Online dating with all its quirkiness has been around for a long while, but since covid there’s been a surge in popularity as lockdowns mean we can’t get out and about meeting people as we used to.
While there certainly are stories of people finding their happy ever after, the online dating world can be a tricky place to navigate.
One of the easiest scams to fall prey to is catfishing. But what is a catfish? Unless you’re familiar with Nev and his MTV Catfish team (watch out, this show gets seriously addictive), catfishing involves creating a fake online account or profile to trick people who are looking for friendship or love. Reasons range from attempts to gain money, loneliness, a desire to compromise a victim, trolling, a lack of confidence or just plain nastiness.
How can you avoid falling victim to catfishing?
There are lots of red flags you can spot: be wary of people who won’t send pictures, who avoid meeting in person or talking on the phone, and definitely anyone who asks for money.
Check out their social media presence, do they have lots of followers and friends? Those that don’t might be more likely to be a catfish.
Anyone with wildly interesting and inconsistent stories could also be a warning flag – I mean, have they really been hiking in the foothills of Mount Tipidabo?
Are they being over the top? If the person you’ve just met is telling you they love you, it can be a tell-tale sign that something is off. The attention might feel good, but it can be an act to lure you in.
Asking for money is pretty clear-cut. It can often begin seemingly for your benefit: they need money for a ticket to come and visit you. This can often start with small amounts, increasing over time as they get more comfortable. Another trick is to tug at the heart strings and invent emotive situations like needing emergency medical care to trick contacts into sending money.
What does your gut say? If something feels wrong or a bit off, it probably is. If you’re not enjoying the conversations, let them go. Be honest with yourself: do you feel totally comfortable with this person? Never feel guilty about putting yourself first and learning what you want from the process of online dating. Don’t be afraid to trust your intuition.
So, how can you stay safe?
Don’t be afraid to check people out online and run searches – how many friends do they have, can you spot several social media accounts, and what do their photos show? Running a Google reverse-image search can often expose the person’s lie.
Always be wary of sharing too much personal information – don’t tell people where you live or work – and we’d warn against accepting friend requests from people you don’t know.
If you do ever meet in person, make sure to pick a safe time in a public place. How about a coffee in Costa in the centre of town on a Saturday morning? If you’re ever in doubt when you’re with someone in person, use the Ask for Angela technique, or this hand signal that tells people you need help.
Keep your friends and family up to date, especially if you’re off to meet the person. Tell people where you’re going, or perhaps sneakily arrange to ‘bump into’ your bestie, just so you know you have an out if you need one. We’re also a fan of live Google location sent to someone you trust, if that’s your thing.
There’s no need to be put off meeting new people, but by watching out for some simple signs and taking some sensible steps can keep you safe. Always trust your instincts.