Just because you meet someone through a reputable online dating site doesn’t mean they are looking for love. Ditto when someone contacts you on Facebook or Twitter saying you look so appealing and they want to know you better. They may be a scammer, AKA a Catfish, trolling for their next victim. And they count on reeling you in, Mr. and Ms. Kind and Intelligent, by playing on your sympathy and guilt, your desire for love or at least connection of some kind. They know exactly how to get you caught up in the romance and to jettison your common sense. And they are very, very good at it.
Thankfully, it is possible to protect yourself and still enjoy the benefits of meeting online. Checking even one box below should put you on alert. Yes, some of these situations can be true with real live people you meet or have been legitimately introduced to. Just keep in mind that the Catfish is counting on you to make that and other excuses on their behalf. These reality checks will help you tune up your radar and go into any new relationship, especially any new online relationship, with open eyes. And those open eyes are your best protection for your open heart.
10 Dating Reality Checks
Too Good to Be True. I’m a top model making over $1m a year. I’m CEO of a billion dollar international company. There’s a reason for the old saying “If something seems too good to be true it probably is” and catfish profiles often fall into this category. Some red flags - like too many claims to beauty, fame, and fortune - are pretty common. It’s easy for scammers to say they are a model (Remember the State Farm insurance commercial where the gal thought she was going on a date with a French model?) and to have a fantastic career. It’s easy to say they are tall and slim or petite and voluptuous, but sometimes the given height and weight combo just isn’t plausible. They are counting on you not paying attention!
Grammar and Spelling Fails. Foreigners often slip up on landmarks, news, pop culture, and sporting or cultural events. And they are notorious for spelling, sentence structure, and grammar mistakes. If it sounds fishy, you are probably being baited. Their writing style may also be all over the map - emails and messages plagued with errors mixed with wonderful pitch-perfect love letters and poetry. Chances are these are plagiarized. OK, “normal” people sometimes do this, too, but most don’t try to pass it off as their own.
No Pictures or Fake-looking Pictures. If all their photos look a little too professional, watch out. It’s easy to snag photos from around the internet, but tools like Scam Digger, Romance Scam, Google Goggles, and CamFind can help you check them out. Become a Photo Sleuth! Look for candid shots of family and friends, amateur shots of vacations, and anything that looks real and personal. Also watch out for watermarks and other indicators that the photo was “borrowed.”
Gets Too Personal, Too Serious, Too Fast. Catfish are notorious for rushing things. They are pros at listening to you describe your hopes and dreams and offering them back to you as their own. If your own dating or Facebook profile is full of intimate details, they may have even created their own with your hopes and dreams in mind, a “perfect match” right out of the box. They are quick to make the first move, declaring their love and saying they want to be exclusive, playing on both your sympathies and your desires for a mate. They know exactly how to get you caught up in the romance, how to ensure you become emotional and vulnerable and “blinded” by love. In fact, they count on it and can “play you like a fiddle.”
Major Illness or Injury – This one’s a doozy and getting more sophisticated. Everything seems to be going along just fine when suddenly there is an emergency. It might be a serious illness, an accident, a death in the family, or any number of urgent situations. This disaster serves two purposes – It builds on your sympathy by tugging at your heartstrings and gives the catfisher the perfect excuse to avoid meeting. People keen on living a Soulmate Lifestyle and infusing more kindness and compassion into their actions are particularly vulnerable.
Asks for Money. If they ask for money, run! And lock the door behind you – no more communication of any kind. It’s too easy to slip up and inadvertently share too much information. The same is true, especially if you suspect they are foreign, if they ask to send you money and have you handle American banking for them. In this case, the scammer may ask to send you a sum of money and have you send a portion back in American dollars. On the surface, that sounds fine, but it takes 30 days for international funds to clear and when that check bounces the bank will come after YOU for the funds. Recently, there has been yet another sick twist the “sending funds to you” scheme that could even make you the middleman in their attempts to scam someone else. Now we are talking grim legal problems. And whatever you do, NEVER give out sensitive information. If they ask for passwords for your online accounts including banking and social media, or other personal information including social security, run faster, slam the door, and weld it shut.
Won’t “Go Live.” It’s common for catfish to want to see you live on Skype or Facetime, but somehow their own equipment never seems to work. Or they claim to not have any equipment which should be viewed as ludicrous since they have something on which they can set up a profile and communicate with you. They want to see you to make sure you aren’t the law, and they don’t want you to see them because they probably look nothing like the photos they’ve shared. They may not even be the gender they’ve claimed. Even if they claim shyness, which can seem pretty appealing on the surface, this is a major red flag. They are counting on email and messaging to help disguise their look that doesn’t match their profile, poor English, or foreign accent.
Buying You with Gifts. Though this sounds counterintuitive for someone who is trying to scam you, it’s easy enough to order gifts like flowers and candy over the internet and even use stolen cards or account information to pay for them. Beware! Especially if the timing coincides with you beginning to lose interest. This is a con artist. He/she will “invest” in continuing the con.
Facebook Fakers. Also applies to Twitter. If this person has fewer than 100 friends, few or no personal posts, photos that look professional and that don’t include family, friends, or friendly events, beware. If it is a new profile and they are already fishing that’s also a clear warning. What if you met them on a dating site and they claim to not have a Facebook profile? Personally, warning bells would go off like alarm sirens. Yes, there are still people who are not on Facebook, but in this case you should be concerned over someone who is making it difficult for you to check them out. If they do have a Facebook profile or Twitter account, read it carefully. Depending on their Facebook settings, you may be able to check where they are posting from. So if they claim to be on a business trip to Dallas, but their locator says they are posting from New York ...... With Twitter, go back through their Tweet history, read their status updates. Dig like the detective you need to be.
One-Sided Information Exchange. Catfishers love to get you talking about yourself. They are expert at seeming incredibly interested in everything you have to say. They are also expert at withholding their own information. Turn the tables, again and again if you have to. Ask where they are from, what they like to do, where they like to go. And pay attention. Verify information, landmarks, times. Do it casually and conversationally, but understand that their agenda is to prevent you from getting much information on them while getting lots of information on you. They are pros at coming up with plausible-sounding excuses for not talking about themselves. One of their favorite tricks is to play on your sympathy and guilt by saying they have been hurt before by sharing too much, too soon, pretending to have been victimized by online scammers themselves. Now the burden has been bounced back to you to prove you are trustworthy. They are counting on you to open up and blab. Don’t. Please don’t.
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Anne Wade is the founder and publisher of The Soulmate Dance. She is a writer, educator, life coach, and lifelong student of soulmate relationships, devoted to expanding our understanding of all types of soulmate relationships and experiences.