July 25, 2023 — Romance or ‘catfishing’ scams can be devasting personally and financially. If you own a business, it can also wreak havoc on your bottom line if you or your employees fall victim to the crime.
However, you can protect yourself and your business by knowing how these scams work and how to avoid them.
Stage One: Setup
Most catfishing begins online, where scammers hide behind fake profiles on dating and social networking sites. The profiles they create present attractive, successful, and interesting people that are hard to resist. Once a connection is made, the catfisher builds upon it, lavishing praise on the target or lending a sympathetic ear.
Stage Two: Courtship
The scammer may pretend to like the same foods or music to deepen the bond or offer guidance through a personal problem. At this point, emotions take over, leading to the target being swept off their feet with feelings of love.
On the other side, however, the scammer is preparing to take advantage of the victim’s emotional blind spot. Seemingly innocent requests for personal details that can be used for leverage later are common at this stage.
Stage Three: Unequal Terms
Emboldened with information about the target, the scammer begins to make requests, typically for money, perhaps so that they can travel for a meet-up – a visit that only the scammer knows will never occur. Or the scammer will ask for intimate photos as a show of devotion. While the target may oblige, the scammer usually denies reciprocal requests for various fake reasons.
Stage Four: Blackmail
Once the scam yields money, photos, or valuable information, the catfisher has leverage, such as bank or workplace login information. They may threaten to empty the target’s accounts or share intimate photos unless further demands are met. These can include money, sexual favors, or information that provides access to even more valuables.
A Case study: CEO Catfished by Brad Pitt Impersonator
Businesses are not immune to catfishers, as evidenced by a case reported in Entertainment Times where healthcare CEO, Kelli Christina, fell for an online scammer claiming to be Hollywood superstar Brad Pitt.
Scammed out of $40,000 over a two-year period for business appearances she claimed Pitt never attended, she filed suit against the actor for $100,000. The lawsuit also alleged Pitt made romantic overtures to Christina and engaged with her in talks about marriage. The case was dismissed in 2020.
While this is an extreme example, it shows how even high-profile business professionals can be manipulated by a catfisher pushing the right buttons.
Don’t Fall Victim to Catfishing Scams
The best way to avoid being catfished is to keep your guard up and remain a healthy dose of skepticism. Ask yourself the following questions if you feel you’re being targeted:
- Does this person seem too good to be true?
- Is this person more attractive and successful than those who typically show an interest?
- Do online or social media searches for this person yield conflicting or lack of results?
- Is this person making requests that are too personal too soon?
- Is the relationship progressing faster than average?
A yes answer to any of these is a reasonably good indicator of being catfished. Here are some tips you can use to validate your concerns.
Verify Profile Picture
Upload the person’s profile picture to Google Image Search to find its origins. Many scammers use images of attractive people found online, and a search will reveal the source.
Check Networking Platforms
Look for the person on social and professional networking sites, such as Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. If they have few friends or a generic profile, it’s probably fake.
Request a Meeting
Ask the person to meet up or spend time on a video call or zoom meeting. If they continually have excuses not to, you’re likely dealing with a scammer.
If You Suspect Catfishing
Once you’ve determined you’re being catfished, walk away from the relationship immediately and resist the urge to let the emotions you’ve invested get the better of you.
Do not give the scammer money, images, or information you value. If you have, alerting the authorities may help you retrieve what you lost, although the chances of this happening are slim. If you’ve shared passwords for financial or other online accounts, like streaming services, change them immediately.
While these steps can help you recover what you’ve lost, regaining your emotional footing may require further assistance from a counselor or licensed therapist. Catfishing is a betrayal of trust at its core, and recovering this will take time.