Catfishing: New Label for Old Scam

Find Love 150x150 Catfishing: New Label for Old ScamIn the news lately, there has been a lot of talk about fake online profiles in light of a Notre Dame football star, Manti Te’o falling victim to a fake profile hoax. According to Te’o, he fell in love online but his girlfriend’s profile was completely fake.

Someone who pretends to be someone they’re not, using social media or online dating websites is known in the urban dictionary as a “catfish,” and their activities are referred to as, “catfishing.” Or “catphishing” spelled with a ‘ph’ as a nod to classic phishing scams. These situations have become so common, documentaries about them titled, “Catfish” have been made in film and television.

Catfish (or catphish) are looking for romantic attention, personal information and/or financial support by way of deception. They put a lot of time and effort into building a fake persona and relationship with their victim(s). They’ve even been known to pose as members of the military to tug on heart strings just a little tighter. Last summer, a mother-daughter team from Brighton, Colorado was charged for fooling over 350 victims from all over the world, and stealing over $1 million from them by posing as U.S. military members serving in Afghanistan on online dating websites.

So this scam is nothing new, just the label it’s being given. The BBB also refers to it as a “sweetheart scam” and has been warning about it since the popularity of social media skyrocketed. Regardless of what you want to call it, I’m glad it’s getting so much attention lately. It’s very important for people—especially younger people who may not realize the vulnerabilities of social media and online dating—to know how common these scams are and not to fall for them.

Valentine’s Day is around the corner and love will be in the air, so we want you to know of some of the red flags of catphishing/sweetheart scams. Here are some signs for you to watch out for when it comes to catphishers:


• Only communicate through email, instant message and cell phone.
• Never able to physically meet you in person.
• Charming, understanding, flattering, sensitive, caring.
• Has a career or life circumstances that takes him or her overseas (i.e. military).
• Is quick to develop the relationship and talk of love.
• Has a young child, typically a boy or girl between the ages of 5 and 12.
• Has a sudden emergency, often involving the child’s health.
• Has a reason they cannot get their money and needs your help.

• If you help them once, they need more money of a greater amount.
• If you have no money, they find a “client” who can send you money orders, with instructions to wire the money to them. (The checks are counterfeit.)

Has this ever happened to you or someone you know? What do you think about catphishers and their elaborate schemes? How can we all be smarter about what we do online?

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About Megan Herrera

Megan Herrera is the Denver/Boulder BBB's public relations specialist. She has been with the BBB since 2004.