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Setting up your own profile – the good, the bad and precautions to take

By Anna Rowe, a victim of catfishing - but not the kind where people get scammed for money - and is an active campaigner, on 02 Jan, 2018

Before you embark on your journey into the online dating scene, there are a few precautions you should take. Some seem blatantly obvious, some less so but whatever the case, it’s got to be better to be informed and safe, than sorry and not safe. Under each numbered point here, I will give a reason for why this is important in italics.

Until now, I’d never been much of a social media junkie. All I had was my Facebook account and that was limited to close friends and family. I barely used it, I didn’t have the time or energy to post lots. Everything was set at ‘private’ except the profile pictures, or so I thought….

1.  Ensure your social media is ALL set to private (and only have showing, general info, on your public viewable cover pages). 

My Facebook, as an account was all set to private. I had made sure it was when I set it up years ago. What I had missed over time was, that the likes and groups I followed after this could be seen.

When I started seeing ‘Antony’, he seemed to like so many things that I did. For example, we both had a crazy love of our childhood favourite TV programme ‘The Waltons’. We used to watch old episodes of this when he came to see me. He claimed his sister Liz was named after Elizabeth and was glad his parents hadn’t named him ‘John Boy’. We also discussed our love of ‘Only Fools and Horses’. We seemed to like the same music too. 

When I found his Facebook, being a bit nosey and doing a little check, despite it being private (and he said he didn’t really use his much either) sure enough, there were likes for some of the things I liked too, as well as things he had told me about his work etc… there was even a website for ‘wedding packages’ at an Italian resort. OMG was he really serious when he asked me to marry him? I hadn’t told him I’d found his Facebook account so I was shocked to see this! 

When I discovered that ‘Antony’ wasn’t who he said he was and I got a friend to unfriend me and look at my profile, my likes were clearly showing. He had found me too (he never said so either) and I’m 99.9% sure that he had researched and written down things I liked as a method of grooming to make it seem that we were ‘meant to be’, with all the things we liked the same. It wouldn’t have been too hard for him to do this. Over the three months before we met in person, he had built trust for me to tell him my surname. My profile picture was the same as one on the dating app and he knew (not my address but) which city I lived in. I’ve never had a big digital footprint. The most I had ever appeared on a ‘Google search’ was an electoral roll search for one year. 

2.  Photos. The worst bit for me. I hate having my photo taken. 

My library of photographs (of me) numbered about four. I had one from a year previous and my Facebook profile picture that I had used for five years and then the others were silly. One of me in a wheelbarrow as a kid aged seven (showing I could be a ‘tomboy’ too) and another when I had a horse.

These had to do. I wouldn’t take ‘selfies’ … it made me feel sick and there were no others.

Looks wise, these weren’t an issue. I haven’t changed looks wise from the ‘adult me’ pictures. They were as good as they were going to get and a fair representation of me. My children were not in the pictures.

What these may have done was give ‘Antony’ the impression I had money. Not the wheelbarrow, the horse. I had actually had to sell my horse when I got my first mortgage and a husband. Couldn’t afford both (should have kept the horse). Later, after the press, three of the other victimised women had horses in their profile pictures and/or dogs. There is a famous quote by Immanuel Kant that says “He who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men. We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.” Was our groomer using the inclusion of our beloved pets in our pictures, as a guide that we love others more than ourselves? Did this make us a better target? (What is really quite disturbing, is that he had this exact quote on his ‘real’ LinkedIn page when I discovered his true identity. Like many of the other likes of quotes like these, it is all part of his ‘mask’ for his family, friends and colleagues).

I’ve read too that having a photo of you in your house (with a lot of background showing) can help a groomer read you and your situation. Books you read on show behind you can have the same effect as the Facebook likes or Followers/Following list on Instagram. No ID tags with name and workplace showing or proudly showing off the signwritten vehicle, advertising your new business or fancy car with your registration showing! Be wary of what you are showing people other than yourself.

Try to have a recent set of photos just for the purpose of this dating profile. That way, no one can track you by doing a reverse image search on your photos which may identify you at your work Christmas party where you are tagged on a friend’s public social media page (for example). Also, what is the point of starting off with a lie? You are who you are and be proud of it.

3.  Choose a suitable profile/user name (if it’s not generated from your Facebook profile – which will not be a fake one set up for this purpose).

Again here, choose a name that you do not use on any other social media. That way, a search of that user name will not bring up your profile on any other social media search areas, where you could then be open for grooming again (or stalking). Make sure it is appropriate and not too flirty/suggestive if you want to attract the right kind of attention.

4. Word content and ‘selling yourself’.

Most important is DO NOT INCLUDE ANY PERSONAL DETAILS OR INFORMATION. Most sites have an algorithm that prevents you from entering emails, other user names or phone numbers but be sensible and don’t try to cheat it. The same goes here as photos as far as safety. Don’t discuss workplaces or company names and definitely not reveal details of your children. Be honest about what you like and what you are looking for. Do be realistic and try to avoid clichés. If you are finding this bit tricky, ask a friend to write it with you or for you.

5.  Finally ...

Do a dummy run on yourself by looking at the profile you have created (or get a friend to). Run the Google image search/TinEye reverse image search on your pictures, take areas of information in your wording and do a search on the internet to see if anything comes back to identify you with your user name or first name if generated by Facebook.  Most people are genuine, but there are too many now who are not. Be safe.