Catfishing scams are not new. Twelve months of pandemic-forced isolation is, though. Someone looking for human connection has fewer opportunities than ever to meet people: parties, concerts, ball games, clubs; these remain mostly closed from covid-19 for the foreseeable future. Americans are turning to dating sites, social media, and online modes of connection in record numbers. And guess who is there waiting for them?
Catfishing is where someone uses a fake online profile and the lure of romance to commit some form of manipulation, usually for money. It’s been a rapid growth area in fraud-crimes for over a decade, following rises in social media use and mainstreamed online dating. The public is well aware of the threat thanks to high-profile cases like the Notre Dame football player with the phony girlfriend, or the recent story of the older Texas woman seduced by a Bruno Mars imposter. They communicated for months on Instagram before he convinced her to “loan” him 100K for tour expenses.
We know that catfishers target geographical areas where people feel isolated. In a recent year, two of the top three states with the highest catfishing rates per-capita were Alaska and Wisconsin. Both have long winters and sparsely populated areas where people are starved for human connection. (The third state in the top three is Nevada, which follows Vegas logic. Thieves go where money and easy marks are.)
People in older age groups have been the last generations to accept and use social media or online dating apps, though the tide has been turning for a while. The percentage of elderly folks using online dating doubled between 2013 and 2015. Not surprisingly, services popped up that target Seniors as their main demographic, like OKCupid, SeniorMatch and SilverSingles. Longtime dating site eHarmony is a highly rated option for older age groups.
How many accounts are fake?
Social media giant Facebook is one of the few places we have statistics on fake accounts. The numbers are staggering. Projections of fake accounts from recent months range from 116 million in December of 2018 to 137 million in April of 2020. Facebook says they remove 7.7 million fake accounts per day, though at any given time between 3% and 4% of all accounts are fake. Outside experts believe the number is closer to 5%.
Millennials and Gen-Xers are fairly savvy about spotting phony accounts. For senior citizens or newcomers to social media, the warning signs are not as obvious. The dating app Tinder offers the following8 pointers for spotting a catfisher:
- Their pictures are a little too good
- They are into your wallet for gifts or loans
- They are not willing to FaceTime or Zoom
- They come on strong and move along quickly
- Their stories are a little too amazing
- Their social media account content is impersonal
- They struggle with grammar
- They are never able to meet in real life
The federal government’s catfishing warning
The FBI issued a warning last year to be vigilant of increased pandemic-era catfishing activity. Twelve months into restrictions and isolation, it’s a good idea to check in with your older family and loved ones about where they are socializing or any new friends they found online. Discuss the above list of warning signs with them.
If you or someone you know has fallen victim to catfishing or other crimes of fraud, get help from The Law Offices of Jeffrey Lohman. Our team is swift and discreet; we can help you fight back against thieves. Call us today.