Catfishing describes the nefarious activity of criminals creating fake profiles on Social Media in order to target a victim, usually for financial gain. The most common form of catfishing has become the romance scam.
Romance scams are big business in the criminal world; the FBI reported that in 2022 around 73,000 Americans lost more than one billion dollars to these types of scams. We’ve put together some startling facts about romance scams in the following infographic.
How To Spot A Romance Scammer
- They are never local. The scammer will normally say they live overseas because they have no intention of meeting you but need a plausible excuse for not arranging a date.
- Their background promotes trust. Criminals who engage in romance scams often say that they’re military veterans, ex-police forces or some other career which immediately makes you trust them more.
- Attractive profile photos. In order to reel you in, the scammer needs you to feel flattered and attracted and so they tend to use photos of attractive people they’ve found on the Internet. These days, they can even use free AI face generators to manufacture the perfect fake man or woman.
- Moving you off-platform. A romance scammer will want to move you off the dating app or Social Media platform they met you on very quickly and on to a more private channel such as WhatsApp.
- No video calls. Naturally the scammer won’t want to do video calls since they are not who they say they are; in fact they are sometimes a group of people.
- The relationship moves fast. Despite not having met, the romance scammer professes deep emotions very quickly; often in a matter of days or a few weeks. They may shower you with compliments (known as ‘love bombing’) and talk about moving to be together, or even marriage.
- Needing money. The aim of the romance scammer is to earn your trust and then get you to part with money. Quite often they don’t even ask for money, they simply spin a story about some emergency situation or blocker to you being together and wait for their victim to offer financial help.
The Federal Trade Commission did a study on all the romance scams officially reported in the US and compiled a list of most common excuses used when trying to con money out of victims.
Top Tips For Avoiding Romance Scams
- Conduct an image search on the profile photo of the person and Google their name, plus where they say they come from and their job. Most real people leave a trace on Google.
- Insist on a video call early on; if they have excuses that is a huge red flag.
- Ask lots of questions about their life and background; where did they go to school? What’s their favourite restaurant where they live? What is their family like? Favourite childhood memory etc. Does everything add up or do some things feel a bit off?
- Be cynical and keep your guard up. Don’t fall for compliments; examine every piece of information they give you critically. Write down the details they say and look for inconsistencies.
- Tell someone you trust about this new person in your life; share the details and get their opinion to make sure you aren’t wearing rose-tinted glasses.
- Never, ever send money or buy them anything that can be cashed in. No matter what the emergency seems to be, hold firm and say ‘no’. A scammer will quickly lose interest in you and move on to an easier victim.
It Can Happen To You
We spoke to a lady on Social Media who has been the victim of a romance scam. We will call the lady Paula since one of the first things she told us was that nobody knows she has been the victim of romance catfishing.
Paula met her scammer on a dating site aimed at middle-aged singles. He posed as a 63 year old retired US Army Captain living in Florida and she described him as, “A good looking bloke; slim, tanned and smiling.” Paula had recently divorced and told us she’d gained weight and wasn’t feeling good about herself; she feels that made her more vulnerable to the story she was given which was that he was going through an acrimonious divorce, having separated from his wife.
Her scammer escalated the relationship very quickly, saying he had never had such a deep connection with someone so soon and that he was developing strong emotions for her.
Initially she sent over $1,000 when he suggested that he fly to Spain to meet her and, if all went well, that he would stay with her and apply for a Non-Lucrative Visa. “He said he couldn’t buy a plane ticket when all his statements were being looked at by divorce lawyers.” Paula told us.
Having sent him the money he kept pushing back dates for when he could fly, using family and his divorce as excuses. He then told Paula that he wanted to start the process of applying for a visa to allow him to stay in Spain when he got there and he knew he needed to show savings for the application. Paula told us, “I knew you had to show money in the bank and he kept saying money wasn’t a problem. He had a good pension from the army.”
Paula sent another $2,500 after he told her that he was short of the full amount but was hoping to get it together with loans from friends until his divorce was settled. It was only after another few weeks of no movement that she started to get suspicious.
She told us, “I just started to get a sick feeling and kept asking him when he was getting the rest of the money from his friends. He started sending angrier messages saying he was trying his best and asking why I didn’t help instead of giving him a hard time.” He wanted a further $10,000 to ‘plug the hole’. At this point Paula, who couldn’t afford that amount of cash anyway, said no.
Her scammer reacted initially by trying emotional blackmail and saying that he thought she felt the same way he did, but obviously not. When that didn’t result in money being sent, he became angry and, finally, he simply stopped messaging her and disappeared. Paula said, “I went back on the dating site and his profile was gone. I was devastated as I knew then that it was a scam.”
She told us, “I feel so stupid. I worry that if I tell my children they’ll think that I’m not safe being in Spain on my own anymore.” She went on to say, “And I’m too ashamed to confide in my friends.”
Ultimately Paula was scammed out of nearly $4,000 and she told us that the experience has put her off dating entirely because she no longer trusts anyone.
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