You already know about phishing — emails that appear to be from reputable companies but are designed to trick you into revealing sensitive data, such as passwords and credit card numbers.
But maybe you haven’t heard about catfishing — another online scam that’s catching victims.
Catfishers create fake profiles on social media sites to trick people into believing they are someone else. They make up life stories and use photographs, life experiences, jobs and friends to make their false identities seem real.
The fake profiles trick people into forming online relationships with the crooks, who then gain their trust so they can steal their money and personal information.
Here are six red flags to help you avoid catfishers:
1. They move fast. If the person starts talking marriage and having children after only a few emails, cut off contact. No one goes that far with someone they haven’t met.
2. Odd accents and bad emails. If the accent you hear doesn’t match where the person is supposedly from, or if emails contain many spelling and grammatical errors, chances are the catfisher is reading from a script and might be part of an international identity-theft ring.
3. Phantom daters who want to see you but can’t meet. The catfisher says he’s American but lives abroad right now. He travels to Ghana a lot for “business.” Her phone was shut off. His webcam isn’t working. If the person communicates only by text, he or she is probably using someone else’s profile. Cut off contact in all these cases.
4. Too much drama. The person gains your trust and then tells you at some point that he or she is in a dangerous place or situation and perhaps fearful for his or her life. This person needs money to buy a way out. Don’t come to the rescue.
5. Photo and video requests. If after several conversations that seem normal, someone asks for revealing or steamy pictures of you or wants to engage in video chats that wouldn’t be appropriate in the workplace, be careful. Doing either can backfire, giving the catfisher some fodder to blackmail you for money and personal information.
6. Strange links or files. If you receive what looks like a romantic message or e-card from someone you don’t know, don’t click on it or download anything. It could mask a dangerous virus that enables a hacker to steal your personal and financial information.
Remember that scammers are getting better all the time. You can stay in control by remembering this: If you wouldn’t do something for someone you just met in real life — such as giving them money or vital information — don’t do it for someone you just met online.
Trust your instincts. It’s your first and usually your best line of defense in protecting yourself on the web.