Online dating and Catphishing: don’t fall a victim

Catphishing stats show that 82% of romance scam victims are women and those over 50 are defrauded out of the most money.

Online dating is an undeniable part of finding love in the modern world. By the end of 2020, upwards of 32 million Americans were using online dating services, and the industry is expected to surpass one billion dollars in revenue by 2021. Statistics released by Tinder and other dating apps highlight a 10-15% increase in use from February to March 2020 as well as increases in messages sent.

However, for all of the appeal the online dating world has to offer, it can come with some dangerous pitfalls when it comes to online scammers – warns Panda Security. According to FBI data, 82 per cent of romance scam victims are women and those over 50 are defrauded out of the most money.

Catphishing, one of the often-used dating scams, is a form of online deception that involves using a fake identity to lure unknowing victims into a relationship with the intent of exploiting them for money or access to private data. The word ‘catphishing’ comes from the cybercrime term ‘phishing’, meaning that somebody uses a fake identity to obtain sensitive personal information (e.g. username, passwords, financial or payment details). It happens when a person creates a fake online profile to exploit individuals they connect with.

Catphishing is increasingly widespread on dating websites, where unsuspected users fall for cybercriminal’s sweet and sad stories’. The consequences of these scams are, unfortunately, calamitous as victims are usually distraught bot emotionally and financially. The recovery of financial losses is rather improbable. The emotional states of victims are often heartbreaking.

What are the signs of catphishing?

If you are making connections in the online dating world, make sure you are aware of these warning signs that can help you spot a ‘catphisher’ before he or she can do any harm. According to Panda security and many other sources, these are some of the main indications of the catphishing attempts:

  • Catphisher asks for your sensitive personal information (e.g. where you work or how much money you earn).
  • They are excessively charming or flattering so that…
  • …their stories seem to be too good to be true.
  • They speak of sudden financial difficulties and politely ask for your help.
  • They cancel face to face meeting last minute and…
  • … refuse to video chat.
  • When you check their social networks accounts, you realise that their accounts have minimal activity.

However, only pinning a catphisher is not enough – you should also learn how to protect yourself. Below are some of the advices from Panda security.

Protect Yourself from Being Catphished

Rule number one is: do not share personal information online. Keep your real name private on the dating website – do it at least at the beginning or till you make sure that you know your date well. Your birthday, the home address and the place of work should also be hidden from strangers. The same applies to your email address and phone number. The information about your family must also stay private. And most important, do not display or talk about your finances such as your salary, bank account details or credit cards particulars.

One of the most basic ways to protect against a catphisher is to ask for proof of identity. If you have started liaising with a person on the dating website and you start liking that person, ask him or her for some kind of proof of identity. If they are reluctant or outright refuse it – the red flag must go up.

If you wish to know more about the person you have met on the dating network, you should do an image search. A very good way to recognise a potential catphisher is by running a reverse image search on their profile picture. This can be done by using TinEye, Yandex, or a Google reverse image search.

Furthermore, it is always advisable to do some research on a potential partner that you have met online. Have a look at their social media profiles for some basic information and also remember to look out for questionable activity on their accounts. If there are no activities, it is most likely a newly created account being used in a scam.

A simple safety measure is to create an email address that is not linked to your personal or work email account. Refraining from using your personal or work email address makes it difficult for a potential catphisher to discover your sensitive personal information.

It is a common tactic of a catphisher to send you a malicious email attachment or direct you to a bogus website. The malware you activate by clicking on these attachments or suspicious website links can install malware that will then search for your sensitive personal and financial information. This can be spoofing software whose purpose is to disguise a communication from an unknown source as being from a known, trusted source. These are reasons for never opening anything sent to you in the form of a website link or an email attachment from someone you just met online.

Installing cybersecurity software is a must if you wish to keep cybercriminals of all kinds at bay. This practice is a part of basic cybersecurity hygiene. You can at least install a free antivirus to protect your devices (e.g. PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone) form many cyberattacks – including these coming from catphishers.

And last but not least advice is to trust your instinct. If at any time during your communication with someone online you start to get a bad feeling or the feeling that something is off, do not ignore it as it could save you from a potentially dangerous situation, advises Panda security. Always listen to your gut, and if you think you could be in dangerous territory, no matter how small the feeling may be, it is always best to cut contact immediately and move on.

At the end of the day, dating scamming is much more psychological than a technological issue. So trust your gut, implement technological precautionary measures explained here and stay safe online.

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