Dealing with catfishing

Catfishing is the name given to using a fake profile to start an online romance. There are thousands of victims of romance fraud like this in the UK every year who more often than not are tricked out of large sums of money. Perpetrators can range from professional fraudsters looking to make money to individuals looking for a fake relationship as escapism from their own lives.

Recovery from a romance scam, like catfishing, is a real mix of going through the emotional side of a breakup, feeling like you have been scammed and making sure that you know how to spot the signs in future.

Common traits of a catfish

First of all, you may be in an online relationship and worried that the other person isn’t who they say they are. Here are some common ways to spot a catfish:

  • They won’t do a video call or meet - Because they are using a fake online identity they refuse to do a call on FaceTime, Skype or Snapchat. They also have a number of excuses as to why they can’t meet you in person.

  • They disappear a lot - They may say they have a job where they travel a lot or they have a reason they have to disappear for long periods of time. This allows the catfish time to be with their own family or work on tricking others.

  • Very light social media profile - The social media profile they are using is usually quite new and it is very sparse - they may only have a few posts and very few friends. This is because they have just created it to talk to you.

  • They ask for money - For professional scammers they main objective will be getting you to give them money - this may be a one off payment or a number of smaller payments. Sometimes the perpetrators will just ask for money to see how far they can take the online relationship.

  • They get serious, fast - Often the relationship gets romantic very quickly. The individual falls hard for you and they want to move quickly.

  • Your gut tells you something is wrong - If the relationship feels too good to be true then it probably is. The fact that you are reading this means that your gut is telling you something is wrong. Trust your instincts. If you can, talk to others about the relationship and get their opinion.

  • You suspect English isn’t their first language - Their online identity may not stand up to how they communicate. If they say that they are from somewhere where English is the first language, but their English is poor it is likely they are lying.

Approaches to dealing with a catfish

  1. Check if their photos and messages are real - You can do a reverse image search on Google . Simply download their picture (or copy it), and then paste or upload it to Google’s image search bar. If the person is a catfish then you are likely to see this photo linked to a number of different accounts. You can also take the content of the messages they have sent and do a Google search using it - many perpetrators copy love letters and messages they find online.

  2. Ask them to meet you face to face - If the relationship was serious the individual would be desperate to meet you face to face no matter the circumstances. Ask them to meet you face to face to prove they are who they say they are. Always be careful when meeting someone you met online in person. There is some good guidance form the Online Dating Association here.

  3. Never give them money - Never. If someone you meet online, but have never met in person, asks for money never give them money. Huge sums of money have been stolen by cyber criminals as part of romance scams and it is almost impossible to get your money back.

  4. Talk within dating apps as much as possible - If you meet the individual on an online dating site then keep all communication on the dating website or app until you have met or spoken to the person in a video call. Sharing you personal contact details can enable the romance scam, but also help other cyber security crimes. It also makes it harder to walk away.

  5. Be careful what you share - The individual may be a cyber criminal looking to gather information about you as part of an identity theft scam. Early in the online relationship it is best to be guarded in sharing personal information that could be used against you. In particular, think about common security questions or account information like who you bank with, your address, mothers maiden name, first pet etc.

  6. Ask questions that require specific or local knowledge - If you suspect the individual may not be from where they say they are then try and to ask them specific questions that require some degree of local knowledge or get them to send a photo of themselves besides a local landmark. Something that is difficult for a catfish to replicate without giving themselves away.

  7. Trust your gut - As with most situations in life listening to your instincts is most often the best way to understand the right thing to do. If you feel that something is wrong then it probably is.

  8. Hire a private investigator - If you are desperate to know if the person you have been dating online is real - and you have the money - you can always hire a private investigator. As online dating has grown so has romance fraud and many private investigators now offer specialist services to verify individuals.

The emotional impact of a romance scam

Spotting and dealing with a catfish is one thing, but dealing with the emotional side of romance fraud is another. You will be dealing with a range of emotions including loss, anger and embarrassment. It is important that you are able to talk to someone and work through this emotional time. If you don’t have friends or family you can talk to consider talking to a specialist organisation like Victim Support, Victim Support Scotland, or The Samaritans.

Report it to ActionFraud

Action Fraud has details on Romance Fraud here. While it can be embarrassing that you have been tricked into a romantic relationship online we strongly recommend you report it. If you are in England, Wales or Northern Ireland you should report all cyber crime to Action Fraud. In Scotland, you can see details of reporting to Police Scotland here.


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