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'Catfishers' are out there and they want your money

Dec 15

Written by: Tuesday, December 15, 2015 6:54:58 PM 

Few people had heard the term "catfishing" before Manti Te'o famously revealed last year that he had been a victim of the scam, which involves people who create fake social media profiles to pursue online romances. But Te'o is hardly alone in being duped by fictitious online personas, and most instances of catfishing have far greater — and often financial — consequences.

Around the same time that the Te'o story broke, a Missoula, Mont., man made headlines for a similar situation — but his came with a $23,000 price tag. He had met what he thought was an Italian woman on a Christian singles website, and within a few months they were in love so he felt comfortable giving her a large sum of money. Then he flew to Italy to meet her, which is when he realized that his Italian beauty was a guy in Nigeria who scammed lonely hearts for a living.

Stories like these are increasing, even with the big headlines that recent instances have garnered. Even if you don't delve into the online dating world, here are a few simple tips to spot catfishing:

  • Be skeptical of photos. Most catfishers use profile photos copied from elsewhere on the Internet, such as model sites. Use photo-matching tools like Google Goggles to check whether your contact's photos appear elsewhere, or ask them to provide a photo of themselves holding something specific, like a book you have discussed or a simple object like a spoon.
  • If your contact is reluctant to video-chat, claiming shyness or something related, that should be a red flag.
  • If your contact is reluctant to talk on the phone, that's also a red flag. There are stories of catfishing scammers who have gender-correct cohorts who can stand in for them in these situations, but it's rare.
  • They ask you for money. Remember, the primary goal of catfishing scammers is to separate you from your money.

What can you do if you've been a victim of a catfish? Report the incident to the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center.

You also can report the catfisher to the social media sites they are leveraging, and their profile probably will be removed. Facebook, Twitter and most online dating sites have mechanisms to report suspicious profiles and have them removed.

Unfortunately, as with most online scams, if you've lost money to a catfisher, there is little hope of recovering it, so as is often the case with cybercrime, your best defense is a good offense.

Hawaiian Telcom Information Security Director Beau Monday is a local cybersecurity expert. Reach him at Beau.Monday@hawaiiantel.com.

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