You’ve been emailing, chatting and sexting your new online lover, and now you’re finally about to meet. But before paying $500 bucks for a flight to travel across the country only to find out that Bambi, the busty, blond bombshell who has you home on a Friday night planning a move to Idaho, is actually Billy, a balding, black bookkeeper, stop and do a bit of research first.
The term “catfish” was coined after the movie and reality tv show of the same name. Catfish is the trendy new word used to describe someone who creates a fake online persona in order to trick a person into falling in love with them, either for fun or as the result of a financial scam.
Below are 20 ways to find out whether your long-distance lover is a hot dish or a catfish.
- While texting and sexting is fun for those with vivid imaginations, have a little phone fun. Aural love may not be your thing and the person could still look absolutely nothing like the dream lover in the picture, but at least you’ll know whether your mystery man or woman is the right gender. This isn’t a foolproof way of knowing whether the voice is attached to someone real on the other end of the line, but it’s a start. If they refuse to speak; beware. Someone who never wants to speak on the phone, or always wants to speak but is reluctant to meet, should raise red flags.
- Google Voice is your friend. Before trusting a stranger so easily, sign up for a free phone number and voicemail (https://www.google.com/voice) in order to protect yourself. In the event things don’t work out, you won’t have to dodge calls or change your number. Google Voice gives you a free number for any or all your phones, voicemail, free US long distance and low rates on international calls, and callers won’t even know they don’t actually have your number since calls are forwarded to your phone. (Bonus tip; check out the free app Sideline whih is similar.)
- While younger daters seem to live online and are constantly glued to their phones, it is possible that someone who didn’t grow up with trigger finger from typing and texting may have no idea how (or desire) to use Skype (www.skype.com). But if someone is unable (or unwilling) to prove they are who they say they are via Skype or FaceTime, request that they simply write the date and their name on a piece of paper and take a selfie.
- I’ve never been good at stalking. Not that it doesn’t sound exciting to pull a “Fatal Attraction” move and cook rabbit stew to show my true love what a great chef I am, but to be honest I am just too damn lazy. Plus my pride keeps me from picking up the phone and obsessively calling only to hear someone’s voicemail. But before meeting a stranger, particularly when you need to spend time and money to travel to see them face to face (if they even show up,) do a little online digging on Google.
- Google images are another way to search to find someone’s true identity. Google’s “search by image” feature can help you to see whether the photos you’ve seen belong to multiple profiles with different names. This works especially well on Facebook.
- Do a reverse search. Sites like www.spokeo.com can help you find the latest address of the person by using their phone number name, and even emails.
- Check Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for their profiles, and try various spellings of their name.
- Do a criminal background check. Most court information is public record and easy to search. Check their home state’s official government website, or find the information you need at the National Center for State Courts. Check state, county and civil records, and make sure you search every state that the person you’re investigating has mentioned they have lived in for any felony or misdemeanor convictions. Be aware that often domestic violence cases are dropped when a victim become fearful or just doesn’t follow up, but that doesn’t mean the person you’re doing the background check on isn’t guilty of any crime or charges.
- Do they only have 2 or 3 friends on their profile? An older person may only recently have joined the social media bandwagon but most people in their 20’s and 30’s have been active online awhile. Check to see if they’re tagged in photos, if they have attended any events and functions and whether they have family on their profile as well.
- If someone has a huge number of friends on their profile, be equally cautious. Unless the person is a celebrity or using social media for business, someone having 5,000 friends could be a sign of someone who prefers living an online fantasy life rather than dealing with reality and everyday issues.
- Meet as soon as possible. Not only is it much easier to weed out a catfish that way, it will be a lot less painful if you find out sooner than to speak to someone for hours each day for months, only to realize you were tricked. This is the best and fastest way to find out whether your online Prince Charming is actually a frog.
- Look up company websites. Once I only knew the first name of a man I was chatting with, but he had told me he was single, African American, had no children and was a professor at a well-known university. He didn’t tell me which one, but something didn’t sound right and I needed to feel safe. I googled his phone number which led me to a facebook-type of website for employees at an Ivy league university. On his profile, I saw plenty of recent pictures of him- with his wife and children he’d denied having.
- Ask your friends their opinions. Often other people can be more objective when emotions aren’t involved. If you’re being warned by others, listen with an open mind, especially if they tell you the relationship seems to be moving too fast.
- If distance is a factor (and it almost always is with catfish), pay attention to whether the person seems to travel often, but never seems to be able to meet you, and never travels to your city. Often if someone travels for business, they should be able to afford a trip to meet you even if it is only halfway, or for one day.
- Is your potential soul mate someone who seems too good to be true? Is she a model who owns her own place, has a successful business and volunteers at a children’s hospital on weekends? While there are people who achieve great success, usually it takes years of hard work to have the ultimate life. Besides, how likely is it that a guy who looks like Johnny Depp, is also a multi-millionaire, and has an MBA from Harvard is single and spending hours online chatting with people from dating sites? I know; it’s nice to think positive.
- Ask for more photos. Be wary if every photo is a professional one. Even people who are models take selfies and don’t always look perfect. If they always have excuses, such as they don’t have a webcam or camera on their cell phone or sound like a different age or gender than their picture, be cautious. Ask for full body photos if they only send headshots showing their face.
- Trust your gut. Call it intuition, or a gut feeling, whatever, but listen to the voice of reason whispering for you to be cautious. Don’t ignore the thought that while everything appears perfect, something seems off.
- When someone immediately proclaims their undying love for you, it can make you higher than a basket of Godiva goodies after smoking a blunt. But when you’ve never met and have only been speaking for a few weeks, that’s pure cray-cray.
- Be especially on guard if someone sends risque pictures of themselves with the expectation that you will do the same. Don’t. (At least, not until you’ve met them.)
- And finally, if they ask for money for bills, a sick grandmother, tells you that they got robbed while on a vacation, or because they have a family emergency, be very skeptical. If they ask for money but tell you they aren’t able to receive it because they don’t have an ID and you can send it to their friend under a different name, it’s a wrap. If they live or have a job that has them overseas, this is yet another reason to be suspicious. Of course, people meet and have long-distance relationships with foreigners. But just be prepared for the possibility that you may have met a scammer.
It may feel weird to be “investigating” someone online, or even feel as if you are stalking when you do a background check. But on the few occasions that I’ve had a nagging feeling that something wasn’t quite right and I did do a little digging, I’ve found that I was spot on. Either the person had been arrested, was married, or I found out something that was a huge red flag and helped me to avoid potential danger.
Whenever meeting someone you’ve met online, just use common sense. What would you say if your best friend, daughter, or brother was sending money to a stranger from a chat room? Protect yourself, go slow, and be smart. And stay safe!
Have you ever been catfished? Do you know someone who thinks they’re in love with someone they met online but never in person? Share your story here.