to describe a person whoposes as someone they’re not in order to establish a relationship with an unsuspecting online dater. These scams can be carried out for financial gain, or simply to fulfill a need for acceptance and love that the catfish isn’t feeling in their actual lives. Whatever the motive, perpetrating such a ruse can have heartbreaking effects on the targeted party. If you’re in an online relationship or considering one, here are 10 ways to guard yourself against a catfish scam.
- Web Search – Some people hesitate to “Google” their new online sweetheart for fear of invading their privacy. The truth is, a quick web search may turn up a few pieces of information that confirm your significant other’s identity. You don’t have to pry or dig into personal backgrounds with in-depth reports. Just run a quick search and see what comes up.
- Insist on Webcam Chats – When someone you’re dating online dodges webchats for an extended period of time, it’s often an indicator that she isn’t who she claims to be. It’s understandable to be hesitant about webchatting in the earliest stages of a relationship, but it’s a bit fishy when she’s professing her undying love but still dodging the camera.
- Read Between the Lines – It’s easy to miss signs that are literally right before your eyes when you’re swept up in the excitement of a new romance. Before you get too emotionally invested, make a habit of reading between the lines of what he says and listening to what he doesn’t say. Fabricating an entirely new personality isn’t easy and you may be able to pick up on some subtle warning signs.
- Their Facebook Wall – Creating a fake Facebook profile is easy, but making it look genuine is not. When you scan your new sweetie’s Timeline, look at the things posted there. A plethora of games and app requests combined with a dearth of personal postings may be a red flag that the person you’re dating doesn’t actually exist. Think about the things that your own friends and family members post on your wall; if they’re missing from his, it may be because the fictitious character you’re chatting with has no friends or family.
- Critical Thinking – When emotion takes over, it’s difficult to think about things objectively and use your own common sense regarding the situation. In many cases, however, an entire false relationship could have been avoided with a bit of old-fashioned critical thinking. If something doesn’t seem to add up, it’s usually because there are holes in the story.
- Trust Your Instincts – Your own instincts are a powerful detection tool, but they may be hard to follow when you’re focused solely on your emotions. Having a hunch that all is not what it seems or a nagging feeling that something is off with your new relationship is a sure sign that you should dig a bit deeper before investing further.
- Look for Photo Tags – Group photos posted on Facebook or other social networking sites that include your honey, but have none of the other members tagged, can be a sign of a stolen picture. To realistically fake a fully-tagged group shot, a catfish would have to create and maintain that many fraudulent accounts. In the end, even the most dedicated sweetheart scammers probably won’t have that kind of time on their hands.
- Use Dating Sites With Verification Services – To help stem the tide of con-artist heartthrobs, some online dating sites are offering verification services that ensure an account holder is who they claim to be. Using these sites to meet someone allows you an extra layer of security against catfish scams.
- Be Wary of Elaborate Excuses – Car trouble or bad weather are par for the course in anyone’s life, but if your online girlfriend keeps putting off meetings or webchats because she’s been in a coma-inducing car accident before being sucked into a tornado and swallowed by a tsunami, there’s a good chance there’s a bit of dishonesty going on. Elaborate, over-the-top tales of woe are a trademark move of relationship scammers and can be a very reliable indicator that you’re not talking to the person who you think.
- Pay Attention to Detail – Keeping track of all the many details that are necessary to convincingly fake an entire personality and life history is amazingly difficult. Simply keeping an eye out for details that don’t add up or stories that don’t fit into a proper timeline can give you all the evidence you need of an Internet sweetheart that’s not shooting straight.
In the interest of protecting your assets, it’s wise never to send money to someone you’re dating online and have never met in person. Online dating is a legitimate way of meeting and establishing relationships with open and honest people, but there is a slight chance that you’ll come across a huckster or two before you meet your intended.
Hannah Howard works at longhornleads.com
Do you know other ways that can help?