Online relationship scams can happen to anyone, as heartless scammers take advantage of a natural human need for companionship, especially during holidays such as Valentine’s Day. The term used for the scam is “catfishing.”
Urban Dictionary defines catfishing as: The phenomenon of internet predators that fabricate online identities and entire social circles to trick people into emotional/romantic relationships (over a long period of time).
According to the Better Business Bureau serving Acadiana, this scam has grown over the last few years, as online dating has become more popular. Many people think that this scam would never happen to them, but anyone who meets someone online and begins a relationship is susceptible.
BBB offers the following tips on how to avoid online “catfishing” relationship scams:
Be on your guard. Be especially cautious with people you meet online, even if you correspond with them via email or phone.
Be especially wary of anyone who asks you to leave the dating website immediately to continue your conversation through email or IM, as this allows fraudsters to carry out their scam without the dating site having a record of your encounter.
Be cautious if someone claims to be local but is currently out of the country. They sometimes claim to be a U.S. citizen working overseas — often in the military, to tug on your patriotic heartstrings. Fraudsters could be operating from overseas, making it more difficult for authorities to track them down. Never give your banking information to people that you have not met in person or businesses that you don’t know.
Always verify every emergency situation before sending money. Fraudsters can trick their victims in a variety of ways. Sometimes they instantly express feelings of love and other times they lead their victims on for a while. No matter how much your relationship might seem like the real thing, you should be suspicious if someone starts asking for credit card, bank or government ID numbers or to send cash.
If their online profile sounds too good to be true. That’s because they’ve probably shaped it to reflect your stated preferences. Or, conversely, their profile may be suspiciously sketchy on details or their photos don’t seem genuine.
They will make up many excuses to avoid meeting you in person (or via webcam). To keep you hooked they make plans to visit but are suddenly prevented by a traumatic family or business event — one which your money can overcome.
It’s always good to maintain a healthy level of skepticism when dating online. Trust your gut. If you even mildly suspect someone is not who they say they are listen to it!
If you’ve been scammed, tell your story to other people. You may prevent someone else from being victimized. You can report catfish scams to the BBB Scam Tracker at bbb.org/scamtracker. If contact occurred on an online dating site or other online forum, report the individual’s profile or user-name to the site moderators, who can take steps to prevent the scammer from targeting anyone else.