Don't Fall for the CatPhishing Scam

Category: Security

Many years ago, Ambrose Bierce wrote: 'I have known men to fall in love by light so dim they would not choose a suit by it.' Today, the light is not only dim but deceptive. Lonely people of all persuasions are at increasing risk of being preyed upon by phony romantic partners who not only aren’t what they seem to be, but may not exist at all! Read on to learn about catphishing...

What is CatPhishing?

San Diego Chargers linebacker Manti T’eo was the victim of such a cruel hoax. The All-American football player fell in love with a “woman” sight unseen through social media. The sports press made much of Manti’s dedication to “Lennay Kekau,” purportedly a Stanford University student who tragically died of leukemia.

But “Lennay” turned out to be a hoax, a fictitious personal elaborately crafted by a male acquaintance of Manti’s. This cruel trick was just a joke that went too far; but there are cases in which the love-smitten have been scam-bitten.

Another example far more serious than a cruel hoax involved Roxanne Reed, a 66-year-old woman from North Carolina. In November 2018, Reed was charged with conspiring to kill her elderly mother. It turned out she was being scammed by a man she met on Facebook, who claimed he needed money for medical bills. After sending over $50,000 to the man, she ran out of money and saw her mother's life insurance policy as a way to continue helping the man she thought she loved.

What is CatPhishng?

The practice of using a fake virtual persona to dupe a victim out of money (or just inflict emotional damage) is called “catphishing.” The neologism seems to be a play on “phishing” (using deceptive email to obtain sensitive information) and a Southern sport called “noodling,” in which large catfish are patiently enticed into chomping down on a probing hand which hauls them into the boat. Jeff Foxworthy meets the Internet!

Catphish lurk on dating sites passively waiting for bites. They also cast their lures around social media, offering friend requests on Facebook, Tweeting admiringly, and so on. Their objective is usually to fake romantic interest, engage the victim emotionally, and then pretend to have some sort of “problem” that only a generous electronic friend can solve with money.

For more information on Phishing, see Have You Been Phished? and here's Why Phishing is Getting Worse

Patriotism is another emotion to which catphish appeal. A Colorado mother-daughter team conned over 350 people by posing as American soldiers in Afghanistan. Their phishing holes were dating sites because that is where all the lonely people come. They sucked up over $1 million worth of “the kindness of strangers” before they were caught.

How to Spot an Online CatPhisher

Catphish are easy to spot if your vision is unclouded by emotion. Some of their telltale traits are:

  • They never are able to meet in person; they are only available online or via phone call
  • They are charming, flattering, sympathetic, and chatty;
  • Claim to be U.S. citizens, but are always living in distant places for “international business” or military service
  • They quickly talk about love and their eagerness for a romantic relationship
  • They ask for your home address in order to send you gifts
  • They often have young children, another sympathy draw
  • They have sudden, bizarre financial difficulties
  • Also, once you help catphish financially, they will soon be back with bigger needs.

I've been in the position of watching some of these scams as a middle man, and for a while, I didn't understand what was going on. In addition to my duties at AskBobRankin, I also operate FlowersFast, an online florist service. Occasionally, I see orders from "customers" using stolen credit cards and obviously fake U.S. addresses. A quick check of their IP address typically shows they're actually in Nigeria or Russia. But the recipients are real, and the messages that the senders attach to the bouquets speak of undying love. Sometimes these scammers unwittingly provide enough information, that I can find their profiles on sketchy dating sites.

If you say you don’t have any money, a catphish may find someone else to send you a money order, asking you to cash it and wire the money. Invariably, the money order is counterfeit and you end up losing cash.

Of course, the Internet is just a new medium for this old scam, and “catphishing” is just a new term for this type of fraud. Still, it persists because there are always people on whom it works. Don’t be one of those.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Don't Fall for the CatPhishing Scam"

Posted by:

Paul S
16 Jan 2020

Hey Bob, the repetitive ear wax removal ads are really rather gross. Yuck!

EDITOR'S NOTE: The ads are customized for each user. Sorry that Google thinks your ears need cleaning. :-)

Posted by:

16 Jan 2020

i have a friend who has fallen for this crap twice! I have tried to explain to her that a 25 year old man is not interested sexually in a 75 year old woman. She has spent all her savings on the first "guy", and has now gotten a job to help the second one. Of course, they are Americans working overseas and both have adorable young children. But they are in love. That is why this stupid scam works.

Posted by:

16 Jan 2020

I can't tell you how many times on dating websites I've been catphished, by both young and old--but who really knows given that they can hide their identities. They want to get "chummy" right off the bat, state all kinds of ridiculous things about how wonderfully affectionate, lonely and loving they are, how they are looking for their one and only next mate--and on and on. Often their English is broken, their sentences don't make sense, and they want a phone number or email right away as they hate sending texts through the dating sites' websites, which work well enough. CRAZY people, dishonest folks, abound. Great info you provide, as always. If anything new comes up about this, please do not hesitate to print it since it's usually those who most cannot afford to lose money to the unscrupulous who lost it.

Posted by:

16 Jan 2020

Thanks for highlighting this scam. Fortunately I have not been scammed myself but have heard many stories on the subject. It happens in the UK too and the victims are often already at a low point in their lives. After they've been scammed they can be too embarrassed to report their apparent gullibility to the police. The police in the UK do take the matter seriously and help to provide emotional support to the victims.
There have also been convictions of these heartless predators.

Posted by:

Bernie Crowley
16 Jan 2020

Although the Southern term "noodling" usually refers to cat fishing with one's hands, the term was used in the 1934 black and white film "It Happened One Night" starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert and assumptively referred to affection between a man and a woman, presumably kissing or perhaps petting.

Posted by:

16 Jan 2020

Facebook messenger is a hot spot for this type of scam. I've got to where I just ignore all communications via messenger.

Posted by:

16 Jan 2020

To Bernie Crowley: I think the term is "canoodling", not "noodling"

Posted by:

17 Jan 2020

This is another informative article. At the same time, this is the tip of the iceberg, since there are all types of scams, such as repackaging scams, psychic scams, fake jobs, and lotteries. The list can go on. It would be great to also present articles about some of the other scams out there. Typically, if it sounds too good to be true, then it is! Meanwhile, thank you for the good work to present the frauds and hucksterism for what it really is!

Posted by:

Stukahna Sandbahr
17 Jan 2020

Oh yeah? You'll ALL be eating crow when my HOT Russian bride shows up. Soon as that Nigerian prince sends my money, I can fly her over here.

Posted by:

17 Jan 2020

So, what's wrong with meeting people the old fashioned way? School, church, work, etc. I'm sorry that people are so stupid that they fall for this sort of thing. Put the gaming equipment down, get up off your butt, and go out and actually meet people. Oh.And for those who whine about 'I don't have the time', I'm sure you make time for everything that is important to you.

Posted by:

17 Jan 2020

... it should have been called noodlephishing!

Posted by:

18 Jan 2020

You know something's phishy when someone asks for financial help and says only use bitcoin.

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