Don’t Take the Bait: How to Spot “Catfishing” Romance Scams

February 19, 2014

If you're seeking true love online, be aware of potential scams. “Catfishing” happens when someone hides his or her actual identity and pretends to conduct a romance online. The person doing this is often a scammer who wants money.

A typical “catfishing” relationship scam starts simply. Two people meet online, usually through a dating site. They email, trade pictures, talk on the phone, and soon they’re making plans to meet. As the relationship gets stronger, things start to change. The scammer asks his/her “new love” to wire money… to visit a sick uncle, to pay for emergency surgery, or for airfare to come for a visit. The scammer’s story can be very persuasive. This kind of request for money is a big warning sign. Even if you are very tempted to help an online friend, never send money or reveal personally identifiable information to someone you have not met in person or have not verified as reliable.

"Dating sites, social media and other online introduction channels may offer convenience and anonymity, but not without risk as this is an environment that scammers can use to deliver their plan," said Claire Rosenzweig, President and CEO of the BBB Serving Metropolitan New York. "Being victimized by a scam can happen to anyone and that includes romance scams. You may believe that you’re getting to know someone through photos, email or chatting, but it’s easy for the person at the other end of the keyboard to conceal the truth. While many people find lasting love via online channels, there are red flags to watch for that may indicate you’re dealing with a scammer.”

Consumers should be wary of anyone who:

Asks to talk or chat on an outside email or messaging service. Oftentimes, this allows fraudsters to carry out scams without the dating site or other website having a record of the encounter. Remember that scammers play on emotion… and romance is certainly a strong emotion. Anytime people are vulnerable, fraudsters find opportunity.

Almost immediately declares love for youwithout meeting you or even knowing much about you.

Offers excuses for not having a webcam call or in-person meeting when you try to get better acquainted.

Claims to be from this country but is currently traveling, living or working abroad. Be cautious if online romancers claim to be called away suddenly, or say they are in the military and stationed overseas.

Asks you for money or credit card information. In some cases the scammer will claim an emergency like a sick relative or stolen wallet, and will ask you to wire money. The first wire transfer may be small but the requests keep coming and growing. The payback promises are empty; the money’s gone, and so is the scammer.

Sends you emails containing questionable links to third-party websites. Third-party links can contain malware that’s designed to steal personal information off your computer. Scammers may use third party links that look credible, but in reality, they only link to viruses that can lead to identity theft.