You won't see if you don't look

The internet’s an easy place to hide – but only if nobody’s looking.

Most people have heard of the term “catfish” to describe someone pretending to be something online that they aren’t in reality. (There are lots of explanations for the origins of the term “catfish”, by the way, but here at Exmos we’ve decided that someone pretending to be a cool cat when they’re really a bottom-feeding fish is quite the most accurate description).

So how do you know if you’re dealing with the genuine article? Well, as the headline says – if you’re not looking, you won’t see. There are plenty of tools out there to help flush out these people, but the best tool of all is your own common sense. If you’re on an internet dating site and think you’ve seen the perfect partner, here are some top tips to check out whether what you see is what you’re going to get.

Check out the photos. Take a good, hard look at them. What do you really see? Are they just a little too polished, like studio or stock photos? If they say the photo is from a holiday in Berlin, but it looks like Dusseldorf to you (because you’ve been there), maybe you should be double-checking. Use Google’s Reverse Image Search, for example, and check out where and how often those pictures appear. Download the photo you’re curious about (right click, ‘Save picture as…’) to your computer then go to Google image search (https://www.google.com/imghp). Just click on the Camera icon and upload the photo you’ve just saved. It’ll return all the occasions where those images are being used and if they start popping up left, right and centre, beware.

Verify the facts. Does how they describe their physical appearance, for example, seem credible to you? Do they claim to be 30 but were at university in 1994?

Cut and paste their profile text into a search engine and see if the same identical text appears elsewhere – scammers will lift other people's profiles just as easily as they'll lift images.

How’s their spelling and grammar? Not everyone is brilliant at the written word, but there’s a pretty good chance you can tell if what you’re reading’s been through a translation tool or is phonetically translated.

If you want to keep talking, do it through the internet dating site. Don’t give them your personal email address or phone number - set up an email address that’s separate to your personal and professional ones.

Don’t be afraid to be nosy – ask lots and lots of questions. Test their legitimacy. Do they want lots of info from you but are cagey about themselves? Does what they told you last week match up with what they’re saying today? If they turn it back on you with the old “don’t you trust me” line, your answer should be “no, I don’t”.

Read their social media timelines. Do they seem real? Do the dates correspond with what they’re telling you? Check the dates the profiles were created because if it’s around the same time as the dating profile, alarm bells should be ringing.

Beware sympathy scams.  If all they do is tell you sob stories or ask for money, shut them down. Discuss nothing, offer no reasons, just cut them off at the pass.

The point here is, of course, do your homework. There are some good online sites you can use that will allow you to look with a microscope instead of rose-tinted glasses. It’s not just people you should be checking up on, either. Upload the image being used for the hotel you’re thinking of staying in next summer, or the house you’re thinking of buying or renting.  While you’re investigating it’s worth looking to see that nobody’s using pictures of you and yours as well. If you do find stuff being used without your consent, report it and keep reporting it until it’s dealt with.

Be excited, be curious, be skeptical and most of all be safe.

Posted by Kirsty McIntosh on Wednesday, December 2, 2015

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