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Guest Post by Alex Haslam
Is it better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all? Maybe, but don’t ask a catfishing victim.
Catfishing (and other social engineering techniques)
Criminals are increasingly turning to social engineering as a way to gain valuable information through online threats and scams. Social engineering tactics rely on deception to trick people into divulging something valuable, like a credit card number or an account password.
Catfishing is a term used to describe scammers who manipulate their online romances for financial gain, often fooling their victims into falling for them over weeks or months before asking for money or personal information. Victims of catfishing scams often lose twice — they could lose their identity and end up heartbroken at the same time.
California, Texas, Florida, New York, and Pennsylvania have the most catfishing scams in the country, but Alaskans have a higher chance of being catfished per capita than any other states’ residents. The average catfishing scam results in thousands of dollars in losses — catfishing victims in Arkansas lost an average of over $37,000 in 2016. Avoiding this type of scam takes vigilance and a good eye for some red flags. If you’re venturing into the online dating pool, use these tips to keep yourself safe from would-be catfishers:
Tip #1: Google your date
Most people who have spent considerable time online have a footprint on search engines. Your first step in any online relationship should be a quick Google search to determine whether your date is who they say they are. If your would-be date has no social media accounts or very few friends, they might not be who they say they are.
Tip #2: Check their photos
Social media accounts set up to catfish people online often have photos, which can be a strong clue about the intentions of your would-be partner. Untagged photos or a lack of friends and family in an account’s photos are a major red flag. If a social media account has only modeling-style photos, it’s less likely that it’s being managed by an actual person.
Tip #3: Run a reverse image search
Many catfishers reuse images from other social media accounts, stock photos, or random Google search results in their profile pictures. If you’re using the Chrome web browser, you can easily trace an image back to its original source. Simply right-click on a photo on your date’s profile and select “Search Google for Image,” and Google will return all the uses of that photo that it can find. If your date’s photos appear on someone else’s social media page, it’s possible that you’re being catfished.
Tip #4: Don’t fall too fast
If your date passes the Google test, it’s time to take a critical look at their behavior. Quick, emotional pleas for help or extreme expressions of infatuation and love before an in-person meeting are strong indicators of a catfishing scam. Take these messages with a grain of salt until you’re sure your date is an actual person.
Tip #5: Ask to meet
Since catfishers rely on fake profiles, they’ll avoid meeting you at all costs. If someone insists on texting or emailing you for weeks without agreeing to a video chat or an in-person meeting, alarm bells should be going off in your head. Catfishers often cancel plans at the last minute and will make endless excuses to avoid face-to-face contact.
Tip #6: Be skeptical of dream dates
If you’re approached by your dream date on an online dating site, it’s a good idea to be more skeptical than usual. Dashing good looks, expensive cars, impressive jobs, and frequent boasting can be indicators of a profile that is too good to be true. If someone captures your attention with an amazing dating profile, ask questions and investigate their claims to fame. You might be able to catch them in a lie.
Tip #7: Keep your heart close to the vest
Making yourself vulnerable enough to fall in love with someone you met online can compromise your best judgment, which makes a red flag much easier to miss. If you’re falling in love with your catfisher, your brain will find excuses for odd behavior or warning signs. Keep a clear head and step back to assess your date’s behavior, even after things get serious.
Be brave, be smart
Online dating can be a wonderful way to make real connections with real people, and the fear of being fooled online shouldn’t stop you from trying, as long as you’re being smart about your approach. With these tips, you can avoid the hassle of a catfishing scam altogether and spot a fraudulent account before you start texting sweet nothings to your next date.
Alex Haslam is a freelance writer who focuses on cybersecurity and the internet. In her free time, she loves photography and travel.