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Catfishing and how to spot the signs

By Anna Rowe on 16 Oct, 2017

I am a ‘normal’, educated, forty-something woman with kids, living in Kent. I became a victim of catfishing … but not the kind where people get scammed for money.

It began with a simple swipe right on Tinder and ended with the trauma of having unknowingly been sexually involved with a married man who was committing exactly the same kind of adultery with a dozen other victims. I felt utterly abused and violated after the nearly year-long relationship, but wanted to go public in the hope that I could help save other innocent women – of all ages – looking for love, to spot the signs of both personal and financial scam catfishing.

Are you familiar with wading through online dating profiles and avoiding the multitude of spammers and lovebots, all aiming to lure you to another site where you may subscribe to other services to line these scammers’ pockets?  All the while, how do you also navigate the overwhelming amount of unknown fake profiles on dating platforms and social media?

It’s essential that you are aware that catfish scams (and individuals) exist, and how active they are. It will put you on your guard by being able to recognise these very commonplace situations. Read about the types of Financial Scam Catfish and Personal Catfish  in my posts. For now, however, learn how to spot red flags of some common tactics used by most catfish:

Whose photo?

If a profile picture looks staged, as if it would look more at home in a fashion catalogue or on the books of a modelling agency, it probably is. Photos of actors from other countries are popular choices for catfish as they are largely unknown in this country (mine was a Bollywood actor). Run the image through a search engine like ‘Tineye’ or Google reverse image search. Screen grab the image, crop out any parts outside the face if necessary and then upload it on to one of these sites. If it comes back showing the picture on lots of websites, you know it has been used elsewhere and is not a personal photo. Just remember that some fraudsters may be using another person’s social media photo and that these won’t necessarily show up in a reverse image search. Having only one photo is another little flag. If questioned and they respond with something like “I can only upload onto WhatsApp right now... “, be aware. Any military profile pictures should be viewed with caution too – this being one of the most common cover stories for scammers.

Let's exchange numbers!

Catfish will try and move the conversation onto a different platform, usually something like WhatsApp, Kik or email, for a few reasons. Scammers know that anti-scam technology software on the sites will likely pick up trends in conversation and shut down the profile. If they move you away, they can continue undetected. Another reasons for a personal catfish to want you off the app is so they can continue grooming targets without risk of being caught. Once you’ve met up or have absolute confirmation they are genuine, you may feel more comfortable talking to them on another channel. But don’t feel pressured to give them your phone number or other alternative contact details if you don’t feel ready.

You are so open and honest!

Catfish profiles (or messages sent on social media) tend to be very full on, divulging the innermost objectives of entering the relationship they seek, from start to finish. If there is an overuse of terms like loyal, genuine, trustworthy or ‘Godfearing’, looking for a soulmate and someone to marry with the love of children, this should alert you. Genuine profiles are usually fun and only hinting at likes and wants. 

It's all about you, but too good to be true...

If you reply to a message and it's a catfish, the chances are you will be 'love bombed'.  They ask lots of questions about you … but don’t give much information in return. They are reading you like a book at this point, taking notes, earning your trust. Often fraudsters will spend time looking at your social media profiles and pictures to get to know you better so it seems as if they are your perfect match and you have lots in common. They will “fall head over heels” for you very quickly and will be very full on from an early stage. This aims to get the other person ‘hooked’ as quickly as possible. It may seem as if you’ve found your soulmate and your perfect partner, but it’s always best to err on the side of caution. If things seem too good to be true, it’s likely they are!  You may hear phrases like: “I can’t believe we’ve been so lucky to find one another…” Many will tell you they’ve never experienced that level of connection with someone else before.

It may seem as if someone is genuinely interested in you, but it’s best to be a little cautious if they are asking question after question but keeping their own details private. Dating of any kind is about getting to know another person – if they’re genuine and have nothing to hide they shouldn’t be afraid to answer your questions. Things should move slowly... don’t you savour it more that way anyway?

Reverse psychology

Do new suitors overemphasise how honest, loyal and committed they are? If so, this could be a warning they’re a fraudster using reverse psychology. This plays a big part in their game, throwing you off guard when you’re most vulnerable, and having you doubting yourself.

The love rat who tricked me told me how he thought 'cheaters' were disgusting (he knew it had happened to me before). He said of a friend whose boyfriend had been caught sending emails to someone else, “tell her to get rid of him babe, he's a baddun”. This all consolidated in my mind (as we sat watching a movie, munching on cashews) that he would never do that to me. Little did I know that as we spoke, he was doing exactly this to his wife and several other women besides.

Money, money, money...

Financial scam catfish will soon reveal their true colours by asking for money. Requests may be subtle or outright, but cover stories will generally tell of a difficult time or disaster, with good people falling on hard times. But anyone that you haven’t met in person or know well asking for money is not someone to be chatting with, however heartbreaking the ‘disaster’. They’re simply playing on your good nature alongside the desire to find true love.

Sextortion or personal catfish

Ask yourself this: isn’t anyone asking for intimate photos, videos or webcam chats before meeting, disrespectful of someone really interested in a proper relationship? This behaviour may start with them asking for ‘sexy chat’…  but will progress quickly. Although sex was part of the motivation for ‘my’ catfish, he was very different in that he was patient and had read me well, there was never a push on me for anything. He evolved his tactics to suit the target, and I fell for it. 

Some are just in this for the thrill of the power, deception and control over someone else whilst playing their games. These are harder to spot BUT... if your gut instinct says something isn't right, then listen!

Not everyone who exhibits the above traits and warning signs is a catfish, but it’s best to be sure.

Above all, be safe.