Catfish have always been a concern when it comes to online dating, and our fears were not quashed in the least by the creation of the Catfish TV show and the ensuing scandals. And now, as we all spend a lot more time online dating and getting used to the new normal of social distanced dating post-coronavirus, it’s more of a concern than ever. But it’s not just catfish with a dodgy edit or some fake pictures you need to look out for, but full-on romance fraudsters too. So how can you spot the different kinds of scammers, and what can you do about it?
The different kinds of catfish
We’ve probably all done it at some point. Presenting a filtered version of ourselves that we think is more appealing to those swiping on us, say shaving a few years off our age or using old photos. If you come across a white-lie catfish it’s worth still giving them a chance (after all you may still have a connection with someone even if they don’t look exactly how you thought they would.) However, says London dating expert for Match Hayley Quinn, it could be a red flag that they “still aren’t demonstrating an emotionally healthy approach to dating” so if after one date you’re still not keen, or have noticed other slightly worrying behaviours, give them a wide berth.
Companies in disguise
Have you ever swiped on someone who looks like a real-life model and seems, well, too good to be true? Chances are that’s the case. “Some accounts can be set up by third party companies trying to sell sexual services,” says Hayley, so if the person doesn’t look totally real that could be why.
More ominous than catfish are full-on romance fraudsters, who might be trying to emotionally manipulate you into parting with your cash, says Hayley. Mai Holdom, Associate at law firm Edmonds Marshall McMahon, says these can be broken down into four types.
Emotional manipulators usually target people on dating apps and social media who seem particularly vulnerable – like having just come out of a relationship or divorce, says Mai. “They will gain trust and use that goodwill to commit fraud by asking for money for something such as a plane ticket or visa to be together, a life crisis or medical bills,” explains Mai. “They might even pretend to work in the military, on an oil rig or as a doctor with an international charity – but you will usually never meet them.”
While innocent questions like your when your birthday is are fine, if they’re also asking for your home address and family background, Mai says that they could be on the way to stealing your identity. Anything that would be a security question online, try to keep to yourself.
Rather than emotionally manipulating you into sending money, blackmailers will get some personal information on you, whether it’s nude photos or an explicit conversation, or they might entice you to perform sexual acts on camera, and then threaten to send this to friends and family if you don’t send the money, Mai explains. Remember though, revenge porn is a serious crime, so you can report this to the police.
This kind of scammer won’t hide behind the camera. “Instead, they will meet up on a date in person, with the sole purpose of having you spend large amounts of money on them, whether it’s an expensive restaurant, accommodation or gifts,” Mai explains. If you feel like someone’s using you for cash and you haven’t consented to it, this could be a red flag.
How to spot a catfish or fraudster
There are some clear signs to look out for that suggest somebody may be scamming you, says Mai. These are:
- They ask a lot of personal questions but are deflective when it comes to themselves.
- Things will escalate to love very quickly.
- They make up excuses not to meet in person.
- Their pictures seem “too perfect”.
- They tell you elaborate stories as to why they need money.
- If you don’t send money straight away they get desperate, persistent or direct.
Hayley also adds that if someone is hiding their face in photos or is reluctant to call or FaceTime, this could also be a sign that they’re hiding something. On the flip side, they might be extra persistent about meeting. “Be cautious of someone who wants to rush the dating process, can’t accept a no, or becomes abusive when you don’t respond quickly or don’t want to meet,” Hayley explains. Fraudster or not, this isn’t a healthy way to date.
Oversharing what you perceive as an embellished, personal tragedy story, or having gaps in their narrative are also red flags, says Hayley. “Be wary of [overly dramatised] sob stories about how someone is financially impoverished or who was treated badly by their ex,” Hayley recommends, “and be wary of loose ends in someone’s story.” Always trust your instincts; if something doesn’t seem true, it probably isn’t.
How to get help if you have been catfished or scammed
Some basic rules to stick to are to always meet in a public place, and to never send money to somebody you’ve met online, says Hayley. Make sure to report and block a user who has scammed you, and you can check sites’ security levels on the Online Dating Association, she adds.
If you arrive on a date and somebody isn’t who they said they were, then leave or end the video call. Don’t feel guilty or that you have to make an excuse, says Hayley.
“If you have been the victim of a romance scam, report it to the police and to Action Fraud,” says Mai. “Victim compensation schemes exist, and the police will have the forms to apply for this.”
“Money can be reclaimed in the way of compensation at the end of a criminal case, but this is dependent on the case being prosecuted to conviction. The police are sometimes unable or unwilling to investigate frauds and victims may have to turn to private prosecutions to prosecute a fraud themselves,” Mai explains. If the person is convicted, the court will order them to compensate you for your losses. And if this happens, you can also claim back the cost of a private prosecution from the State, Mai adds.
You might also be able to get money back from your bank, Mai explains, so contact them straight away to find out.
As well as getting your money back, receiving emotional support is also hugely important, as it can be a devastating experience. Mai suggests getting in contact with one of the below organisations:
- Victim Support has a free 24/7 helpline on 0808 16 89 111, or you can look online. They can provide a one off call or refer you to a local service for ongoing support.
- Mind Infoline has a support line available 9am-6pm, Monday to Friday on 0300 123 3393.
- Elefriends is a supportive online community.
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