By Kimberly Blaker
The number of couples who meet online, in all age groups, continues to grow. A whopping 39% of heterosexual couples and 65% of same-sex couples who met in 2017 met online. This was reported in a new study, “Disintermediating your friends,” by Michael Rosenfeld, Department of Sociology at Stanford University.
According to the Pew Research Center, eighty-five percent of those who’ve tried online dating are under the age of 55. Two age categories, however, have seen the most growth. The 18-24-year-old group tripled to 27% in 2015 over two years. Also, the 55-64-year-old group that’s tried online dating doubled to 12%. Men make up more than half of those in online dating sites and apps.
Online dating has led to numerous committed relationships and marriages. But as too many can attest, it’s not all fun – and there are plenty of games. In fact, according to studies, more than half of users lie on their online dating profiles. It’s often somewhat innocent (though frustrating to those who uncover the deceptions) in regards 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 seduce 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, likely don’t get reported.
We’ve all heard a well-publicized story of someone losing tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to an online catfisher. But the truth is, it’s far more common than most people realize.
Financial gain, however, is just one of the motives of catfishers. While many are out to scam people of their hard-earned cash, others have different sinister intentions. Some are seeking sexually explicit videos or photos for either personal use or posting online. Some catfishers find it an effective method for identity theft. Tragically, pedophiles also catfish to groom and lure children. Even adults are sometimes catfished to cause physical harm. Some do it for revenge, to catch an untrustworthy spouse, or to live an alternate reality. In the end, regardless of the catfishers’ motives, victims often experience emotional trauma, as well.
Here are some particularly eye-opening facts:
- Women make up 64% of catfishers.
- Fifty-one percent of online daters are married (though most lie and say they’re not).
- At least 10% of dating profiles are catfishers.
How do catfishers choose their targets?
One thing about catfishers is they’re pretty slick when it comes to choosing their victims. Senior citizens are frequent targets. But catfishers scam people of all ages. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission found that of all fraud victims surveyed in 2016, 21% fall between the ages of 30-39. Those in their 40s and 50s are a close runner-up.
Catfishers also look for those who are desperate for love, gullible, or sympathetic. It’s easy to woo, guilt, or manipulate such people in a variety of ways and feed right into the catfisher’s hand.
How to protect yourself from the get-go
Catfishing has been around since long before the internet. But the worldwide web provides catfishers an endless supply of prey while making it easier to conceal their identity. So, whether you’re in an online dating site or app and even on social media, keep your fisheye 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 detailed, elaborate (but deceptive) profiles. Often, though, their profiles are incomplete and vague. By providing such limited detail (other than, perhaps, a very attractive photograph), they can capture the interest of 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.
Photos are another big clue. If they have no picture, this can be a red flag. Also, does their only photo look extremely dated? You know, the ones with that orangish hue that date back to the ’70s. Or does the picture look like it came straight from GQ or Glamour? Of course, many are smarter than that. 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 picture and select ‘save image as.’ Then go to Google images. Drag and drop the photo into the search bar. If Google shows identical results for the picture, do some investigative work.
Also, watch for broken English in their messages. If you notice odd language such as ‘I will like to get to know you,’ be wary. It might indicate they’re from a foreign country commonly known for catfishers. On the same token, some scammers use broken English intentionally. They do this to weed out those who are intelligent enough to quickly 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, beware that many, and perhaps most catfishers, don’t show broken English. 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 beware 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 your ties.
If someone you haven’t met starts getting romantic quickly or comes out with the “L” word before you’ve ever met, be suspicious. It’s true, some legitimate relationships have started out this way, but it isn’t the norm. It’s relatively common, though, with catfishers who 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 becoming emotionally entangled with a fraud. Some people have found themselves reeled 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.
More ways to recognize a catfisher
Be wary if:
- they’re often 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. Also, 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. (It should be noted for women’s safety, however, never give your address to someone you haven’t met and gotten to know well in person.)
- 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 or suspect it
If you suspect you’re communicating with a catfisher but are uncertain, gather everything you know about the person, 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. Then file a report with the FBI at https://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx.