Definition of catfishing (Mirriam-Webster dictionary)
: a person who sets up a false personal profile on a social networking site for fraudulent or deceptive purposes
Have you watched the Tinder Swindler on Netflix?
Online dating was becoming more popular before the pandemic, but the last two years have seen this form of dating increase hugely.
Sadly, scammers are taking advantage of people looking for love with catfishing a common ploy. They pretend to be romantically attracted to a victim by building up trust and then use manipulative and gaslighting* tactics to demand money.
Many of us might be convinced we could never fall for this type of scam but, sadly, it happens too often and victims are often scammed out of thousands of pounds.
Have you received an unexpected Facebook friend request?
In this digital age, scammers frequently use social media to target individuals, often using bogus photos and stories to lure them in for example:
Facebook friend requests or messages from someone claiming to be a highly qualified professional, such as a lawyer, doctor, neurosurgeon, soldier or even helping others with the agencies, such as UNICEF.
The fraudulent Facebook profile will show photos of the scammer in exotic locations, or helping others, but these photos have usually been copied from the internet and are not the person they claim to be. A reverse image search will often find where the image has been taken from.
From examples seen by the Consumer Council, profile names can often be a double Christian names such as David James; Paul Henry; Mark Frances etc, although we have also seen ones from James Henderson.
These scams are often conducted over a long period of time, building up the victim's trust.
The scammer will often ‘live’ in a different country explaining this is the reason they are unable to visit but promising to do so, as soon as they can. They may promise lavish gifts and even offer to marry the victim sending photos of the engagement ring they have apparently purchased.
Guilt tripped into sending money
Though many people won’t even meet the scammer, they frequently will be willing to transfer them vast amounts of money in the hopes of a relationship. In fact, Islanders have lost hundreds of thousands in the last few years.
Once the trust is built, the scammer will ask for money often making the victim feel guilty if they don’t send the money. It may start with relatively small requests, such as to
- Help pay for a hospital bill
- Pay for a child’s education
- Donate to the church fund
- Buy an iphone or ipad to help keep in touch
- Pay for phone calls to keep in contact with you
- Money for a ticket to visit you
Then the bigger payment requests start, and this is where many victims lose thousands of pounds:
- Money to put a deposit on a house for you both
- Problems a with a large building or legal invoice that, if unpaid, means the scammer will be jailed
How to protect yourself from falling victim to a romance scam?
- Never send money to someone you haven’t met in person.
- Remain skeptical and if any warning signs appear, try to remove emotion from your decision even if your ‘partner’ appears sincere.
- Don’t feel guilty for refusing to make a payment and if they insist stop all contact. They are scamming you.
- Don’t give out personal information especially account details.
- Do a reverse image search of your admirer’s photos. Often these romance scammers will steal other people’s photos, so these may be featured on a legitimate person’s social media. Go to Google and search ‘How to reverse image search’.
- Watch out for inconsistencies in their story and grammar.
- Be cautious about what photos or information you share with the person. They may use compromising photos or information as blackmailing material.
- If you arrange to meet them in person, inform friends and family of where you are going.
Remember, anyone of any age or gender is a target for these scams.
If you have fallen victim to romance fraud or catfishing, report it to the States of Jersey Police on 612612.
For more information, go to the Jersey Fraud Prevention website.
* Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation which often occurs in romantic relationships. In relation to online romance fraud, a scammer will mislead by creating a false narrative, threaten to ‘leave’ and make the victim feel guilty and question their judgments. This leads to anxiety, confusion, loss of confidence and self-esteem and usually results in the victim transferring money to keep their loved one (the scammer) happy and ensure they are not left alone.