Another day; another excuse to break out the popcorn and watch yet another Dr Phil show about a mother who tried online dating and is clearly being scammed by a catfish. I’ve written before that these cases only represent the tip of the iceberg – and while, as family members, our instinct may be to grab the person, shake them and scream ‘You can’t handle the truth!’ like Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, I’m going to focus on how we can help them – and ourselves – catfish-proof online dating profiles. I think that online dating can be great. . . as long as you use caution and limit the pool of eligible singles to people who actually exist.
Step One: Know when you are vulnerable, and adjust accordingly.
Pamela Meyer, social media expert and author of Liespotting, gave a great TED talk on how to spot deception. She starts with the assumption that lying is a cooperative act: Basically, wwe tend to want to believe certain things. This is why those recently widowed or divorced are especially vulnerable to catfish in the same way that those down on their luck are susceptible to get rich quick schemes.
Many catfish victims don’t come forward because they are afraid of looking stupid. But knowing when you are vulnerable and need to exercise greater control does NOT signal weakness!
Step Two: Catfish-proof your online dating profile.
- Resist the urge to break out the small violin. ‘I’ve been working my whole life to raise my kids and now I’m looking for that special someone,’ ‘I’m a single mom just looking for a decent guy’ or ‘I’m looking for that one true love’ all may be true, but you are signaling to scammers that you are an easy target. Don’t divulge this type of information until AFTER meeting them in person several times, at least.
- Be careful about listing exactly what you want in a man. I know it’s hard – you don’t want to be generic and write that you love ‘long walks on the beach’ . But just keep in mind that when you write ‘I’m looking for a 5’4 petite 25 to 29-year-old woman who was raised in the south, speaks at least two languages and enjoys kickboxing’, it’s wise be wary of people who seem to fit your criteria too exactly. I’ve seen SO many catfish scams that start with men and women saying that they were surprised and happy to find someone who was everything they had been looking for – this happens for a reason.
Step Three: Run a Google image search.
This is a basic step that many people skip. All you do is go to Google, click on ‘Images’ and drag and drop the photo into the search bar. It’s also a good idea to type the person’s name into Google and click on Images. You should see many similar images pop up. Look to see if they are of the person in question – lots of scammers use stock model photography websites, or even photos of celebrities. I recently caught a Craigslist catfish who used a 20-year-old picture of Glenn Frey of the Eagles. I was personally spammed by someone using a Victoria’s Secret supermodel’s profile.
Step Four: If they won’t meet; hit delete!
Remember that it really should be called ‘online meeting’, not online dating. Even if the person on the other end is legitimate, there is no way to determine all of the nuances of body language over an email conversation that you could get in person. Getting emotionally involved with someone who cannot meet – or even Skype with a clear picture – is investing emotionally time and currency into a fantasy, not a real person.
Step Five: Know when to contact a professional. And NEVER, EVER send money.
As Meyer says, oversharing does not equal honesty – so don’t count on those long confessional emails or social media pages. Many of the ‘instant background’ check sites have old or out of date information, so there are times when it absolutely makes sense to contact a professional. Think about it: If you are absolutely sure that your beloved was in an oil rig explosion/trapped in a mine/in line for a liver transplant and are about to wire $10,000, a couple of hundred dollars to do a background check could be the best money you have ever spent.