Urbandictionary.com defines a Catfish as:
Someone who pretends to be someone they’re not using Facebook or other social media to create false identities, particularly to pursue deceptive online romances.
“Did you hear how Dave got totally catfished last month?! The fox he thought he was talking to turned out to be a pervy guy from San Diego!” or “I was really falling for that gorgeous gal on Facebook, but she turned out to be a catfish.”
You may have noticed the Australian media has recently held a spotlight on the issue of internet fraud, specifically, internet dating fraud. It has become such a hot topic because so many of us are falling victim to scams, we need to raise awareness and learn how to protect ourselves. Insight on SBS and Weekend Today on Channel 9 both covered the issue in the past week.
Police estimate that Aussies send around $8 million to internet scammers every month!
Although the majority of these covert predators are based in Africa, mainly Nigeria and Ghana, they show up on our dating sites as attractive, Western-looking, perfect potential dates. They often use false photographs stolen from other peoples’ social media sites and they present too-good-to-be-true stories about their lives and achievements. At a glance, they seem like great dates.
It’s important to the note that Catfish prey on all types of people. Anyone can fall victim to an internet scam, not just the naive or socially inexperienced. Falling for a Catfish has nothing to do with intelligence or rational thinking – it’s all about HOPE.
When seeking love online, we put ourselves out there and subsequently make ourselves quite vulnerable. Sometimes, our desire to find our ideal partner outweighs our rational thinking. Our right brain (emotional) tends to dominate our left brain (rational) and the inner voice that says “I want love” becomes so much louder than the voice that says “be careful”.
You can empower yourself by starting to listen to your rational voice, and you’ll soon be separating the princes from the frogs like a pro. Here are some tips for spotting a Catfish:
1. Too good to be true – photos
– Do they look like a model? Do they seem way too perfect to be a normal person?
– Search their photos using Google Search By Image – if you find the same images on lots of different sites linked to different names or if the images turn up on a stock photo site or modelling site, you might want to think twice
2. Too good to be true – life
– Don’t be too quick to believe everything you read. If they claim to be a brain surgeon and part time pilot, who enjoys running monthly marathons and volunteering to save the children in Africa, your alarm bells might start ringing
3. No photos or webcam
– Be alert to any profiles that offer no photos. Early in your interaction, ask them to send you a photo and if they refuse, you might become suspicious
– Having a web chat is a great way to build rapport and explore the level of chemistry between you. If they claim to have no access to a webcam (unusual these days), your intuition might tell you something
4. Saying exactly what you want to hear
– Many victims of Catfish report that the person said all the right things, they tapped into their deepest needs and said only positive things. We all know that ‘real people’ have flaws and tend to say a combination of positive, negative and neutral things so look out for this
5. Too serious, too soon
– Real intimacy takes time to build, it is based on trust and deep rapport. If they move too quickly into the realm of love and commitment, try not to be flattered. This may be a sign that they are not legitimate
6. Asking for money
– This should be a massive red flag (but unfortunately, many people are seduced by this). If they ask you for cash, this is an indicator that their intentions are based on something other than finding love – walk away!
7. Very low Facebook friend count
– Check out their Facebook page as soon as you can. Often, when a Catfish sets up their false dating profile, they set up corresponding Facebook, Twitter and other social media accounts to demonstrate ‘social proof’ that they exist. If their other social media profiles appeared online around the same date as their dating profile, this could be an indicator of deception. If their Facebook profile has less than 100 friends or no people are tagged in their photos, this is also an indicator of a fake profile
8. Traumatic life events
– Many Catfish create elaborate stories to play on your sympathy, especially in the lead up to asking for money. Be aware of anyone who talks about major illnesses, traumas or unusual life events in the context of ‘feel sorry for me’
9. Excuses, excuses, excuses
– A key indicator of a Catfish is that they will not want to meet you in person (or via webcam). Be aware of anyone who constantly makes excuses as to why they can’t meet
– A good guide is to aim to meet in person within one month of connecting online
10. Trust your gut
– Most victims of Catfish report that there were many little signs, lots of times when their gut told them NO but their heart told them YES. This is one situation where it is important to listen to your intuition, it’s there for a reason. Your unconscious mind gives you hints when it suspects someone is not the real deal, listen to it!
So start to balance your approach to online dating. Of course, it’s important to have fun, relax, be yourself and enjoy the process, but try to maintain a healthy level of Dating Skepticism too.
Cast a more objective eye over your own profile and maybe get a friend’s opinion. Do you communicate a level of vulnerability or desperation in your profile? Online predators are known to target people they perceive as vulnerable as they are considered to be easy marks, so make sure you protect yourself from this.
To stay safe, maintain your communication on the eHarmony site for as long as possible. Many Catfish attempt to coax you away to instant messaging or private email, thus reducing your level of control over the communication.