If Valentine’s Day came and went and you’re still looking for love, you may want to consider joining the 40 million Americans who dabble in online dating. If the very thought of an online romance fills you with dread, remember that with a little due diligence and necessary precaution, the internet can be a wonderful forum to meet new people.
Sure, there will always be that guy who posts profile pics of his lovely locks only to show up to the date bald. Or the date that leaves you thinking, “How can his definition of ‘tall’ and ‘muscular’ be so different than mine?” And of course there’s the media frenzy surrounding football player Manti Te’o’s fake online girlfriend who may leave you wondering, “How could that even happen?” Simple. The college linebacker was actually "taken" in a new and growing scheme known as “catfishing”.
The Better Business Bureau says that’s when a “scammer assumes a persona on a social networking site and then creates an entire false identity using the pictures, hobbies, interests and even friends of someone else. While the purpose for doing so varies, the most common progression of this scam is the development of a relationship in hopes that the scammer will be able to ask for and receive money from their unsuspecting love interest.”
Heartbroken victims of the catfishing scheme all say the same thing, according to the BBB: After meeting online, victims engage in a whirlwind romance, quickly progressing from emails to texting to phone calls. After hitting it off, the couple schedules many attempts to meet in person, however they are always suddenly cancelled (by the scammer) due to a family emergency, medical issue or other ailment. Soon, the scammer almost always asks for money: whether for a bill they cannot pay, a cousin that has ended up in the hospital, a car that needs repair and so on.
Richard Avery, head hauncho at Securitas Security says that’s a red flag! “You've hooked a fish that almost certainly needs to be thrown back into the electronic ‘sea’ as quickly as possible!”
Securitas warns to watch out if an online suitor:
1. Asks you to wire money, send cash, or mail checks to a person whose identity - and trustworthiness - are not absolutely certain and positively known by you. Anyone who attempts to foster trust and affection only to ask for money, or who appears out of the blue requesting money - even if she/he purports to be a friend or relative in dire need of immediate assistance - may well be a con artist who has perfected this type of long-distance ruse.
2. Requests personal information either electronically or in person.