Scam artists know how to take advantage of people by playing on their emotions or greed. Their stories have to sound convincing and they have to make you believe, or the scam fails.

That is the essence of catfishing (or catphishing) scams, where bad guys create fake identities to trick you. Being aware of how these scams work and how to respond will help you not get tricked into buying something for the bad guys or sending them cash or gift cards.

Romance Scam

This is a very common catfishing scam – it is also called the lonely hearts scam. It often starts with a simple “hello” on a dating/relationship website. The bad guy creates an online relationship with you. The relationship building may go on for months and seem very legitimate. But the other person will never meet you in person, often making excuses for not meeting you.

When they feel confident they have you committed to the relationship, they will start asking for things. It may be cash or gift cards – something that cannot be traced or refunded. They may ask you to make a large purchase for them, like a bunch of phones or stuff from a store that can be sold on the black market. The request will seem sincere and they will offer to repay you, or they may send a fraudulent payment to you or your account. But there will be no payment, the phones disappear and you are the one responsible for paying the bill.

Charity Scam

In this variation, the bad guy will pose as someone involved with a charity. These scams frequently pop up after a natural disaster. They will ask you to support their cause by sending money or buying items they say their organization needs. If it’s a big purchase, they may offer to pay you back some or all of the money. But, as with the romance scam, the bad guy is just looking to steal from you.

Easy Money Scam

This scam is much more direct. The bad guy will connect with you and offer to pay you to do something for him. In many cases, the bad guy will tell you exactly what to do and make it sound very simple – and ethical. You may think it’s an easy, harmless way to make some money. But as with the other catfishing scams, you will not see any ‘easy money’ and will end up paying for anything you bought.

These catfishing scams can turn more sinister if the bad guy asks for your personal information or account IDs and passwords. Once you share this information, the bad guy can steal your identity and really do some damage to your financial reputation.

If you find yourself in what appears to be a catfishing scam, here are some tips to follow to better protect yourself:

  • Do not share personal or account information
  • Do not send money or gifts to someone you do not really know
  • Be wary of anyone asking you to order things, especially if they ask you to ship those items to an unknown address or out of the country
  • Regularly check your accounts and report any suspicious or fraudulent activity immediately

Before you consider sending money or gifts or sharing personal information with someone you met online, you should really trust that person. One way to better protect yourself is to offer to meet the person for a cup of coffee. If they make excuses and won’t meet you, they may be trying to scam you.