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Love is blind: How to avoid a romance scam

The catfisher often has his own tragic story to take advantage of the empathy and compassion of his victim.

Catfish are bottom dwellers. Catfish is also a term for a romantic predator on the internet. This is someone who pretends to be very interested in you for a romantic relationship but in actual fact is only after your money… or worse.  Even though these relationship scammers go after both women and men (sometimes male scammers will even pretend to be women), in this article I will focus on the male catfish/female victim. 

They are very common in online dating sites. At least 50% of the profiles on all the dating sites are not who they claim to be. About 25% of rapists find their targets online, eventually gaining enough trust to get an address.  Facebook is another common place where these scammers will troll for their victims.  They will send you friend requests and when you look at their profile they are often an engineer, retired military man, doctor, surgeon or work on an oil rig.  If you are a woman, they will tell you they think your picture is beautiful.  They even target people they find through GoFundMe, knowing how much money to scam based on how much was raised. 

They use fake pictures and profiles (often being very handsome or beautiful). The victim may be lonely and insecure with low self-image and feel so flattered that this good-looking person (who they may feel is out of their league) is interested in them.  Through cunning manipulation, catfishers flatter them and act infatuated with them, building their self-esteem, making them feel loved, cherished and drawing them into a state of trust.  These scammers are very good at what they do. They use all the right language and the victim falls hard for this fake Romeo.  In reality, the catfisher is probably running the same scam on many other people at the same time, copying and pasting from one conversation to another. For this reason they rarely use your name when addressing you, but will call you ‘my queen’, ‘my baby’ or ‘my love.’ They haven’t even bothered to remember your name.

The catfisher often has his own tragic story to take advantage of the empathy and compassion of his victim. He may claim to be a widower, raising his child on his own or with the help of his mother. He is trying to start a business or works as an engineer on an oil rig or is a doctor/surgeon stuck in a foreign country. He claims to have run into temporary financial hardship and may ask for a small loan or gift cards to help him get through, maybe even paying it back to earn your trust. But the financial problems become bigger and he asks for more and more money. He may need money to start a business venture or fix a piece of equipment or buy a plane ticket home. He promises to pay it all back as he is expecting a large financial windfall, which he will share with you in his promise of a loving future for you both. However, he will not stop asking for money until you literally have nothing left.

Catfishers like to email (often with improper grammar) and eventually if they talk to you on the phone they have thick accents, claiming that they are from New Zealand, Australia, Bulgaria…living in Canada or the United States.  Most people cannot distinguish accents, which also make the catfishers seem exotic. 

If your family gets wind that you are sending money to a stranger and tries to intervene, the catfisher will tell you that your family doesn’t care about you like they do, and that they don’t want you to be happy. They know exactly how to manipulate your heart strings and even turn you against your family.  Love is blind and the victim believes that the intention of their new love interest is honourable. Again, the catfishers are very good at playing this game.  Many people lose their life savings and sell or remortgage their homes to continue sending money to their new love interest. Eventually, the catfisher will become rude or aggressive and stop the loving talk, because they have got everything they want from you.

Catfish victims often become destitute, having alienated their friends and family.  If you are a family member of someone who has been scammed, please be understanding and forgiving, and please don’t shame them for their loneliness. The scammer identified the weakness in them and played on their desire to be accepted, cherished and unconditionally loved. Counseling for the person who was abused (and their family) is a good idea, and please take this opportunity to offer them the love they were seeking.  If you suspect the person you are having an online relationship with may not be genuine, ask for a video call and then have them wave at you. If they are not who they claim to be, they will drop you at this point.

It is very sad that this exists, but there are unscrupulous people in this world who have no moral fibre.

Claire Nielsen is a health coach, author, public speaker and founder of The information provided in the above article is for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional health and medical advice. Please consult a doctor or healthcare provider if you're seeking medical advice, diagnoses and/or treatment.