Are you talking to someone online? Do you trust them? Could they be a catfisher, a scammer, a scallawag or a con?
I recently returned to online dating after ending a long-term relationship. With a profile depicting a self-supporting, intelligent woman, I was contacted by ten men, and nine of those contacts were scammers or catfishers. Nine out of ten! That is why I am writing this blog post, to make people aware of the dangers of online catfishers or scammers.
I will outline some typical characteristics and warning signs of an online scammer and offer suggestions on how to protect yourself from catfishers. The good news is that you can protect yourself by learning how to spot a phony while dating online. Tyler Cohen Wood is an expert in social media and cyber issues. She is a Cyber Branch Chief for an Intelligence Agency within the Department of Defense (DoD). She is the author of the book — Catching the Catfishers: Disarm the Online Pretenders, Predators and Perpetrators Who Are Out to Ruin Your Life, and has outlined these indicators that the person you are speaking to online, may be a catfisher.
- What if this person won’t video chat?
Using SKYPE, FaceTime, Google Hangouts or even SnapChat with a person whom you meet online is normal practice in online dating. If a person makes excuses every time you want to SKYPE, consider it a red flag. Be concerned if the area code of their cell number is a not listed in the domestic list of area codes or they cannot come up with a good reason they have such a number. Areas codes that start with 473, 809, 284, 649, 654 and 876 are international, and are known to have been used for scams. Also be aware if there is a very bad connection every time you speak to them (such as a poor international connection) or no voicemail is attached to the number. This person is hiding something that they don’t want you to know.
2. What happens when you Google them?
Almost everyone in the United States has some sort of Internet presence. It is very rare that someone would have none at all. If you do basic research, such as conducting a search using a portal like www.WhitePages.com, www.Spokeo.com, or by looking through social media sites, and can’t find anything about this person, that is also a red flag. Most professionals will at least have a LinkedIn page. If you cannot find anything on the Internet about a person, they might not be telling you their real name, which again, is a red flag. However, anyone can very easily create a fake LinkedIn or Facebook page, so be cautious.
- Check public records.
Do some reconnaissance by using search engines to find public records- www.intelius.com, or www.publicrecords.searchsystems.net. If a person says they own a house, you will be able to easily see where it is and how long they have lived there. You can also find legal documents like bankruptcy filings, divorce records and death records.
- Do they send real time photos of themselves?
When people are communicating online, they will frequently send each other selfies, in real time. During a conversation, ask to see a photo of the person right then. If they refuse, or make some excuse, again, another red flag. If they have only sent you one or two photos, it is likely that they took those photos from someone else’s Facebook page or from somewhere else on the Internet. Don’t be fooled by photos of kids, or the snap of a potential romantic interest with his elderly Mom. We all post photos of our family members on our Facebook page! Do a reverse image Google search — right-click on their photos, copy the URL, and paste in the box at images.google.com. Google will then search for other sources of that image online.
- How many “real” friends and work colleagues are on this person’s social media sites? How many people communicate with this catfisher?
You can get to know a lot about a person’s friends and family based on the banter they engage in on social media. How many posts are started by the potential catfisher? How many responses? Does the person seem to have real friends who carry on real conversations? Do they tag their photographs? On LinkedIn, do they have colleagues who have endorsed them? Contact a few friends for a reference check.
- Do they deflect or never answer your questions when you ask detailed, specific questions?
Do they avoid answering your probing questions? Do you find that they deflect from your original question and the subject changes? Do you stop probing as a result? These too are warning signs. If you feel as if you are the only one sharing information and they are not giving away any details, consider this, yep, a red flag.
Next week I will continue with Tyler Cohen Wood’s indicators that you are talking to a predator on line and offer suggestions on how to protect yourself.