These days with the Internet and social media becoming an integral part of our day to day lives, people have become accustomed to instant gratification. A person could potentially meet the love of his or her life with the simple click of the mouse or the press of button using social media or popular dating apps, with virtually no physical contact. Unfortunately, this makes us vulnerable to being “catfished” along the way.

A catfish is person who pretends to be someone they are not online in order to extort or bully another person by means of a deceptive romance. Whatever the motivation may be, whether it is loneliness, boredom, revenge, financial gain, identity theft or other fraud, these online scammers seeking virtual love create fake identities on social networking and dating websites.

By creating these false online profiles, these scammers prey on their unsuspecting targets by emotional manipulation. Be aware of some of the common signs and risks:

  1. Using someone else’s photo to represent themselves in a particular way. In fact, he or she may use a photograph of a very attractive person to appeal to others. Often times, they may use photos of someone of their opposite sex to appeal to a person. For example, a female may be seeking companionship with a male. The catfish may actually be a woman who is using a photo of a male to represent herself that way online. Some of these catfish may claim to be in some glamourized or appealing profession such as modeling and acting. This makes them appear to be more attractive and adds to the mystique of his or her false “perfect” life. If it is too good to be true, it probably is.
  2. Over exaggerating talents, skills, and (mutual) interests. Often times, they will even agree to your exact personal hobbies, interests, and preferences so they can appeal to you on a personal level, not just the perceived attraction of the photos. Just like you, the catfish conveniently enjoys romantic comedies, can speak Swedish, has 3 sisters, and is an avid table tennis player. Take what this individual is telling you with a grain of salt rather than being too quick to believe them.
  3. Refusing to talk to you on video chat or over the phone. In many instances, when a catfish is asked to expand ways of communication beyond text messages, emails, or social media messaging, he or she may outwardly refuse to interact over telephone or video chat. Often times, he or she will make excuses like saying they are working late, their internet connection is not good, or say they are busy. They avoid this contact as to not reveal their true identity (perhaps their true appearance or in some instances, the catfish is someone the victim already knows).
  4. Similarly, refusing to meet face-to-face. If you schedule plans to meet with the catfish and they cancel abruptly or do not show up to the meeting, this can be a red flag. As with refusing to contact by video or phone calls, particularly after several efforts have been made to meet, they resort to this tactic to avoid revealing their plan and actions.
  5. Building intimacy at a very fast pace. In many instances, catfish may be quick to openly share their most intimate, personal details regarding themselves or their lifestyle. Building a connection with people takes effort from both individuals. Be wary of any information the catfish is freely offering to you, particularly if it is in the earlier stages. By doing this, their aim is to allow the other person to feel more at ease and reveal personal details about ourselves. Revealing personal information can open up doors to other prevalent risks (borrowing money, identity theft, etc.).
  6. Asking you for money. Whether it is a small or large amount, if the catfish asks for money in cash, check, money order, gift cards, or other items that are of monetary value, this is a red flag of the person’s real intentions.
  7. Few friends and information on their social media profiles. Take the time to really examine the catfish’s online profile early on. If the person does not have any mutual friends or has a small number of friends in general, this can indicate that the profile is a fake account. Additionally, if there are few instances on their profiles in which they have been tagged in photos or posts by other people, this could also be another indicator that the profile is fraudulent.

Navigating the internet and all of the resources which are available can be daunting and dangerous if one is not careful and mindful. However becoming aware of those risk factors and taking the necessary precautions to protect yourself will make it easier to find your true match and save yourself heartache along the way.