It’s hard to trust people you meet online nowadays. Between online dating, social networking sites, and online classifieds sites like Craigslist, it’s almost inevitable someone will try to catfish you at some point. Don’t know what “catfishing” even means? You’re way behind the curve (and you should probably stop sending money to that Nigerian prince that emailed you).
What steps should you take if you suspect you’re being catfished? Every situation calls for a different course of action, but here are a few ways to avoid being duped online.
Dig In on Social Media
The first step to take if you’ve got suspicions is to do some digging on your own. Where to start? Social media, of course! Assuming you know your catfish’s “name,” look them up on Facebook. Do they have a profile? If so, is it a real profile with lots of friends, engagement, and photos? If you can’t find a Facebook account, look for alternate spellings of the name, too. From there, check MySpace (yes, it still exists) and Twitter and Instagram, too.
Run a Reverse Google Image Search
Let’s assume you’ve got at least one or two photos of your online acquaintance. It’s relatively easy to find out if they swiped them from someone else by going to Google Images then clicking “Search by Image.” Drag the image in question into the search bar and Google will find where it exists online which is hopefully not on some catalog’s website or worse, an adult site! If you find that the picture’s been attributed to names other than the one you know, start digging from there.
Reverse Phone Number or Username Search
Did you know sites like Spokeo allow you to search a phone number or even a screen name? They’ll help you pull relevant data like who the phone number’s registered to (even a cell phone) and whether or not that screen name is attached to any website URL registrars. People search engines like Spokeo also give you valuable location info about a person’s last known address, where they went to school, and more details you can use to fact-check your catfish. Maybe you’ve been chatting with “John Smith” on the phone but his phone number is registered to a “Mark Alvarez.” Start searching Mark’s name and contact info to see what matches up and what leads you down another path.
Start Checking the Details
Odds are, particularly if you’ve been chatting with the catfish for a while, they’ve given you some details you can check. Did they tell you the name of the beauty school they attended? Call the school to see if they’ve got records of a student by that name. Did they say they’ve got two brothers, one deceased? Use a people search engine or even an ancestry site to find out if what they’re saying about their family tree is true. Everyone’s fake identity cracks at some point if you look hard enough. Facts are facts no matter what.
Even if there’s no factual evidence to prove you’re being lied to, sometimes that nagging feeling in your gut is all you need. Trace your conversations with the accused and see if you’ve told them details about yourself that could be used to scam you, steal from you, or even physically harm you. Did you tell them your address? Your social security number? Your date of birth? If you’ve revealed too much it’s a good idea to change all your passwords, put your credit card companies on notice, and even sign up with a credit monitoring service. If you’re not being catfished by a lonely single, then you’re probably being catfished by a money-hungry web user. Now’s the time for lockdown mode.
Meeting new people online is a wonder of the modern era. You can really, truly make friends, find love, or even track down a long-lost family member through the power of the web! It’s hard not to love all the opportunities the internet presents, but you’ve got to stay vigilant about your personal information and treat any online acquaintance the way you’d treat someone you met in a bar or at the park. Strangers are strangers until you meet in person no matter how legitimate they seem.