How to Catch a Catfish

<p>Illustration by Meghan Holt</p>

Illustration by Meghan Holt

Looking back, Bridget Cardno said she suspected it.

Online dating was easier for her due to her shyness, and she said the person she was talking to was “sweet.” Going to the lake and hanging out, she wanted a long-term relationship, and she said she thought the person she was interacting with was a good guy.

“He had pictures of himself in the fire department, and that’s kind of what attracted me to him,” Bridget says. “Because I figured if he was in the fire department, he was a good person.”

However, not everything was what it seemed. After separation from him, Bridget realized she had fallen victim to a catfish.

A Digital Society

As a “sociologist at heart,” Renee Lamphere, professor of sociology and criminal justice at UNC Pembroke, says she is a long-time online dater. She started dating online in 2008-09 on, she says, and in 2014-15, she went on Tinder. In total, she has experienced 15 years of online dating.

When she first started online dating, she said people would tell her to watch out for “weirdos.” However, as society has become more digitized according to Lamphere, she says online dating has become “gamified,” and has become the “great unknown.”

“I think some people still think online dating is weird or abnormal, but online dating is becoming the new way to meet people,” she says.

Lamphere compiled research on online dating scams in a paper titled, “Online Romance in the 21st Century: Deceptive Online Dating, Catfishing, Romance Scams, and ‘Mail Order’ Marriages.” She says there wasn’t much information on online dating scams compiled together before her paper was published.

R. Cocalis, whose work is cited in Lamphere’s paper, determined that one in four dating relationships begin online, and the internet is the second most common way couples meet.

What is a Catfish?

According to Aisha Harris, whose research is cited in Lamphere’s paper, “Catfishing is the verb used to describe the actions of a ‘catfish,’ a person who creates falsified online profiles on social networking sites with the purpose of fraudulently seducing someone.”

Bridget says her catfish partner never went to meetings for his job when she was living with him, and she would ask to hang out at the fire department and meet his friends, which was met by his anger at her questioning.

When she did get to be around his friends, Bridget says she and the friends formed a friendship. The friends started to warn her about him, and she didn’t know who to believe.

Eventually, she and her boyfriend separated, and she later found out he was catfishing her.

In Lamphere’s paper, Lily Rotham’s research suggested revenge, loneliness, sexual identity, anxiety and low self-esteem were motivations for people who catfish. Rotham gathered this information from the MTV show “Catfish.”

Amber Carothers, director of a security-protected dating service, Indianapolis Singles, says one of the biggest barriers people face with online dating is dishonesty.

“You don’t know who you’re talking to, and you can invest a lot of time into someone who you’re interested in with no return,” Carothers says.

The biggest misconception about being catfished, Bridget says, is that people should be able to spot it right away.

“They’re really good about keeping their stories straight and making themselves seem believable,” Bridget says.

Who is Most Likely To Be a Victim of Catfishing?

The compilation of research in Lamphere’s paper references the Romantic Beliefs Scale, made by Susan Sprecher and Sandra Metts. This scale measures people’s beliefs on whether love can overcome obstacles, whether people have a “one and only idealization” and whether they believe in “love at first sight.”

In Lamphere’s paper, Tom Buchanan and Monica T. Whitty hypothesized from their own research that those who score higher on the Romantic Beliefs Scale are more likely to be victimized by catfishing and online dating fraud.

Buchanan and Whitty also said those wanting “new, complex, intense sensations” may be willing to take more risks with their finances and well-being. This could lead them into an online dating scheme.

However, finding who is a typical victim for online scams is difficult, according to Lamphere’s paper.

In her paper, she says this is due to having reliable statistics since many victims don’t go to the police. The paper says some reasons for this can include embarrassment, feeling police can’t help them or not knowing they are a victim, citing research from M. Button, A. King and J. Thomas and A. Rege.

The Effects of Catfishing?

“It made me not want to ever talk to him again,” Bridget says, referring back to how she felt when she realized she had been catfished.

Buchanan and Whitty, in a 20-person study in 2016 cited in Lamphere’s research, determined all respondents were negatively affected by being the victim of scamming.

Lamphere says in her research paper many people report feeling the loss of the relationship, even if it was a scam, especially those people who did not lose money through the scam. She says that it was “double grieving,” since victims were not only feeling the effects of the scam but also the loss of their relationship.

“Sometimes people will find out this person has been scamming [them] … and they don’t even care, there are some people who are like ‘I love people for the person they are,’” Lamphere says but notes that it is rare.

Whitty and Buchanan’s research indicated that some victims may feel more embarrassment if they shared intimate sexual details or did sexual acts on webcam for the scammer.

“Emotions such as fear, anxiety, anger, and depression are often reported. A victim may feel embarrassed that he or she fell for an online dating scam, which can affect a person’s overall online experiences,” Lamphere wrote in her article based on Rege’s research.

How to Protect Yourself From Catfishing

“Awareness is a huge thing, people just need to be aware,” Lamphere says.

Lamphere gave multiple points on how people can prevent themselves from being scammed through online dating.

  • Be aware of love bombing, or the act of lavishing a partner with the intention of manipulating or influencing them.
  • Be aware if they ask for money and act like it’s for the victim’s benefit. For example, if a catfisher says they want to see a victim but don’t have the money for it or if the catfisher provides a “guilt story.”
  • Look to see if a potential partner is asking questions but not answering questions.
  • Do simple background checks on people — make sure a potential partner has photo verification.
  • Video chat and meet in a public space early on.
  • Reverse Google Images or check to see if a potential partner is using images others catfishers are using.
  • Don’t send sexual photos or private information since that information can be used for extortion later on.

At Indianapolis Singles, Carothers says applicants are put through screenings, interviews, provide identification, have a background check and make a financial investment to be a part of the service. Carothers and the company say this helps prevent dating scams.

Although she doesn’t fully discourage online dating, Carothers says the people with good intentions are “few and far between.”

One thing Bridget took away from her experience is the importance of face-to-face contact in some form.

“[You should] really get to know the person and ask for pictures,” she says, “and not just text but Facetime so you can actually see the person and know it’s the same person that you are looking at the pictures of.


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