Online Dating: There's Plenty of Phish in the Sea

A catfish poses as a different person online in chatrooms, social media sites and dating sites. They often ask for money or personal information.
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Written by Staff Writer • Posted on Feb 14, 2017

Online dating is a new and exciting advance in technology, however, it comes with certain risk. Catfishing (sometimes spelled catphishing) is a type of phishing scheme, where one acts as a different person online, often used as a means to gain money or personally identifiable information from their target. Catfish can be found in chatrooms, forums, social media sites, dating websites and dating apps.

How to spot a catfish:

Does your online companion have more than one of these traits? If so, you may be a victim of a catfish scam.

  • Your relationship is rushed into or pushed forward quickly
  • They do not use a phone or video chat and refuse to meet in person
  • It’s difficult to verify their stories or information through other sites
  • They ask for money to cover family, emergency, medical or other costs
  • Their pictures are of a model or celebrity, or do not have their face
  • They claim to have a job that takes them overseas
  • Their social media profiles are inactive- as in, few updated photos or conversations
  • Their social media profiles are void of friends or relatives
  • It seems too good to be true, or the exact opposite- they tell you sob stories and ask for money to help them out of their situation

Be very cautious when sharing personal photos or videos with anyone, whether publically or privately. Some online dating frauds will use your personal content as blackmail, posting it on your social media and emailing it to your contacts. There have been cases where this ruined individuals' family, home and work life.

Not all catfishing scams happen overnight. Some victims speak with their supposed online companion for weeks or even months before realizing the harsh truth. If you suspect you are dealing with a catfish, file a report with the Internet Crime Complaint Center. For more information regarding online dating scams, read this PSA from the FBI.

The Flip Side

Online dating can be a great opportunity to get out of your comfort zone and meet someone new (not everyone is a catfish!). When selecting a dating service, keep in mind there are both paid for and free online dating services. The benefit of a paid service, such as eHarmony or Match, is the upfront price weeds out many potential scams. Both of these services also have an extensive fraud prevention team as part of the subscription and safety tip sheets on their website.

Safe Online Dating Tips

  • NEVER give anyone, trusted or otherwise, your credit card or banking information
  • Check their social media profiles and verify their story lines up
  • Do not post any personally identifiable information, such as home address, full birthdate and birthplace
  • Adjust your own social media privacy settings to ensure you’re only sharing with your contacts, rather than all public posts
  • Trust your gut

When the time comes to meet your online sweetheart in person, follow these tips:

  • Don’t rush to meet anyone offline; get to know them first
  • Always meet in a public location
  • Drive yourself to and from dates until you trust the individual
  • Tell a friend or family member of your plans and keep your phone on you

Online dating and other social platforms are fun, convenient and hold endless opportunities, as long as you stay safe and play smart.