I am always so disheartened to hear my single friends or friends of friends talk about either being duped by an online love interest or nearly falling for these kinds of schemes.
It’s easy to judge from the outside looking in and think, “How gullible. I would never fall for something so glaringly false. How can he/she not see all the red flags?”
But realistically, when a deep desire for connection, affirmation, and love are the primary motivations behind the victims who fall prey to online predators, it starts to make a little bit of sense. We’ve all been blinded by our circumstances at one point or another.
Falling into the hands of an online predator whose sole motivation is to take advantage of their victim in some way or another can, unfortunately, be an easy trap to fall into, especially when that predator knows exactly how to play on his or her victim’s emotions, insecurities, and deepest desires.
Hiding behind the anonymity of an online connection gives the predator an automatic advantage over the victim. Child predators use this tactic all the time when they sit behind their computer as a greasy and balding 53-year-old man pretending to be an athletic and attractive 16-year-old boy. The concept is exactly the same for online love interests.
That handsome 40-something model of a man they’ve been conversing with from Florida might actually be a 23-year-old hacker from Nairobi, Kenya who makes his cash by convincing older widowed or divorced women to send him money so he can buy a plane ticket to come and see them for a face-to-face visit. The victim sends him $500 and suddenly, their handsome Florida boyfriend has either disappeared from their online life, never to be heard from again, or he never shows up, but continues asking for more money.
It happens ALL THE TIME. It’s called catfishing.
So what can you do to protect yourself from these kinds of schemes? You can educate yourself, starting now.
If It Seems Too Good to Be True, It Is
If you initially question why someone like him or her would be interested in someone like you, then take a closer look at their photo and profile. If they look like a European model, perfectly chiseled, no flaw in sight, then the person in the photo very likely does not match the actual person with whom you are communicating.
If there is a large age discrepancy between you and your online love interest, let that serve as a red flag to you, especially if he or she is quite a bit younger than you are.
If your love interest is a handsome investor who presents himself as educated, well traveled, and boasting lots of expensive toys, yet he needs money for his next investment, a family emergency, or a visit to see you, RED FLAG.
Don’t Send Money to Someone You’ve Never Met
No matter how well you think you know this person with whom you’ve developed an online relationship, even if it’s been months or years, do not ever under any circumstances send them money.
The more emotionally invested you are, the harder this will be for you. You will want so badly to believe their story. Don’t.
Similarly, don’t ever agree to transfer money or goods for them. This is called money laundering and you could get into some big trouble for it.
If Something Seems Off, Listen to Your Gut
Your gut does not lie. Your head and your heart can lie, but your gut does not. Let it be your guiding light.
Maybe you’ve developed a relationship with someone online. Maybe it seems to be going very well. There are no major red flags. But something seems off, just not quite right. Nine times out of ten, something IS off. You just haven’t been able to put your finger on it yet. If you wait around long enough and decide to keep hanging on, ignoring your gut, you will eventually uncover that “off” feeling.
And it will likely be a bigger mess than it would have been had you walked away when your gut told you to.
Conduct a Reverse Image Search
You can use free online resources such as Google Reverse Image Search or Tin Eye to conduct a reverse image search on any photos your online love interest is using for their profiles. This can be especially useful for those profile images that look like they came from a magazine. Discover on your own where an image originated from or other places it might be appearing online. You can discover a lot with this free, quick, simple, and discreet search.
Hire a Private Investigator
If you aren’t very tech savvy or just feel like you need an unbiased third party to look into your online love interest, private investigators all over the world offer this service. There are many private investigators who are discreet, knowledgeable, and experienced with catfishing schemes.
Be Suspicious of Visual Communication Refusal
If you want to take your online relationship to the next level, it’s natural to want to Skype, FaceTime, or use some other form of video chat with your new romantic interest. If they aren’t as enthusiastic or keep making excuses, it very well could be because they are a fraud.
Don’t tolerate excuse after excuse. This is a major red flag.
Be Wary If They Dictate Communication Methods
One of the most common and first moves an online fraudster often makes is to request that your conversation move to a more private form of communication, such as email, a phone call, or some other private platform.
There is good reason to keep your conversation on the platform where it started. There will be a record of your communications and likely easier methods of tracking a person down, which is absolutely why nefarious individuals shy away from it.
Be Guarded If They Gush Flattery and Get Serious Fast
We can probably all remember a former boyfriend/girlfriend or two who became extremely needy, immediately gushed flattery, and got way too serious way too fast. These can actually be warning signs online that you are communicating with someone whose intent is to one day rip you off.
Every Time You Try to Meet, They Have an Excuse
If your online love interest acts like they want to meet face-to-face, but continually creates excuses, there is a reason. And that reason is, they don’t want to be found out as a con artist.
If you hear any of these excuses, you may be dealing with a bad guy/gal:
“I travel all the time for work.”
“I had to work late.”
“My dad just had a heart attack.”
“I have a family emergency.”
“I got very ill at the last minute.”
“My house burned down.”
“My apartment was burglarized.”
“My car broke down.”
“I missed my flight.”
“I’m in the hospital.”
Red Flag ALL Financial Inquiries
If your love interest starts poking around your financial capabilities, current financial situation, etc., run for the hills. You really shouldn’t give them even general information, but especially don’t divulge details. Not ever.
Fact Check What You Know
Check them out. There is nothing wrong with doing a little digging around a person you are potentially interested in. If your love interest says he works for IBM in Armonk, New York, call the Armonk office and ask for him. If she claims to live on the beach in sunny California, pay attention to the background of her photos. If he says he’s a big name in a particular industry, Google him.
Notice Story Changes
Maybe his profile brags about frequent Caribbean cruises, but six months down the road when you are trying to plan a cruise together, he claims he gets seasick and can’t do cruises.
Perhaps you initially ask her about her family, which she talks very little about and only gives generalities, but talks of a sister. Then in another conversation, there is no sister.
Language Skills Should Match Background
The online love of your life claims to be a Harvard graduate with more degrees than you can list, but his grammar reflects that of a middle schooler. Heavily consider that your love from Cleveland might actually be a foreigner with limited English speaking capabilities.
Don’t Be Lured Overseas or Anywhere Else That Could Be Sketchy
If you have developed an online relationship with someone you’ve never met, don’t agree to fly to Timbuktu for a first visit. In fact, don’t agree to meet anywhere you would be unfamiliar with your surroundings. Just don’t do it.
Instead, agree to meet in a public place where you are extremely familiar with your surroundings.
Listen to the Advice of Your Closest Family and Friends
Perhaps one of the best things you can do in any new relationship is to ask for feedback from those who are closest to you. This is because sometimes, our own judgment is clouded by excitement, the giddiness of a new relationship, a longing to find “the one”, or a number of other reasons.
If those closest to you are warning you about a relationship (especially one that’s developed online), you need to listen. Period.
Never Send Compromising Photos or Videos
Never ever ever send compromising photos or videos to someone you’ve never met. They can and probably will be used later as blackmail. (I would argue against sending compromising photos or videos to anyone, but that’s not something that fits here).
What to Do If You Suspect You are a Victim of Catfishing
If you do suspect that you’ve been corresponding online with a crooked individual who claims to be someone they are not, contact the Better Business Bureau Scam Tracker at https://www.bbb.org/scamtracker/us/. Report the person to the dating site, social media site, app or other platform where your communication has taken place.
It’s just as important, too, to realize how commonplace these kinds of schemes are. Don’t let your shame or embarrassment override your self respect and dignity. Just do your duty and report him or her, pick up the pieces as best you can, and be more vigilant in the future. There are a lot of bad guys and gals trolling the internet for victims, but there are many more like you with pure intentions and high hopes. So don’t think all is lost. It’s not.