It’s easy for some of the smartest people to lose common sense when they're being reeled in by a catfish — an online imposter who tries to win your sympathy and your love by creating an elaborate scheme. Kurt Knutsson, a technology reporter known as “Kurt the CyberGuy,” shares his top 10 reality checks to see if you’re being baited by a catfish.
If you can identify at least two of the below scenarios, Knutsson says you could be falling prey to a scam artist.
1. Dumb Date Data
A lot of online scams start on dating websites. If you choose to use one, be on the lookout for dumb date data. Look at a person’s profile and make sure all the info adds up. For example, physical descriptions need to be proportional. If someone is 6-feet tall, they usually don’t weigh 90 lbs. Look for any other descriptions that don’t make sense.
Tip: Ask the person to take a photo holding a unique phrase or their own name on it and send it to you. Ask to have a live video talk using Skype or Facetime. Someone reluctant to speak on live video, claiming shyness or that they can’t find a camera, should be a red flag.
2. Profile Picture Test
Professional photos are a red flag. Look for amateur photos — and more than one.
Tip: Use a search engine, like Google, to search on your phone to see if the photo they’ve shared with you can be spotted elsewhere online. If you start seeing it pop up, it could mean trouble. If you see it shown with a watermark or in other settings like modeling websites, it’s likely a fake.
3. Become a Photo Detective
“This just takes it to the next level,” Knutsson says. Look for detail in photos — wedding rings, locations, activities, time of day, how they are dressed — to see if it matches. If someone claims that a photo is from a July 4th fireworks party but is dressed in a fur coat, in daylight, that might be a dead giveaway that someone is lying.
4. Cut and Paste Profile Alert
Introductory letters on dating websites are often copied by catfish scammers. See if the same information appears in other places or has been copied from someone. Put the copy in a web search engine and search for it online. Out-of-country scams often slip up here, revealing inconsistent information, such as landmarks and cultural events that don’t add up. For example, someone claiming to be from St. Louis who isn’t familiar with the iconic Gateway Arch when questioned, is likely a liar.
5. Spelling and Grammar Fail
Hear the words when you read their writing, and check their spelling and grammar. A line that sounds like it could be from someone in a far-off country but portraying themselves to be in your same city will usually have a local dialect misfire.
Real: “I just love the Macy’s Day Parade in the city.”
Foreign Faker: “I just love the Masey’s Daytime Parades in the cities.”
6. Derailing You from the Dating Site
“The dating sites have built themselves in a way that sort of keeps you contained and sort of keeps it safe. You’re not exposing your real email addresses or phone numbers right off the bat,” Knutsson says. “The moment you see somebody try to take you off where you’re meeting, that should be a red flag.” For example, if they want to get you to instant message or email you directly, you should take caution.
Tip: Always create and use a unique email address that is different than your personal and professional addresses when setting up a dating website profile.
7. Too Serious, Too Soon
Watch out for someone rushing things. A catfish usually makes the first move, often out of left field, and sometimes creates a bogus, dreamy profile that sounds like the ideal mate you’ve described in your own dating desires. They play on your sympathy and strike when you are caught up in the romance, because that’s when you’re most vulnerable.
8. Ask a Lot of Questions
Inquire about where they are from, and verify landmarks and spellings of cities online. Blatant errors could mean it’s a scam. Catfishers like to ask you a lot of questions, but seldom let you go deep into their lives, coming up with excuses about why they are reluctant to offer more personal information about themselves. For example, they might say, “I’ve been hurt before by telling too much too soon,” which actually turns the tables on you to prove that you can be trusted — Red flag!
9. You Are Not an ATM Machine
If they ask for money, lock them out of your life. Shut off communication immediately, and close all open doors if you have a hint that it is a sympathy scam. Although most catfishers are not after money, this one should be a wake-up call to a scam.
10. “Facebook Fakers”
If someone doesn’t have a well-known social media page, like a Facebook page, but they are sophisticated enough to create an online dating profile, be warned. Also, look out for potential fake social media pages. Signs of a fake social media profile can include the fact that the page was started near the same time that a dating profile elsewhere was established.
If the person has a Twitter account, read through historic tweets to see if the story he/she tells matches up to the same the person you are prospectively dating. Like Facebook, Twitter accounts created around the same time as dating profiles should be treated with caution.
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