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How to Keep Your Business Safe from Catfishing Scams

They say falling in love is easy, and that's precisely what romance scammers, or 'catfishers,' are counting on when they look for unsuspecting targets with open hearts and bank accounts.

And while catfishing scams have impacted all types of individuals, business owners are especially at risk because they have so much to lose.

The Federal Trade Commission warned that the reported losses to catfishing scams have increased, reaching a record of $304 million in 2020, up 50 percent from 2019.

With such severe amounts of losses reported, it’s important to understand how these scams work. That way, you can avoid them and their devastating consequences.

It Starts Online

Dating and social media sites are the perfect places for scammers who hide behind bogus profiles featuring attractive, exciting, and successful individuals who appeal to those seeking a connection. And once a target shows interest, it's only a matter of time before the scammer lays the groundwork by reciprocating.

The Relationship Blossoms

Because successful relationships rely on shared interests, the scam artist will attempt to bond over the "fact" you like the same restaurants or have a similar workout routine. They may even try to help you through a recent breakup or emotional trauma. It's no wonder that the target's emotions begin to take over and feelings of 'being in love' emerge.

After ensuring the target is emotionally invested, the scammer begins making requests for information to further the scam and yield various benefits.

Things Get One-Sided

Armed with information about their target, the scammer starts to ask for things, usually money, to assist with a made-up crisis. Requests for intimate photos as a show of devotion (to use later for blackmail purposes) aren't uncommon either. The target grants these requests due to emotional reasons, but when they ask for personal details or photos, these wishes go unmet.

The Scam Plays Out

Things get ugly once the target provides money, photos, or other information the catfisher can use, such as passwords to accounts. Demands escalate, and threats ensue if it's not met. These can include threats for sexual favors, more money or information about the target's family or workplace that can be exploited.

Even CEOs Can Get Catfished

Catfishing can impact anyone, even successful businesspeople. Take, for example, the case reported in Entertainment Times in which healthcare CEO, Kelli Christina, was victimized by a scammer pretending to be Brad Pitt.

For two years, her organization was bilked out of $40,000 for fundraising appearances the Pitt impersonator never attended. Christina also claimed the superstar made romantic overtures to her. When she learned she'd been scammed, she sued the actor for $100,000, but the case was dismissed in 2020.

Tips to Keep Catfishers From Exploiting You

It's not easy to keep emotions in check when you've met the right person online. But before you go all-in on the relationship, it pays to question everything upfront.

Here are five questions to ask yourself:

1. Is this person too good to be true or out of my league?

2. Are online profiles for this person sketchy, low on details, or nonexistent?

3. Does this person's request make you uncomfortable?

4. Is this relationship moving way too fast?

5. Does the relationship feel strange or different from others you've been in?

If you answer yes to any of these, there's a chance you're being catfished. However, you can protect yourself with these helpful tips:

Google Image Search

Scammers often use images of models or good-looking people found online in their profiles. Uploading their picture to Google image search will show its origin.

Social Networking Platforms

Look up the person's profile on Facebook, LinkedIn and other social and professional networking sites. A lack of details or connections are clues they might be fake.

Meet Up

Request to meet with your pursuer in person or on a Zoom call. Most dating partners would agree to this, so if these requests are continually put off, it's a sign something's not right.

If you feel you're being scammed, set your emotions aside and end the relationship immediately. If you've given the catfisher money or anything else you value, report it to the authorities—they may be able to help. In addition, change passwords for financial or other online accounts, like streaming services, that you may have shared.

Catfishing is an emotional betrayal of trust that can take a high personal toll. Don't rule out professional counseling or therapy if you've been victimized.