The Romance Scam

There was a simpler time where people would send post cards asking for pen-friends. A friendship slowly developed and they would ask for a small amount of money. With the advent of the internet all this changed though, scammers could reach out in bulk numbers. Over time simple advanced fee fraud emails promised millions – for a small fee up front of course. African Princes looking for a good place to hide their inheritance. Chinese mineral companies wishing to invest in your business! In hindsight, it was a great time and much simpler than the complicated mess we have these days.

In 2020 we have never been more connected. These fraudsters have more chance of getting to know you and reaching out than ever before. It’s not just email we have to watch out for either. Several social media platforms give attackers a real insight into our daily lives. One style of malicious social engineering that really exploits all this personal data is ‘catphishing’. It a bit like phishing but with the love turned up to 11. It’s not just about the click either, catphishers look to build a solid bond.


What is catphishing?

Put simply, it’s people pretending to be someone pretty online. Normally an attractive man/woman’s photos are used in order to get something from you (usually of value). You might see it as that charming person on Facebook or that funny new person on LinkedIn. A conversation develops and before long you can feel ‘in love’. They are attentive and seem to give you their full attention – so far so good! You think you have found the perfect partner. Then the predictable patter of “I need money to help a relative” or “I was in hospital and now have bills to pay”. They ask for small amounts of money at first. Once you start to pay you can expect their attention to grow, stories will become more elaborate.


Finding Their Victims

Much research is done as to who to target! Like vultures, they circle around people having a hard time online. Widowed, divorced, lonely, grieving – perfect. It really is horrible to witness. Technology can also assist their scams too because not content with being the lowest form of internet scammer they also have to do so efficiently. Tools can assist this process like ‘Facebook Group Extractor’. They will join groups of vulnerable people and start sending hundreds of messages to their potential victims.

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Tools used to gather Facebook Group data.


Femme fatales

I can’t speak for the entire female fancying population but it’s well documented (by me) that men are preprogrammed to try and help when an attractive woman asks nicely. My favourite chapter of John Gray’s ‘Men are from Mars’ is Chapter Two, Mr Fixit.

The book, but especially that chapter, explains a mans inner desire to assist and try to help – even when he shouldn’t. So there you are one day all hopeless and male and along comes a woman online asking for urgent help. Who are we to be above obliging, dropping everything and asking “whats wrong” till you are blue in the face! Lets see if we can fix this issue we think. But oblivious to the greater picture and like a moth focussing on a light you don’t see the danger. Once hooked they gain confidential information and plot your demise.


Mr Perfect

So when catphishing you can adapt the style, it’s all fluid. You can choose the sex of your victim and you can change the sex of your persona online. Whats clear though is if you are pretending to be a man, why not choose an admirable role – something that explains your absence at dinner dates. Watch out for the signs too “my bank card is blocked till next month” and “If you pay £100 to be on the telephone list then you can call”. Pull the other one Rambo.


A photo similar to ones used by catphishers

How do you stop catphishing?

You’ve got to be choosy who you speak to online and seek proper validation! Social Engineers will know what to say, when to say it. They will flatter and lift your mood. Don’t be fooled by them. If they are a little bit shy with a video call or can’t meet you for a coffee after a few weeks – move on quickly. It’s very easy for us to dismiss the issue though with a few simple tips. I have personally provided services to an senior person who in despite of the hard cold facts decided to continue believing she was real. People that perform catphish scams can sometimes have a powerful effect on their victims and we should all watch our own inner demons. Our loneliness, our fears, our vanity.


Catphishing Tips

  • Plan to meet first quite early on, choose a public place. If they can not make it this should ring alarm bells.
  • Listen to your instinct – we often provide people the ‘benefit of the doubt’ – don’t!
  • Ask for real validation, phone numbers, Facebook accounts – it’s not definitive proof but can help.
  • Never send money to someone you haven’t met in real life.
  • Believe you can do better – an odd tip but I genuinely feel it belongs here. Don’t be tricked into putting up with the person who gives you a little bit of attention.