SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Love can hurt, but so do online catfish scams. As the COVID-19 pandemic swept everyone inside, several dating apps reported surges in online activity — prompting warnings from the FBI to be wary of potential romance fraud.
Utah sits in the Top 5 states in the country for “Most Likely to Get Catfished,” according to a report by HighSpeedInternet.com. The Beehive State ranks fourth for its likelihood to be catfished — or falling victim to an online scam by a fake profile — with an average of $19,926 lost per victim.
This puts Utah just behind Nevada, Wyoming and Washington — which topped the list.
The rankings come after warnings from the FBI of money mule schemes, which became increasingly prevalent as more Americans began working from home. These “money mules” would prey on fear and uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic — with scams promising easy money through work-from-home deals and investments.
However, these warnings also apply to online scams through dating apps, which saw a surge in usage during various stay-at-home orders.
The dating app Bumble reported a 21% message increase, with larger increases in areas with higher numbers of coronavirus cases. Similary, Tinder reported a 10-15% increase per week, according to findings from Online Catfish.
Experts say there are several ways to avoid a catfish scam, and it starts with being cautious from the moment you connect with someone online. Fraud experts say to be wary when you encounter these circumstances:
- You connect with someone who is unbelievably attractive, rich, single or “has a great job”
- They ask you for money
- They ask invasive questions about your personal life (i.e. about family, friends, life)
- They claim to be from another country, but promise to visit — although excuses always get in the way
If you can’t tell whether you’re being catfished, there are other ways to keep your information safe even while connecting:
- Don’t disclose personal information online — wait to make that decision once you meet in person
- Never send money to someone you haven’t met
- Never reveal information that could be used as online security questions
- File a police report if they ask for money
- Block them and don’t respond to their messages