This article provides an overview of catfish investigations associated with online dating fraud, scams, and schemes. In addition, it provides advice on how to determine if you’ve been catfished, how to go about tracking down the fraudsters, and how to report the crime.
The internet and internet-connected devices are integral to most people’s lives. People constantly use the internet’s power to learn new things, purchase products, conduct business, and so much more. One of the most common online activities is online dating.
In fact, according to DatingAdvice.com, more than 50 million people have tried online dating. People meet other people on more than 7,000 dating sites worldwide, with Match.com being the most popular online dating site. eHarmony, the second most popular site, is responsible for about 4% of marriages in the United States.
Fraud, Scams, and Schemes
However, despite the popularity of online dating, nearly 60% of online profiles are fake. Not all of those fake profiles are scammers, as some people prefer to conceal their true identities.
Catfishing is a trick used by scammers who use fake online personas to commit online fraud. Catfishers use social media, dating websites, discussion forums, and chat rooms to create fake profiles and use them to communicate with others. Their ultimate goal is to get you to send them money or personal information that they can use to steal your identity.
Some catfishers are very thorough in creating their fictitious online identity. They will create fake social media profiles across multiple social media platforms. They will have their own set of friends, timeline activity, regular posts, and more.
Learn How to Spot a Scammer or Catfish Profile and do your Catfish Investigation
You can do your catfish investigation by following some simple guidelines. Most scammers are easy to spot and avoid. Here are some things to look for:
- Personal profiles with very little information
- Profiles with non-specific or vague information
- Profiles without photos or with a generic photo
- Look for common keywords associated with fake profiles, including widowed, royalty, etc. Not all profiles with these words are fraudulent, but the words are common among those that are.
- Be wary of those who claim to have a Ph.D. or Doctorate. Scammers think having an advanced degree lends credibility to their online presence. If the person you are chatting with has a higher level of education, make sure it is consistent with the rest of their information.
- What country are they from? Most fake profiles are from Ukraine, the Philippines, and Nigeria. Just be aware that more intelligent crooks won’t put any of those countries in their online profile.
- If you’re evaluating a profile on a social media site, look at their friend list. Online thieves usually don’t have a lot of friends.
- Is their profile photo that of a model or actress? Do they seem too good to be true? Perhaps they are. Beautiful people, even models, use online dating websites. But the person with a beautiful face and fantastic body should at least make you pause and think, “Why can’t this person get a date?” If they seem too good to be true, do some more investigation and consider more than just their photos.
There are also important clues to look for in your back-and-forth communication with the person:
Pay attention to grammar and spelling.
Many scam artists
Ask questions to determine if they are a real person.
Sometimes, the “person” you are communicating with could be a “bot,” which will send an automated and generic message to you without any understanding of you. Ask questions like, “What did you like about my profile?” Online scam artists don’t want to read your profile. They want your money.
Be on the lookout for hard luck or hardship stories.
Internet con artists usually have some hardships, such as: trying to raise money for a sick family member, being stuck in a foreign place, and not having the money to get home; they don’t have enough money to pay their bills.
Watch out for requests for money transfers.
Beware of requests for quick money transfers with online apps like PayPal, CashApp, Venmo, and others. Never pay an upfront deposit for something you are purchasing online.
Be suspicious of those who fall in love too quickly.
Watch out for the person who is quick to say things like, “I’m falling for you,” or “I’m in love with you.” Internet thieves prey on people they identify as emotionally needy or unfulfilled. Then they use that weakness to perpetrate their scheme.
For example, one of the more common scams is a person pretending to be in the military. Once the scammer establishes a rapport with a possible victim, they reveal that they are “stuck” overseas and need money to get home. This scheme leverages the unsuspecting victim’s love interest and patriotism (who wouldn’t want to help a soldier?).
Be suspicious of anyone you meet online who claims to be in the military. Learn how to do your own catfish investigation and check for active duty and former military members.
Be wary of anyone who sends you links.
The link can lead you to a phishing site that tries stealing your login and password, personal information, etc. As a rule, I recommend that you don’t follow any links other people send you on a dating site. It is fine on social media if it comes from a family member or a known friend. However, you should still be cautious.
Take Action Against the Scammers
If you think you’re being catfished or you’re the victim of online fraud, follow these steps to protect yourself:
Block the person from viewing or contacting you
If you realize that you’re dealing with someone who isn’t who they say they are, you can block them and stop communicating with them. If you haven’t revealed any personal information and they are simply annoying you, block them and move on.
If you have divulged personal information or sent money, it is time to start checking into things.
Use the information in the person’s profile to search the internet.
Copy and paste the user’s profile name into a Google search. Review the results to see if the same user name is used on profiles on other social media or online dating websites.
Search for similar profile text.
In addition to searching for their username, grab some of the text from their profile and paste it into the Google search box. Check the search results to see if the exact text has been used on other sites.
Check to see if the photo is used elsewhere.
If the profile has a photo, copy and paste the photo into a Google Image Search. A Google Image Search will show you other places where the same photo has been used. This will help you determine if the photo is real and if they have other profiles. If you find matches, visit the site and review the photos and profile information.
Report the incident to the proper authorities.
You can call your local police department and ask to file a report, although it won’t do much good. Most local police departments don’t have the resources to investigate online fraud. You are better off reporting the incident to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.
If you’re dealing with a business, file a report with the Better Business Bureau. To learn more, see our article on How to Report Online Fraud.
Hire a Private Investigator to Do a Catfish Investigation
If you need professional help, visit our directory of investigation professionals to hire an investigator specializing in social media investigations, online fraud, and/or catfish investigations.
Search for the Person’s Name, Email, or Phone Number
If you’d prefer to run your search. You can do so for less than $25 with a site called BeenVerified. With BeenVerified, you can run people searches, reverse phone number searches, and email searches. Search public records by name, phone number, or email address to help understand if you’re dealing with a real person.
Questions and More Information
Please leave a message below if you have any questions about online dating scams and catfish investigations. If you’d like to learn more, read about other frauds, scams, and schemes.