Essayons Catfishing Scam

What Is Catfishing?

Laura Caseley for LittleThings

“Catfishing” is the term used for a particularly cruel kind of online scam.

In a catfishing scam, a person on the internet will create a fake identity and try to romance or seduce their target.

The term first fell into common usage after a documentary called Catfish, which follows the story of a lovelorn young man trying to find a girl he met online.

Dr. Phil’s website explains it like this: “A ‘catfish’ is a person who creates a false online identity in the hopes of luring people into romantic relationships.”

Sometimes the perpetrator is just a lonely person hoping to find happiness in a new identity. More often, they are online criminals using proclamations of love to part innocent people from their money.

But how do you know if a person you met online is the real deal or a sleazy scammer?

Scroll through to learn the red flags you should never ignore.

Sign #1: No Friends Or Followers

Laura Caseley for LittleThings

If you meet someone on a dating website or on social media, scroll to their Facebook profile right away.

Most scam artists have fake profiles that are doctored to look real. It can be hard to spot a fake, unless you know what you’re looking for.

Check their friends list first. If they have fewer than 10 friends, that’s a major red flag that might indicate it’s just facade.

Also check when they created their profile. If their internet presence began just days before you met, you should probably be seriously suspicious of their motives.

In this day and age, most real people have established social media accounts with more than a few followers or friends.

Sign #2: Avoids Meetings And Skype Sessions

Laura Caseley for LittleThings

If you’ve been chatting with an online flame for a while, it’s natural that you would eventually want to get together in person for drinks or coffee. At the very least, you might want to plan an online video chat to see each other in real time!

However, if your beau seems to be dodging you at every turn, you should start to consider the possibility that they aren’t who they seem to be.

A catfish will do everything they can to avoid a face-t0-face encounter, because it might expose their lies.

A signature move is to agree to a face-to-face meeting or video call, and then bail out at the last minute, claiming a work emergency or an internet connection issue.

Sign #3: Their Picture Is Too Good To Be True

Laura Caseley for LittleThings

You could hardly believe your luck when you logged onto your dating app and saw this super-hottie pursuing you, but now you’re getting suspicious.

After all, there is definitely such a thing as “too good to be true.”

If your online friend is exceptionally beautiful or handsome, it’s possible that the real person behind the account is stealing photos from a modeling or body-building website.

Also, be cautious about extremely professional photos or images that look like glamor shots; a real person will usually use a profile photo snapped by a friend on their smartphone, not a professional portrait complete with airbrushing.

Sign #4: They Claim You’re Neighbors

Laura Caseley for LittleThings

Another common ploy catfish love to use? Pretending that the two of you are neighbors.

You might get a pop-up chat or email saying, “so-and-so lives 5 miles away,” or a more specific, targeted message saying something like “I think we went to high school together in [town!] What’s up?”

It’s not unusual to respond, thinking you’re catching up with an old classmate or neighbor.

But when you get to talking, you quickly discover they seem to have no idea what the neighborhood is like, and that you have no friends or acquaintances in common.

This is a classic sign that they are faking the shared geographical connection to make you feel more comfortable with them.

Sign #5: They Get Serious Way Too Fast

Laura Caseley for LittleThings

Maybe you meet someone on an online dating site and think that the two of you have hit it off, except, within a few days or weeks, your casual flirtation has gotten way too serious, way too quickly.

You haven’t even gone out to dinner yet, but your new online friend is sending you undying declarations of love, passionate love letters or — yikes — proposals of marriage.

Be very, very cautious here. The over-the-top attention might feel good, but people who say “I love you” after two weeks of chatting should not be trusted.

They may be trying to create a romantic bond as quickly as possible to manipulate you into giving them money or some other advantage.

Sign #6: They Always Seem To Need Help

Laura Caseley for LittleThings

If you establish a back-and-forth with someone online, be very cautious of requests for money.

It’s one thing to lend cash to a trusted friend, but it’s entirely another to send it to someone you have just met, especially if they just keep asking and trying to convince you.

A catfish will always have excellent excuses lined up: “My car broke down.” “I can’t afford my internet bill to talk to you.” “I have a life-threatening illness.”

They will try to manipulate and guilt-trip you into wiring them money or buying them expensive gifts.

They may also ask you to send them money in strange formats, like Visa gift cards, money orders, or cashier’s checks.

Sign #7: Their Stories Seem Far-Fetched Or Too Vague

Laura Caseley for LittleThings

If you’re talking to someone online or via the phone, listen hard to what they say or write.

A catfish will often try to get their target to do most of the talking to avoid too much attention, so ask specific questions.

Watch out for answers that seem extremely outlandish — “I’m a fighter pilot and doctor who rescues puppies and is also fabulously wealthy” — or unusually vague — “I just like to party and have fun and have a good time with friends.”

If your online fling seems to be living an extremely unusual life, you may want to grill them a bit and see whether they switch their answers or get evasive.

What To Do?

Laura Caseley for LittleThings

If you suspect that someone you have met online is actually a catfish, do a little background checking to confirm your suspicions.

You can also use an online service to verify the identity of the person you are chatting with.

Once you have determined you are dealing with a catfish, immediately cut off communication. Don’t give the catfish the chance to try to charm you back or convince you; simply stop responding.

Next, save any incriminating messages they may have sent you, and block their account. Report their bad behavior to the dating site or social media service that you are using, and do your best to prevent future targets from the same cruel scam.

You can also SHARE this list far and wide to make sure that everyone knows the red flags to watch out for!

What is a romance scam? The scam is sometimes called catfishing and its victims are said to have been catfished. The scam involves two individuals. The victim is usually a user of social media or a member of an online dating site. The scammer will reach out to the victim with offers of friendship that very quickly evolve into declarations of love. Unfortunately, the scammer is almost never who they portray themselves to be and often their only goal is to trick the victim into sending them money. How do you know if you’ve been catfished? There some telling signs of a romance scam that nearly all victims report. 

These types of scams have been around as long as the Internet, and maybe longer. As long as people are motivated to deceive to make a buck, there will be victims of this and other scams. If you’ve fallen victim, don’t be afraid to talk about it. Scammers count on this fear because your knowledge is power. Informed consumers are much harder to deceive.

How does a romance scam start?
Generally the scam starts with an initial contact by the scammer. The scammer may be a member of the same online dating site as you or any online forum you have joined. The scammer may also contact you on social media - it’s always a good idea not to accept friend requests from people you don’t know. Once the contact has been made, the discussion is friendly at first, but very quickly turns romantic. Victims usually report that this shift occurs very early on in the relationship.

The scammer will ask you a lot of questions about yourself, knowing that the more information they know about you, the easier you will be to manipulate. The scammer will spin a tale about him or herself as well. Eventually you will begin speaking over the phone. This romance stage can last sometime - weeks and months even.

Of course you shouldn’t fear everyone you meet online. It’s a good bet that most people you meet are generally good people just surfing the net the same as you are. So how can you tell if you’re falling in love, or being catfished?

Even innocent people can fall in love quickly, but if you start to notice any of these signs, you should be wary:

  • Love happens quickly - You’ve only just met and the person you’re chatting with is already calling you their soulmate. Maybe you knew each other in a past life… You’re meant to be together… They’ve never met anyone like you… etc. It’s normal to be cautious about trusting new people, but the scammer bypasses this awkward relationship stage pretty quickly. If it all seems to be happening too fast, it might very well be a scam.
  • The story doesn’t stay the same - Even the most seasoned liars can slip up, especially if they’re spinning a tale as long the life and times of someone completely made up. You may not remember every detail they’ve told you about themselves, but if some part of their story doesn’t sound quite right, or if you could have sworn the story was different last week, you might be dealing with a liar.
  • Their profile picture is gorgeous - Yes beautiful people fall in love too, but because scammers like to keep their identities hidden, they usually won’t send you an actual picture of themselves. Often they’ll steal someone else’s profile picture. It’s easy to find out if the person you’re talking to has done this. You can do an online search for the image directly. If any other websites or online profiles show up in your search, you can bet the image was stolen. You should also be wary if they give you excuses as to why you can’t video chat or meet in person.
  • Bad grammar - Another sign is communication that is poorly written. Many scams originate overseas. If the scammer tells you they’re from Florida, but write as if English is not their first language, this could be a red flag.

What does the scammer get out of it? Almost always, as the romance progresses, the scammer will eventually begin to ask you for money. He or she might use the excuse of needing to borrow money to book a flight to meet you in person, they might claim that they themselves or a relative has been in an accident and needs help paying medical bills, or that they need the money for some business venture - either way the money is the reason for the scam. If you give in, they’ll keep hooking you as long as you keep sending the money. It’s a big red flag if they ask you to put the money on a prepaid debit card or to wire it to them directly because these are both untraceable and once the money is sent it cannot be recovered.

What do you do if you’ve been scammed? Don’t be silent. This type of scam is especially insidious because the scammer is manipulating and abusing the victim’s emotions. It plays on the need we all have for love and companionship and many people fall victim every year. If you’ve been scammed, tell your story to other people. You may prevent someone else from being victimized in the same way. You can report romance scams and any other scams you become aware of to the BBB Scam Tracker at bbb.org/scamtracker. If the scam occurred on an online dating site or some other online forum, report the individual’s user-name to the site moderators, who can take steps to prevent the scammer from targeting anyone else using the same website.

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