The internet is a world of endless possibilities and the people hiding behind their screens aren’t always who they say they are. Catfishing has become a very common tactic on dating platforms. A catfish is an individual online, posing as someone they are not, trying to trick you into trusting their fake identity. Catfish can be cyber criminals who use fake photos and names while messaging you in a very believable way, to gain your trust and find out your personal information. It’s important to be aware of the threats related to catfish on dating platforms and learn how to protect yourself from them.
A romance scam starts as a catfisher building a fake relationship with their target to steal their money and personal information. Catfishers invest time into their relationship with their targets (weeks, months, years) to create believable, detailed stories on why they need money. These cyber criminals can be very convincing, with tales about needing money for urgent healthcare or important business-related expenses. Romance scams are the second most common cause of financial fraud in Canada. Understand the risks and stay aware by learning what signs to look out for.
Signs of a catfish
It can be difficult to see a cyber criminal for who they are when you have an affection or relationship with them. Here are some of the most common signs of a catfisher:
- the person expresses their love for you without ever having met you in person
- the person always has excuses for not making a video call or just doesn't show their face for various reasons
- the person tries to isolate you from people who have doubts about your virtual relationship
Catfishers will try to make their fake identity seem as realistic and interesting as possible. If something seems too good to be true, it likely is.
Do your research
Catfish profiles often use photos of real people. Do some research, like searching their profile name on a search engine and seeing if what appears matches what they have presented to you. If the profile has no other accounts with the same name, it is likely a catfish. If the person does have other accounts, look into details, like their friendships and the engagement on their photos.
Here are some signs to be aware of from a catfisher’s profile:
- their account was created recently
- they don’t have many posts
- their number of friends is quite low
- they have connections with profiles all over the world and don't seem to interact with them
There are many signs to identify a catfish, but some are more apparent than others. If you are still unsure if your connection is a catfish, ask them specific questions to learn more about them, like their place of birth, place of work, residence and parents' names.
Secure your accounts
Whether you have or haven’t shared your personal information with an online connection, it is important to ensure your accounts are secure. Cyber criminals will use their catfishing skills to trick you into offering even very basic personal information like your birthday, the city you were born in, an old pet’s name. These bits of information may seem harmless, but they are often used in personal passwords and account security questions. Make sure you stay safe by securing your accounts with these tools.
- Strong passwords and passphrases: Use a strong password for each of your accounts to protect your personal information. Better yet, use a passphrase as a more secure password that is easy to remember but more difficult for cyber criminals to guess. Never reuse the same password for more than one account to avoid having more than one of your accounts compromised in case of a hack.
- Password manager: A strong and unique password can sometimes be difficult to remember, especially when you have several accounts to manage. By using a password manager you can securely store all your passwords for different accounts. Since there are many options to choose from, make sure you choose the password manager that suits you the most.
- Multi-factor authentication (MFA): All your accounts and devices should be set up for MFA when possible. MFA offers an extra layer of protection on your accounts and devices that is unique to you. Some examples of MFA include a pin, fingerprint, security question or secondary account to confirm your identity.
Looking for love online is easier with the help of dating websites. But some profiles can seem too good to be true. Always keep in mind the risks associated with your interactions online since you never know who is behind the other screen. Remember that it is important to not share too much personal information and, above all, stay safe.