Catfishing can not only have a financial impact on the victim but an emotional one too.
Despite this, the imposters who steal others’ identities to trick their victims on dating sites do not face specific criminal charges.
The scams in which vulnerable people are targeted are one of a number of methods used by cyber criminals for significant financial gain.
But others often hide by fake personas to deceive someone emotionally without any consideration for how it might affect the victim or just to cause trouble.
With a quarter of Britons using a dating app (even when in a relationship), there are a growing number of opportunities for scammers to catfish unsuspecting daters.
Last month model Matt Peacock revealed his identity had been stolen more than 40 times by people who had then used it to con women on dating sites.
He said he was approached by one victim who told him she was having suicidal thoughts after realising she had been tricked.
His case was taken to Parliament by MP Ann Coffey who urged the government to update legislation in the forthcoming digital charter to make catfishing illegal.
‘The law changes behaviour. So if we have an offence of catfishing I think catfishers will be deterred from doing it because they know it is an offence,’ she added.
But despite the lack of legal protection for victims, there are a number of steps you can take to ensure you don’t get duped by a scammer.
Get Safe Online shared five steps with us that will help you ensure the person you are speaking to is actually a prospective date.
- Get to know the person, not the profile and ask plenty of questions – don’t rush into an online relationship.
Check the person is genuine by putting their name, profile pictures or any repeatedly used phrases and the term ‘dating scam’ into your search engine.
- Talk to your friends and family about your dating choices. Be wary of anyone who tells you not to tell others about them.
- Never send money to someone you’ve met online, no matter what reason they give or how long you’ve been speaking to them.
- Don’t move the conversation off the dating site messenger until you’re confident the person is who they say they are.
- CEO Tony Neate said: ‘The internet is a fantastic place for finding new friends and romance.
- ‘However, we have seen an increasing problem with the number of cyber criminals looking to target vulnerable people for significant financial gain. Catfishing is one of the worst types of online scams that we see, not just because of the financial impact it has on a victim, but the emotional one too.
And don’t forget, it’s very unlikely that anyone with good intentions would ask for money and if it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.’
Sites such as socialcatfish.com also allow you to reverse look up images or other information to see if the pictures have been used on any other social profiles.
If you think you have been catfished make sure you don’t send any information or pictures.
Block the suspect immediately and update your privacy settings and don’t send any money. You can report the scam if you suspect cyber crime to Action Fraud.