How To Recognize a Catfish Scam

They say love is blind. We want to see the best in the people we care about. Because of it, we value who they are rather than how successful, confident, or attractive they are. 

Blind love also means trusting that person when others see no good reason to do so. It makes us justify their faults with goodwill intentions. It means forgiving and focusing on the little things that matter.

That’s what makes love painful at times too. How do you know you chose the right person? When the relationship moves so quickly, it’s easy to make mistakes:

  • You devote yourself to a person who may not want anything serious.
  • You have a vision for the future together, but they already have a loved one. 
  • You trusted their intentions, but you didn’t know who they really are.

If you have enough experience, you already know people seek “love” for different reasons. We used to believe they all have the same goal (affection) when it could be, however, insecurity or greed. You may know it as “loving someone for who they are, not for what they have.”

You will rarely find true lovers without finding some bad apples first. Some people look at dating sites as an opportunity to take advantage of someone’s trust. They don’t see love as the goal but as an instrument.

Don’t let love blind you from scammers. Thousands of people fall for romance fraud every year due to devious catfishing texters.

Blind Love: What Are Catfish Scams?

What Are Catfish Scams

For someone who knows about dating, the catfish trick may seem “too obvious.” The person shows interest in you too soon, and it always ends up on money favors.

But someone who thinks with emotion over logic will struggle to spot the most evident red flags. Catfish scams are confidence tricks designed to incite emotions (hope, excitement, love) and manipulate people.

Although stealing money isn’t always the goal, catfish tactics fabricate an idealistic image for the victim. If someone looks good, we tend to think their intentions will be good too.

When it comes to money, however, we instantly recognize it: it’s too good to be true. You must have heard the expression fifty billion times. But why don’t we question the same with relationships?

Why Do People Catfish?

Despite the fraud triangle temptation, people fake identities for reasons other than money. It depends on who you talk:

a. Scammers who want money. These will escalate quickly and promise you the Moon to get their hands on your wallet.

b. Tryhard daters. Insecurity drives most people to seek partners, being also the reason they “can’t” approach an attractive person. People make up photos and identities to impress others and be more likable.

c. Imposters. Identity theft is a real threat. You might have been talking to the real person, but if someone hacks into the account and starts texting you, you’ll think it’s still the same person. Imposters benefit from real relationships the person already created before.

d. Watchers. Creating fake profiles can be a dating tactic. You “infiltrate” with a fake account and make questions, observing how the person to date reacts. After you learn enough, you know how to lead the conversion. You text that attractive person with the real account.

e. Casual daters. Some pranksters message with fake profiles to have fun with people’s reactions. They’re just curious and have no intentions for real relationships.

Mind that catfish scams are not limited to romance. It includes anyone who creates a fake identity trying to get something from someone. 

Some victims think the risk isn’t the fake identity but what they ask you to do. Although it doesn’t categorize as a scam, it makes no difference from lies, denial, avoidance, and other unethical practices.

How Catfishing Works

How Catfishing Works

The moment you trust a fake identity, you can’t make accurate decisions. Generally, it’s easier to spot the scam, the more time you give yourself to think. But for a love-blinded person, one can spend years in the plot without ever raising doubt.

Worst of all, confidence tricks teach the victim to accept small lies and mistakes. Thus, con men can regularly pull similar tricks and resume the relationship after apologies. Imagine a scammer with fifty different lovers (who don’t know each other) giving him money. If not careful, you could be one of them.

#1 Tailor-made Identity

Most fake identities start with a great first impression: photos taken by professional photographers, movielike profile names, and a “wow!” life background. Also, they match your age, interests, and live in the same region (affinity fraud).

As you can see, catfishing isn’t different from targeted advertising. You learn what people want to see and you show it. 

Now, it’s not as simple as opening a Facebook account. This stage also includes life story depth. You don’t know what questions may arise when luring victims, so the more you work on your pitch, the better.

One little hack is lying about your birth date and setting it for the next few weeks/month. By that time, scammers have built confidence through daily messaging, and victims will have an excuse to give them money or send goods.

Professional scammers structure their script to respond to basic questions:

  • Why you, why me, and why now?
  • Why do you escalate the relationship so quickly?
  • Why do you need my money, and why should I trust you?

Scammers use to play with multiple fake social media accounts at once to attract more people. Also, if someone decides to report, they still have the others.

#2 Gone Fishing

With a plan in place, catfish tricksters start mass-messaging everyone, everywhere, all the time. You never know how many will reply, and having two victims is better than one.

Those who want to get the job done quickly will use the same image, description, and publications (all in the same order) in different social networks.

Their friend count is low, which likely includes the same friend names across different platforms. They probably sent requests to their other fake accounts.

When catfishing, you can improve conversions by personalizing the message. Instead of spamming love messages, expert con men may learn about their backgrounds and use them to break the ice.

They may want to set multiple accounts to test what demographics work better: age, gender, race, location, interests.

#3 Confidence Build-Up

Talented scammers have no problem advancing slower than they’d like. They know the slower it goes, the better the relationship builds. Patience pays off well, knowing they could potentially scam the same person many times over.

For this stage, you don’t need much creativity. As long as you stay active and show that you care, lovers start thinking more about you.

However, longer relationships take more work. The scammer may need to create more fake stories/events to keep things interesting.

This stage is a perfect opportunity to let other fake identities come in. The catfish lover may introduce their “friends,” who will monitor the victim. A person may feel shy or reserved when talking to the lover, but they won’t hesitate to share their honest thoughts with friends.

#4 Setting Boundaries

Part of being a fake profile is about hiding what you don’t want others to see. For example, showing your real face or voice could instantly reveal the scheme.

When it comes to long-term relationships, you can’t come up with cheap excuses every time they ask to meet. That’s why scammers play the victim (as if the reason they don’t interact were out of their control):

  • They cannot visit you because work makes them travel a lot.
  • The person is too shy to have direct contact. They promise to do it later, once they trust you more.
  • Their device has the camera broken (you’ll need to buy them a new one).
  • They cannot talk because they don’t know the language: only texting.
  • A medical condition disables them from talking.

Thus, one can spend almost a year chatting without ever revealing the person.

#5 The Test Of Faith

Here it is, what everyone has been waiting for so long. Once nothing can stop your love for that person, they start asking you for favors.

You committed to it. True love means, well, staying there for the people you care the most, supporting during hard times. 

Suddenly, the lover is no longer the perfect person they claimed to be. You’ll be wondering: “how can she get into so much trouble?”

  • She/He got fired.
  • Someone stole her/his iPhone.
  • She/He can’t pay for their parents’ pills.
  • She/He wants to start a business with you.
  • She/He can’t visit if you don’t pay for the flight.
  • She/He may lose interest in you because another guy/girl is sending her/him so many gifts.

The relationship lasts as long as your confidence does. A patient scammer may wait for months, and then trick you for little things, twenty dollars over here, fifty over there. There are also aggressive daters who will try to grab thousands since the first encounter.

Perhaps you message a liar, but they stop texting even though they didn’t scam you. It could mean he conned someone else in the meantime, who reported the account and resulted in a ban.

“Goodwill money” is common practice, for example, with pigeon drop scams.

Warning Signs Of A Catfish Scam

Warning Signs Of A Catfish Scam

#1 Will never meet in person

Scammers have countless excuses to avoid voice messages, video calls, and meetings. They promise to do it “later,” but things never move from texting.

Their favorite one? They live overseas, and they can’t afford to travel. If you want to talk to them, you have to buy them the means: a flight ticket, a mobile phone, and whatnot, only to make up another excuse later.

Sometimes, their voice resembles the person they’re faking. If they do respond to your phone call, you should keep alert and watch for other signs.

#2 Things escalate quickly

Although catfish scammers are patient, they are the ones who take the initiative. They may say they’ve never dated anyone before. However, their way of communicating shows they have a clear action plan in mind.

They will open their heart if you flirt (unless they ask for payment). It feels as if you were the only one holding back or trusting too little.

#3 Poor communication

Don’t think scammers have the time to create complicated scripts and love stories. Instead, attractive images take 80% of the interaction. Unlike you might think, there’s not much communication except when:

  • The lover asks for a money favor.
  • The lover answers (or redirects) the victim’s questions.
  • The lover introduces oneself with a sad story.

You’ll never see catfish scammers merely chatting. Every line has a purpose, and all conversations end with a call to action. Send a picture, do X thing for me, wire transfer this much money. These are the conversation starters.

#4 Playing the victim

Few people resist an attractive person asking for help. Although these people look great on their profile, it’s hard to believe how terribly life has treated them. 

Many see it as an opportunity to impress the lover and show how much they care. This show also gives the victim a false sense of confidence. The lover may talk about how amazing they are, which makes you lower the guard. 

#5 They ask for trust (and money)

For them, trust means doing what the other person tells you to do, and believe in their goodwill, even when you can’t explain why they do it. In short, you blindly follow instructions without questioning.

Everybody has good intentions. There’s not a single immoral person who thinks what they’re doing is bad; otherwise, they wouldn’t do it! (more on this in our Fraud Triangle article) The world doesn’t care about intentions, only results. Results show more than words.

The problem is, scammers’ actions and promises are contradictory. They make you do things you’d never do. Don’t make it an exception.

#6 They never disagree on anything

Catfish scammers only say what you want to hear. By agreeing on everything you believe, they create a false affinity group where you feel comfortable. Suddenly, you’re trusting them as much as yourself because that’s how you think they think.

Actually, they may disagree on a few beliefs:

  • Direct interaction doesn’t matter.
  • Trust involves sharing money.
  • Goodwill solves everything.

#7 Too emotional

What makes catfish awkward is, they show emotion, even when it doesn’t make sense. They look like impulsive people ready to propose to someone they met five minutes ago. 

They act as if they trusted people with ease and expect you to do the same with them. Knowing that relationships feel exciting in the first few weeks, many will accept this misleading behavior.

Once you’re thinking too emotionally than you should, you start to miss the warning signs of fraud.

#8 They have no weaknesses

They appear as successful people who never failed at anything. Yet, they chose you for no reason (“love is blind”). What surprises the most is, they claim to have lots of experience and knowledge in your same interests.

They show everything an ideal couple would have and no weaknesses. What they do have is “bad luck,” which they use to explain:

  • Why you cannot meet them in person
  • Why they need money from you

Not realizing one’s weaknesses is a weakness. The person is either too little self-aware or unrealistic.

How To Prevent Catfish Scams?

How To Prevent Catfish Scams

Finding the best person doesn’t need to be hard if you know where to look. If you match their interests and personality, that’s the easy part. What’s hard is knowing who you should trust and who you shouldn’t.

Affection doesn’t always indicate trust. How can you trust someone who won’t ever meet in person? Would you choose to love someone without knowing the name, gender, or look? Unless you see it, you won’t know who you are really texting.

  • Keep real communication.

Who you text may not be who they claim to be. It may be obvious right now, but it won’t always be that way. If they can’t pass a basic identity check, assume it’s all fabricated.

People who love you will want to meet in person, or at least respond to your messages whenever you need it.

  • Beware of profile photos.

A high-quality photo means absolutely nothing. Imagine the millions of people you don’t know who share their lives on social media. It’s too easy for a stranger copying the content and posing as that person.

Research a bit to know what the image means. In a browser, right-click on the image and press “search the web for the image.” It will show every website that uses that photo. You can check a few of them to see whether the identity is real or supplanted.

You can do the same with TinEye and mobile apps.

  • Don’t share everything.

Your profile should say just enough so that people choose whether to message you or not. For personal details, it’s better to have them find out once you’re already texting. 

You never know who sees your profile. Revealing too much of your background helps catfish prepare a better script to impress and manipulate you.

  • Be direct.

Don’t be afraid to create discomfort. If something is true but doesn’t sound polite in a conversation, it doesn’t mean you should avoid it. It may look offensive at first, but the person will later understand you value honesty above everything else. 

If others don’t like this personality, then how can you expect them not to cheat on you?

  • Ask questions.

Especially when you just met the person, you should learn as much as you can about them (so you don’t judge them too early). In the beginning, it should all be about meeting each other, not necessarily love. How could you love a person you can’t trust?

Whoever makes the questions has control of the conversation. We know it doesn’t feel natural to take the initiative always. But catfish will never say anything they don’t want you to know: the only way to find clues is to communicate.

The Bottom Line

That’s pretty much everything you need to avoid a catfish and find your perfect partner. If you have messaged a few people already, ask yourself how much you trust them based on what we’ve shared.

Perhaps you found a truly amazing person that makes you feel excited. That leads to our last tip: slow down

As much as we’d like to escalate fast, people can’t make clear decisions unless you give yourself enough time to think. How do you know it was a good idea to declare your love or help your loved one with money? It won’t hurt to wait a day or two to confirm, even if you are 100% certain about what to do.

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