Online Scams

Tell-tale signs your online date may be an online fraud


Navigating the choppy waters of online dating can be tricky enough without finding out that the person you’re dating doesn’t actually exist. That’s a revelation that tends to signal the end for any relationship.

The term “catfish” captured the public imagination as a result of the documentary film and the MTV reality TV series that followed. Catfishers lure innocent people into an online relationship by posing as someone they’re not.

Most people find it hard to believe that anyone could sustain a relationship with a fictional persona but it’s not uncommon. The growth of online dating has led to an explosion of catfishing and the combination of lust, infatuation or love means that innocent people can get manipulated or exploited.

These relationships can go on for years and often end in tragic emotional or financial consequences for the victims.
Catfishers can be driven by anything from loneliness to obsession or revenge. They can be motivated by the desire to live vicariously through a fake persona, to extort money from a victim, to make mischief or any number of other intentions. Other sinister cases can involve sexual predators or stalkers who use this online anonymity to get close to their victims.
There are several truly bizarre examples out there, like the girl who was catfished twice by another girl who posed as two different men. Then there’s the woman who catfished her niece to teach her a lesson about online safety. Things turned strange when her 19-year-old niece asked her aunt’s fictional persona to kill her aunt. Eek! 

Catfishing can affect people from all walks of life and it’s easy to scoff at the victims but the damage is real. Common sense isn’t always to the fore when it comes to matters of the heart but here are some clues that your online date is an online fraud.
 


Your date looks like a supermodel

Online dating scams usually start with an attractive person initiating contact through social media or dating sites. A common theme is that catfishers use picture of models, actors or a member of the beautiful people club. Most catfish scams will use an attractive profile picture to keep the victim hooked and to make them want the fictional person to be real.

If a profile picture looks way too good to be true, it’s simple to check if the image is real. A reverse image search will show if their profile pic has been used anywhere else on the internet, even if the picture was stolen from a random person’s account. Self-confidence is one thing but alarm bells should go off if a model suddenly contacts you to ask for a date.

They’re a perfect match

It may be that you’ve just met someone who loves all the things you do and that’s great if that’s the case. However, imposters often claim to have shared interests to ensure that they have a topic of conversation. They can either pick a personality type that they think will appeal to their mark or choose to mirror the person they are trying to ensnare.

Maybe your new online date does is just as obsessed as you are with snooker, 1980s manga, French poetry and freestyle climbing. Or maybe it’s unrealistic that two random people share that particular combination of interests.

They don’t have a digital footprint


It’s getting harder and harder to go through life without leaving a digital footprint so finding no trace of a person can arouse suspicions. That’s not to say that you need to have blazed a trail across the internet to be a real person. Some people don’t use social media apps and prefer not to post personal information on the internet.

However, it can be suspicious if you can’t find any trace of a person. The average Facebook user has 130 friends so people who only have a handful of friends may be fake. Look at the way they use social media and check their friends list – it’s easy to create fake friends but these connections can tell you a lot about them. If they’re on Twitter, look back through their timeline to try and find inconsistencies.

If they never post pictures of themselves in social situations or with friends, it can also be a bit fishy. Real people tend to be tagged in group photos or pictured at social occasions, with comments from friends. If all of their pictures are modelling shots with no engagement from friends, there could be a problem.

If something about an online date’s behaviour raises questions, a simple Google search could save you a lot of future pain and distress.
 


They come on strong

If someone starts declaring their undying love for you after a couple of weeks, it could be a sign that they may be trying to catfish you. They may also try and get you off a dating site and into the realm of texts, instant messages or email as soon as possible.

That’s not to say that you can’t develop a deep connection with someone in a short time. However, it’s a bit suspect if they’re talking marriage after a third online conversation.

A common trend in catfishing is for the imposter to rush things and try to get very serious very quickly. This doesn’t allow the person being targeted to think about what’s happening as they get swept up in a whirlwind romance. It’s also a way to play with people’s emotions and keep them invested in this growing “relationship.”

They’re afraid of Skype


If you take nothing else from this article, this is probably the one lesson to learn. The one thing that everyone asks after they’re told a catfish story is “Have they not heard about Skype!?”

One of the consistent things about fraudsters involved in dating scams is that they refuse to have conversations by Skype or to use a webcam for video chats. This should be the signal to sound the “probably not real” klaxon. Texts, messages or even phone calls are all very well but a video conversation seems to be a pretty simple thing to arrange. Unless you’re a 50-year-old posing as a 20-year-old.

People who are scammed generally report that the other person made constant excuses to avoid going on camera. The obvious reason is because that they don’t look like the person in their profile picture. They’ll also want to avoid being identified because that’s a good way to end up in an awkward conversation with the authorities.

They live far, far away

Obviously, the chances of getting into a long distance relationship is higher if you’re using an online service and chatting to people from all over the world. That’s not to say that anyone who isn’t from your street is a crazy fraudster.

However, fraudsters will naturally try and cultivate long distance relationships because it means they have an excuse not to meet with their target. This gives them the space and time to cultivate a “relationship” and get their mark to trust them.
Catfishers often claim to be a soldier who has been posted overseas, someone whose work sees them travel a lot or any other number of professions that make it difficult to meet in person. Another typical example is for a fraudster to arrange to meet up with their target on several occasions and then to cancel at the last moment.

The ask for money

Some cases of catfishing involve people leading a victim on for personal reasons, with no attempt to extort money from them. While this can still be a devastating experience, being manipulated by a stranger can only be exasperated when they also take money from you. Online dating can be an obvious target for fraud, with criminals exploiting the combination of emotion, trust and wishful thinking in the worst possible way.

Common ruses involve asking for money to visit the target of the scam, giving victims a tale of woe about a medical emergency or serious illness, or some other convoluted financial difficulties that require a sudden injection of cash.

Their life sounds like a soap opera


A common theme that reoccurs with catfishing cases is for imposters to create fantastical stories that involve illness, family tragedies or major accidents that conveniently help to postpone a face-to-face meeting. So if your online sweetheart’s daily life sounds like something from a soap opera, it may be time to start asking questions.

While online dating is a perfectly legitimate way to meet people, make sure the object of your affection checks out! If you’ve become entangled with a fraudster, you could end up with a broken heart or an empty bank account – so be very careful!