Similar to popular email phishing scams, ‘catfishing” scams occur when a scammer assumes a persona on a social networking site and then creates an entire false identity using the pictures, hobbies, interests and even friends of someone else. While the purpose for doing so varies, the most common progression of this scam is the development of a relationship in hopes that the scammer will be able to ask for and receive money from their unsuspecting love interest.
Accounts from victims generally follow the same pattern: after meeting online, victims engage in a whirlwind romance, quickly progressing from emails to texting to phone calls. After hitting it off, the couple schedules many attempts to meet in person, however they are always suddenly cancelled (by the scammer) due to a family emergency, medical issue or other ailment.
After a duration of time, during which the victims believe an intense relationship is created, the scammer almost always asks for money: whether for a bill they cannot pay, a cousin that has ended up in the hospital, their car that needs repair and on and on….
Recently in the headlines due to Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o, the scam is quickly garnering more attention and proving to be a bigger problem than ever anticipated due to the rapid evolution of social media. Late last year, Te’o captured the attention of the national media when the football star’s girlfriend, who he had a strictly online relationship with, passed away from leukemia shortly after his grandmother passed away from cancer. Weeks later, the story exploded once it was revealed that Teo’s girlfriend did not exist; Te’o maintains he was not in on the hoax and instead a victim of ‘catfishing.’
While many couples credit online dating for the success of their relationship, an even larger number of victims are unfortunately reporting being tricked by ‘catfishing’ scams. With little certainty involved, what should you look out for the next time you chat romantically with someone online? The Better Business Bureau of San Diego has a few tips for wary consumers with an ‘online sweetheart’ who:
-Wants to leave the online dating site immediately and switch to personal email or instant messaging accounts
-Proclaims instant feelings of love
-Is from the U.S. but currently overseas
-Is continually cancelling face to face visits because of tragic or unexpected events
As always, the Better Business Bureau strongly cautions consumers against wiring any money, especially to those they have met and interacted with online only. The most common requests for money with ‘catfishing’ scams are funds for travel, medical emergencies, bills and unexpected financial costs; once this cash is wired, it cannot be recuperated.
Unfortunately, while there’s not too much that can be done after engaging in a relationship with a “catfish,” there are plenty of actions you can take when you begin to get suspicious of their actions.
-Check out their number of friends on their social media page àif it seems like an unusually small amount, be wary
-Look at the time they joined the social media site à if it was fairly recently, this may be another cause for concern
-To dig a little deeper, you can also Google search their name to see what else they are associated with
-To take it one step further, you can search their picture on Google Images à if their picture pops up on multiple sites under a variety of names, act cautiously
If you believe you have been a victim of ‘catfishing’ or any other scam, do not hesitate to contact your Better Business Bureau.