While many of us laughed at Notre Dame’s football player, Manti Te’o for falling in love with a fake girlfriend back in 2012, the scam he fell for may be more common than we ever imagined. It is now estimated that one out of every ten online social media profiles are fake—and with the increase in social media use and online dating, there’s more opportunity than ever to find victims.

To combat this kind of scam you need to do two things: be aware of what to look for, and know what steps to take if you accidentally fall victim.

What is catphishing?

“Catphishing” is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “a person who sets up a false personal profile on a social networking site for fraudulent or deceptive purposes.”

Unlike simply “phishing” scams, in which scammers solicit though a wide range of fraudulent activities online—such as fake emails—catfishing is more personal and targeted. It is often referred to as a “sweetheart scam” because the imposter will often attempt to develop a romantic relationship before often asking for money or help.

Catphishing doesn’t have an exact formula, but many incidents have followed a similar path. A catphisher will often create an online persona across multiple social media outlets. A relationship will then develop between the catphisher and the victim over a long period. There is really no singular motive for a catphisher, however some include loneliness, blackmail, unrequited love, and to extort money.

Signs of catphishing

As mentioned before, not all catphishing scams follow the same path. But here are a few ways to detect one if you think you or someone you know may have encountered a catphisher:

  • Out of the blue, a random person starts regular communication with you online.
  • It is impossible to find a legitimate physical address of where the person lives.
  • Phone calls with the catphisher have very minimal background noise.
  • They refuse to meet up in person, Skype, or FaceTime.
  • If they do finally agree to meet up, an excuse will surface and they will cancel last minute.
  • Often times, their photos will be professional (and end up not really being them).

What to do if you are a victim of catphishing?

There are two victims of catphishing: those who fall prey to the catphisher, and those who have their identity taken.

If you have fallen prey to a catphisher here are some steps you can take:

  1. Verify you have been catphished. You can do this by checking sites of commonly hacked pictures or by doing a reverse Google image search with the pictures of the hacker you already have.
  2. Block the catphisher on all social media accounts. Here’s how to block someone on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
  3. Report the internet scam. You can contact the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center to report any fraud. You can also report any fake accounts on social media (for example, here’s how to do it on Facebook) and also notify dating sites of impersonators you may have found.

If you believe your identity has been taken by a catphisher, here‘s what you can do:

  1. Report the internet scam. You should contact the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center if you’ve lost money or revealed account information to a catphisher. Twitter and Facebook also have forms to report an impersonator account.
  2. Alert your friends and family. If the impersonator attempts to reach out to those you may know, he or she may be more likely exhort money from them.
  3. Update your privacy settings. If a catphisher has your photos, most likely they pulled them from an online site. Make sure only your friends can see photos of you on social media sites, and do not accept requests from strangers to follow you.
  4. Check if your photo has been used. Take a look to see if your photo has been used in a scam on sites like this one. Also, Google yourself often to make sure any unwanted photos are not readily available for catphishers to use online.

Catphishing is yet another reason to conduct a regular privacy check-up and to never give away personal information online. While the internet provides an abundance of good for us all, ignorance is definitely not bliss—being aware and proactive is the best way to avoid a variety of online traps, including catphishing.

Image: Blackzheep from Free Digital Photos.net



FullSizeRenderGuest Blogger: Joan Lawlor
Joan is a full-time University of Wisconsin—Madison student who also writes for the TDS blog. Joan has a love for travel and most recently returned from spending five months abroad in Europe where she visited 13 countries.

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