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Beacon Senior News

Is it love...or are you being catfished?

Jan 25, 2021 03:40PM ● By Kimberly Blaker
love online catfishing

Over the course of two years, the number of 55-64-year-olds who have tried online dating doubled to 12 percent. Online dating has led to numerous committed relationships and marriages. But, as many can attest, it’s not all fun and there are plenty of games. Studies show more than half of users lie on their online dating profiles. It’s often fairly innocent white lies in regard to their age, weight or height.

But catfishers—scammers who lure people into a sham relationship—are a whole different breed. They lie about nearly everything, including posting stolen photos to beguile and lure victims. In 2016 alone, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center received 15,000 complaints under the category of romance scams and confidence fraud. 

Most, however, don’t get reported. We’ve all heard stories of someone losing tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to an online catfisher. The truth is, it’s far more common than most people realize. At least 10 percent of dating profiles are catfishers, 64 percent of whom are women and 51 percent are married.

Financial gain is just one of their motives. Some seek sexually explicit videos or photos for either personal use or to post online. Some catfishers find it an effective method for identity theft. 

There are also those who do it for revenge, to catch an untrustworthy spouse, or to live out an alternate reality. In the end, regardless of the catfishers’ motives, victims often experience emotional trauma as well.


How do catfishers choose their targets?

Catfishers are pretty slick when it comes to choosing their victims. Seniors are frequent targets, but catfishers scam people of all ages. 

Catfishers look for those who are desperate for love, gullible or sympathetic. Such people are easy to woo, guilt or manipulate, feeding right into the catfisher’s hand.


How you can protect yourself

Catfishing has been around long before the internet. But the web provides catfishers an endless supply of prey while making it easier to conceal their identities. Whether you’re on an online dating site or social media, keep your eyes peeled and follow these precautions.

First, know the red flags to look for before you begin communicating with someone you don’t know. Some catfishers provide elaborate but deceptive profiles. More often, though, their profiles are incomplete and vague. By providing such limited detail (other than, perhaps, a very attractive photograph), they’re able to lure more potential victims. It also gives them the advantage to make things up as they go that best fits their victim’s wants, needs and desires.

Having no photo can also be a red flag, as well as one that looks extremely dated or straight from GQ or Glamour magazine. Even when the photos look kosher, they might be stolen from someone else’s social media profile. So, always do a reverse image search. Just right click on the photo, and select ‘save image as.’ Then, go to Google images and drag and drop the photo into the search bar. If Google shows identical results for the image, do some investigative work.

Another thing to watch for is broken English in messages. If you notice odd phrasing such as ‘I will like to get to know you,’ be wary. It might indicate they’re from a foreign country commonly known for scammers. However, some scammers use broken English intentionally. They do this to weed out those intelligent enough to easily catch on to them. Catfishers want to invest their time in those who seem to be gullible. Another reason they may intentionally use broken English is to create the illusion they lack sophistication. This gives them the advantage that you won’t suspect they’re crafty enough to be a catfisher.

On the other hand, plenty of catfishers are American, or English is their native language. Good English doesn’t necessarily deem them legitimate.

When you begin communicating with someone online, ask for their full name (and be wary if they won’t tell you.) Then, do an online search for their social media profiles, job information, places they’ve lived and anything else you can learn. If you can’t find the person online or something doesn’t seem right, cut ties.

If someone starts getting romantic quickly or comes out with the “L” word before you’ve ever met, be suspicious. While some legitimate relationships have started out this way, it isn’t the norm. It’s fairly common, however, with catfishers who try to quickly lure you into a phony whirlwind romance. They often move quickly and begin talking about a relationship, being in love or a future together before you’ve met.

Most important—regardless of how perfect or real someone seems—don’t allow yourself to get emotionally involved before you’ve met in person. In fact, once you’ve done the investigative work above, try to meet for coffee as soon as possible. That way you don’t waste time or risk getting emotionally entangled with a fraud. Some people have found themselves sucked into years-long sham relationships without ever having met their predator. They only learn after wasting years of their life, and sometimes all of their savings.


Signs of a catfisher

Be wary if:

• They’re difficult or impossible to catch on the phone.

• They’re unwilling to video chat.

• They always have an excuse for why they can’t meet you in person. They may claim to be out of state or the country. 

• They often claim, repeatedly, to be dealing with a major crisis or setback. This is to gain your sympathy, so you’ll accept it without question.

• They won’t provide their exact address, especially even after professing their love, an extended courtship or asking to borrow money. (But, for your safety—especially for women—never give your address to someone you haven’t met or don’t know well.)

• They try to manipulate you by shaming you, playing on your sympathy, or being overly charming, complimentary or empathetic.


What to do if you’ve been catfished

If you suspect you’re communicating with a catfisher but are uncertain, gather everything you know about the person and print their profile, communications and photos. Then, share it with trusted family and friends for objective opinions.

Also, report catfishers to the dating or social media website where you met and file a report with the FBI at www.ic3.gov/default.aspx