How to Spot a Catfish and Other Online Dating Scams

Updated:

How to Spot a Catfish and Other Online Dating Scams

Online dating is an innovative way to find someone special. One can argue it’s essential for our modern culture to give people access to more matches so they can find their perfect person. However, with the good comes the bad, as with all good things. And this bad consists of catfishing and online dating scams. With online dating being as popular as it is, these types of fakes and scams are on the rise, costing unsuspecting victims millions of dollars in total every year.

Scammers have moved away from using emails and moved towards online dating platforms because it allows them to earn the trust of their victims. Cybercriminals are out for money and personal information, and they’re willing to put in a significant amount of time and effort to get it. Many of them find the hunt pretty fun and won’t be deterred very easily. They’ll go above and beyond to try and prove that they’re worthy of your trust in order to feed their end game.

So how can you spot and avoid these catfishers and scammers? It would be a shame to have to give up the use of online dating platforms altogether. They provide connections and fun experiences that serve our modern society well, helping people find successful relationships. Luckily, there are some easy ways to identify scammers from the rest of the fish in the sea so you can continue online dating in a safe and productive way!


Who Do Scammers and Catfish Target?

Scammers and catfish will target people of any demographic and on any online dating platform where they can get access. They indiscriminately target victims of any gender, sexual orientation, age, and race. No one is out of their purview. So, if you feel like you may be getting scammed, it has nothing to do with you personally. You’re no more vulnerable than anyone else, and you shouldn’t let these types of instances affect your confidence when dating online.


How Do Scammers and Catfish Target Victims?

Scammers and catfish are able to cast wide nets with the use of technology. They can use bots to lure victims into scams and fish for responses. It can be difficult to decipher the messages themselves that are sent from bots or that are sent from real people.


Why Are Scammers and Catfish Successful?

The hard reality to grasp is that when we talk to others, we’re likely to see what we want to see. If a person likes the idea of another person or a type of relationship, they’re notoriously more willing to overlook red flags in order to keep them in their life. When dating online, it’s difficult to know if people really are who they say they are. This can also be a difficult thing to decipher in person! Scammers and catfish are successful because they prey on the vulnerability and ideals of others, taking advantage of the fact that there’s an inevitable lack of information in any new connection.


What Does the Term “Catfish” Mean in Online Dating?

To put it simply, “catfishing” is a criminal act where someone takes the information of someone else, typically including their name or images, and uses it to create a new, fake identity. They could combine their information with someone else’s as well – for instance, they could keep their real name but use someone else’s pictures on their profile. A “catfish” could even simply provide false details about themselves to create a more attractive profile. Due to the deceptive nature of catfishing, it’s a terrible way to start a positive relationship with someone else.


How to Spot a Catfish or Scammer

Now that we know the basics let’s point out how you can identify a catfish or scammer when dating online. Look for these signs and red flags, and when you see them, cut off all contact with that person for your emotional and financial safety!


Conversation Topics Get Weird

When you’re dating online, the entire purpose is to get to know someone to see if you’d be a great romantic match. You’re searching for a candidate for a positive relationship, so your conversation topics will generally hover around what makes each of you an attractive partner. With catfish and scammers, this isn’t the case because the underlying purpose of their activity is different. So, their conversation topics will start to get out of the ordinary, and this should come off as weird to you. 


They Want to Move the Conversation

Scammers and catfish are likely to ask you to move your conversation to a different platform soon after you’ve made initial contact with them. They do this for multiple reasons. They can sometimes get access to more of your information – for instance, if you start talking on a social media platform, they now know where to get your photos. If you start talking over the phone, they’ve got your phone number now. 

They also move the conversation to avoid safety measures that many online dating platforms have in place. They may ask you to talk on an app where messages disappear, so you won’t be able to use a permanent copy of your conversations later after you’ve been scammed. They’re getting rid of the proof of their actions before you even know you need it.


They Say They Love You Way Too Early On

If you started talking a couple of days ago and your match is professing their profound love for you, you’re probably dealing with a catfish or scammer. Amping up an emotional connection before it’s had a chance to form is a way they can try to earn your trust quickly and efficiently so they can get away with what they want to do to you. In other words, they’re attempting to manipulate you emotionally. 

This is how they get under the skin of people who are vulnerable and emotionally isolated. Hearing about a deep emotional connection with another person can be irresistible to people who are desperate for a connection. Remember, if you’re in this situation, you need a real connection in order to have the fulfilling relationship you’re looking for. And when it comes to online dating, “easy come, easy go” still applies. Look for relationships that move along slowly but surely. If they’re trying to move too quickly, they probably have an alternative motive for doing so. 


They Refuse to Meet You

One surefire way to know someone is a catfish or a scammer is to ask them to meet. If they absolutely refuse to meet you under any circumstances, they have something to hide – or they were never interested in meeting you in the first place; they have other motives in mind. Online dating has an endgame of forming an in-person relationship with someone. If they have a different goal, they’ll never be motivated enough to meet you in person.

Scammers and catfish typically go along with the idea of meeting up but always run into some unexpected occurrence that prevents the meeting just before it’s supposed to happen.

If your match claims to work in another country or be on military deployment, there are other ways to identify whether they’re the real deal or if they’re a scammer or catfish. 


They Won’t Video Chat with You

There are plenty of catfish who will never take a phone call with you because their voice is far off from what they’re trying to convey. Some scammers or catfish have a voice close enough to what they’re trying to impersonate to comfortably take a phone call with you. Even if they go that far, they’ll never go on a video chat. Sometimes they’ll get on a video chat where it’s dark, and you can’t see them – which doesn’t count. If they refuse to appear fully in a clear video chat, you probably have a problem.

They may make excuses saying that their camera is broken. Still, there are ways around that if they’re truly invested in seeing you. Given enough time, they should be able to find a way to video chat with you briefly – with someone else’s device or even at the library. 


They Directly Ask You for Money

We’ve mentioned a few roundabout ways that catfish or scammers will ask you for money. If they end up asking you for money in any way, you’re probably dealing with an illegitimate match. 

They’ll come up with some creative and seemingly urgent scenarios. Whether they use family emergencies, health problems, or travel issues as excuses, if they’re asking for money, they’re probably a catfish or scammer.

Be careful about receiving packages from them, too. They may send you a package that requires customs fees and send in a cohort to call you or come to you with documents in order to request said fees. Don’t pay them!


They Get You into Inadvertant Money Laundering

If your match starts asking you for odd financial requests, they may be trying to get you into inadvertent money laundering. This makes you an accomplice in one of their illegal operations without you knowing it or consenting to it.

They might send you money and then ask you to send them a gift card of some sort in return. Or, they might send you funds and then ask you to send them to someone else or another account of theirs. Particularly confident scammers may even ask you to open up a bank account for them. 

If you’re talking to someone online and they ask you to take part in any of these actions, ignore their requests and cease all contact immediately!


Some scammers don’t want to take the time to be effective catfish – they’d rather let technology do the work for them. They typically use bots to start up a conversation with you on an online dating platform. Early on in your automated conversation, these scammers will try to get you to click a link or go to a website. Whether it’s for a game, an app, or a service, these sites will get you to give them financial information or download malware. Ignore these messages and move on to the next one!


Very Few Profile Pictures

Catfish usually pick a few pictures of someone else and upload them to their profile. These are the only pictures of “them” you’ll ever see. Most online dating platforms allow you to upload up to around ten photos or more. If you see someone’s profile that only has 2 or 3 photos of them uploaded, that’s a warning sign that they might be a catfish. 

Sometimes you can see when pictures were uploaded. If they haven’t uploaded any new pictures for a significant amount of time, not only are their photos not recent, they may actually be of an entirely different person. Keep an eye out for recently uploaded photos in decent numbers to increase your chances of avoiding catfish.


They’re Picture Perfect

Catfish will usually try to lure their victims in with a profile curated to perfection. If they have stunning pictures and the details listed on their profile seem too good to be true, they very well may not be true. Real people won’t have picture-perfect profiles – they’ll be eager to showcase themselves authentically to give them a real chance at finding real love!

Of course, everyone wants to put their best self forward. They’ll use their nicest and most attractive pictures and highlight their most attractive attributes in the written section. But some profiles are eerily perfect – and those are the ones that you should ignore.


Pictures You Can Hardly See

On the flip side, catfish and scammers will also use pictures that are so poor in quality that you can’t really tell what you’re looking at. These pictures aren’t usually uploaded in a recent fashion, either. Anyone posting these types of pictures is obviously trying to conceal their identity. Whether they’re catfish or not, they’re probably not confident enough to make for a good date. And, in all honesty, they are probably a catfish.


They Don’t Have Any Social Media Accounts

If you ask about connecting with your match over social media and they claim not to have any accounts, you’re probably dealing with a catfish or scammer. Most people have at least one social media account. While some people don’t, you can typically reach them over email at least – so they should be able to provide an official-sounding email address to you to help verify their identity. And if they get mad at you for asking, that’s more confirmation that they’re not who they say they are.

Not only should they have social media accounts – they should be able to interact with you on them. Some catfish will point you to someone else’s legitimate account and then explain why they can’t interact with you on the platform. If they are who they say they are, and that’s their account, there’s no good reason why they can’t friend you, like your stuff, or communicate with you using it. So if they can’t, they’re probably a catfish!


They Have a Social Media Account with 100 Friends or Less

Some dedicated catfish will create a fake social media account using content and pictures from someone else’s legitimate account. This allows them to impersonate them and use their identity to be an effective catfish. If they’ve done this, there will be one major giveaway – they’ll have zero or almost no friends or contacts. 

If their social media account has 100 friends or less, you have plenty of reason to be suspicious. If you take a look at their friends or followers and see that they’re a bunch of accounts with no profile pictures, you’re really in the red. If you think the person you’re talking to has a fake account, but you’re not really sure, ask them to video chat with you or meet you in person in a safe and public place to verify their identity. 


Rapid-Fire Replies

There’s a common trend of catfish who use online dating platforms – they all tend to answer messages way too quickly. Someone desperate to answer your every message within seconds of receiving it is probably dedicated to connecting with you in order to get your money. If they’re scamming as a full-time profession, they have nothing better to do than to keep you in a conversation. 

At first, this can be flattering and attractive. It can seem like they really like you and want to stay connected to you for romantic reasons. So how can you tell the difference? Give it time! If they never miss a message or take a little time to get back to you, it’s suspicious. Real people have jobs, activities, and sleep – they’re not online and ready to chat all the time.


They Ask You for Personal Information

Online dating is a quest to connect with others and get to know them. So, it’s understandable that people are going to ask somewhat personal questions. It gets suspicious when these questions start to be geared toward your personal information. If they want to know your address, phone number, and other data that they could use to sign up for something – leave them be! Their questions are weird for dating, and their intentions are probably not good. 

And if they ask once, they’ll ask again. And again. Don’t think this type of person will give up and decide they want to form a real connection with you. Cease all contact, and move on to someone who does want to get to know you – not your bank account information.


How to Avoid a Catfish or Scammer

Now that you know the red flags to watch out for, you’ve got your reactive defense in gear. But what about offensive moves? How can you actively avoid dealing with catfish and scammers in the first place? We’ve got some tips for that, too!

question mark graphic

Ask Direct Questions

When you start messaging someone, ask them direct questions. Ask them about their job, their family, and their experience with online dating so far. If they provide really weird answers that don’t answer the question, you’re probably dealing with a bot. If they act extremely evasive and can’t answer a simple question such as what their occupation is, you’re probably dealing with a catfish.

background-check-graphic

Perform a Background Check

There are plenty of online tools or people search engines that can help you get some background information on the person you’re talking to. Even basic confirmation can verify their identity, so you know they’re not a catfish. If you want to pay for one of these tools to get more in-depth information, you can do that pretty easily as well. If you enter their name and get some locations of where they’ve been, one should match the location on their online dating profile.

image-search-graphic

You won’t always have the information needed to get a thorough background check, leaving you with questions. In these cases, the reverse image search is your friend. You can enter the photo on Google and see other places where the picture has been used. This usually shows you clearly whether the person is who they say they are or if they’re not.

Stay in the Know

Keep up to date on the types of dating scams that people are currently dealing with to protect yourself even better. When people discuss what they’ve been through online, they let you know exactly how they were approached by a catfish or scammer. That way, you’ll know exactly what to look out for when people contact you over an online dating platform.

Keep Your Info Close to the Chest

Never tell anyone you’re talking to online too much too quickly. No one who’s truly interested in dating you is going to harp on you to find out your personal or financial information. Don’t disclose any of this personal data, whether you’re asked to or not. Take excessive flattery with a grain of salt, and don’t get blinded by a prospect you like. Don’t ever match with a profile you find suspicious or initiate or continue contact with a sketchy profile. 

Report Catfish and Scammers

When you find these people with your watchful eye, keen sense of red flags, and an arsenal of information you’ve found in this article – report them. Contact the dating platform directly via their customer service information, and describe your experience with the suspicious profile. Most online dating platforms interested in safety will use this information to remove that person and all connected accounts from their site in order to stay reputable. 

Takeaways

With a fundamental understanding of catfish and scammers, as well as defensive and offensive tactics, you’re ready to hit the online dating scene with confidence! Don’t let the threat of scammers get in the way of your search for love. Almost everything in life has people who try to take advantage of the system, and online dating is no different. But with the right approach and careful consideration of your matches, you’ll be able to see through the fake in order to find the phenomenal. 

Stay safe, have fun, and we hope you find the relationship you’re looking for without ever dealing with a catfish or scammer! 

man leaning against wall looking at phone

The Science of Attraction | Revealing Stats About Online Dating and Human Behavior

The world of online dating has gone bonkers (in a good way) in the past 20 years, changing dating apps from a last-ditch effort to ...
woman in front of notebook pointing with pencil beside here

The Best Dating Advice I Ever Received

In my life, I have gotten some wonderful advice about dating and romantic relationships. Did I always take this sage wisdom? Of course, I didn’t. ...
couple embracing with flowers and rainbow around them

Embracing Imperfections | Why Authenticity is More Important than Perfection in Relationships

Every single person on this planet carries their own personal notions about love, a concept that is not easily detached from societal influences. Romcom films ...