Your guide on how to spot a love scammer.
Most of us have probably heard of catfishing by now. Like gaslighting and ghosting, it has become part of our everyday language. But what actually is catfishing, outside the context of the hit MTV show? Often with these terms, we’re very familiar with hearing them, but if asked to define it we would more than likely describe a worst-case scenario. However, catfishing can take many different forms and be far more subtle than you would think. This in turn makes the signs more difficult to spot. The definition of catfishing is when a person is lured into a relationship with a fictional person. Due to the fictitious nature of the catfish this is done online, as it is relatively simple to create a fake persona on the internet.
Dating and relationship coach Anne Lavin says a catfish is “inclined to be deceitful and hugely insecure about some aspect of [their] life, catfishing could be an option that is taken by a small minority of people.”
Now we are all a little guilty perhaps pf telling a few white lies on the internet. Whether that’s knocking a year or two off our age, or only posting pictures that are heavily filtered or taken from flattering angles. However, none of this involves creating an entirely new identity – it’s more like a curated version of yourself.
A catfish, however, invents a completely new persona and will adapt this to fit any number of victims. In particular, they will prey on people who are vulnerable, perhaps someone who is older and a bit lonely or even recently divorced. This doesn’t mean it can’t happen to someone younger, because anyone can be susceptible to how charming these scammers can be. “Unfortunately anyone can be a target, this is why it is so important to keep your wits about you,” says Annie. Her advice is to tread slowly when dating online as “trust is earned, rather than offered immediately.”
A lot of the time the person will be too good to be true, sharing all the same interests as you as well as aligning themselves with your world view, political stance, opinions, everything. You’ll also find that they deflect almost any question about themselves and will instead be incredibly attentive, asking you lots about yourself. Early on this can be flattering, and you’d well believe you were on to a dream partner who’s a great listener, but as things progress, it becomes troubling.
A second red flag is that the relationship will feel like it’s moving very fast. Quickly, things will escalate to the L-word, despite never meeting each other. The catfish will refuse to video call or meet in person, finding every excuse not to do so. When this is combined with what feels like an intense personal connection, it can be easy to overlook these question marks, especially as their excuses will often seem reasonable (like a family emergency or a broken webcam).
If someone is vulnerable or feeling lonely, it can be difficult to question a potential partner, as you don’t want to ruin a good thing.
Another sign is that their photos all look good – like really good. Whereas most people on dating sites have pictures taken from special occasions, nights out with friends and a few selfies, a catfish will often have pictures that look as though they were professionally taken. The photos will usually feature the person on their own, and have none featuring friends or family members.
The biggest alarm bell, and an almost sure sign of a catfish, is that not long after the profession of love, the person will ask for money. This will usually involve an elaborate story or reason as to why they need it that will seem wholly believable. Perhaps when you first began chatting with them, they mentioned some sort of hardship they have been dealing with, and are now asking for your help with the problem.
This is where things can turn sour, as they begin to emotionally manipulate their victim into handing over this money, often with the promise that they will be able to meet afterwards. If you deny them or ask any questions, the conversation can quickly become far more persistent or direct, and sometimes just plain abusive.
This is a difficult situation, as often it is someone who is vulnerable or perhaps newly single that has been targeted. You don’t want to dive into the topic guns blazing as they may feel embarrassed that they were taken in by a fraudster. On the other hand, if you do bring it up, they may double down on the relationship and refuse to even consider the possibility that they are being seduced by a love scammer.
Annie recommends that in the case of a family member, you should “be honest and voice your concerns.” Rather than launching straight into all the reasons why you are convinced they are being scammed, she suggests instead to pose a question: “I’m really concerned that this person may not be all they seem, have you ever thought about this?”
Approaching the issue this way seems less like you’re attacking the person for getting caught up in a scam, and more like you’re just prodding them in the right direction. Gently asking if perhaps something just seems a little ‘off’ about the person they’re speaking with can even get them reconsidering the relationship themselves.
It’s important to remember that catfishing is humiliating for the victim, as they can experience shame at having been taken in by a scammer in the first place. If they are refusing to consider the possibility, they can sometimes lash out or get defensive if you even suggest it. They will also be feeling hurt and maybe even heartbroken if it turns out they have been manipulated, so remember to treat them with compassion and don’t even consider saying ‘I told you so’.
If you’re worried you’re being catfished, the best thing to do is speak to your friends and family and ask for their opinion. Some other helpful things you can do is check to see if they have any other social media profiles, run a reverse Google image search on their pictures, and question any inconsistencies in what they have told you.
A trusted person will be able to look at the situation without being emotionally involved and is the best person to help you decide. Sadly, there is no definitive way of fully exposing a catfish without getting a bigger and more professional investigation going, but just remember, like most things in the world, if something seems too good to be true it usually is. So don’t go chasing perfection, as you might get the opposite.