Warn Teens of Dangerous “Catfishing” Scams Online
In today’s world of technology, teenagers often connect online. Unfortunately, this reality leaves our teens open to possible scams. “Catfishing” is one such scam where a person creates a fake online identity in order to deceive someone into a relationship. A ‘catfish’ uses someone else’s photo (it might be someone else they know or it could be an image they found on the Internet) and invents a false name and personal information to create a fake website or social media profile. Young people are so used to having online relationships that they don’t always notice red flags and don’t think to question someone’s true identity. If someone says they are a 13-year-old girl in their neighborhood, teens tend to believe it, even though it could be a 40-year-old man in the next city.
According to FBI data, almost 20,000 people reported being victims of catfishing. If the victim is an adult, the catfish is usually trying to scam the person out of money. If the victim is a teen, the catfish usually has more dangerous intentions. For example,
- Many child predators use this type of scam to gain a child’s trust and either lure them to a location for sex or convince the child to send them sexually explicit photos or videos.
- Bullies use catfishing to further humiliate a victim. Many people might remember the shocking case of Megan Meier who took her own life after being cyberbullied by an adult neighbor posing as a fictitious boy.
- This past week, an Alaska teenager was arrested for killing her best friend after a man posing online as a millionaire offered her money for murder.
While it can seem almost impossible to completely regulate a young person’s internet use, you can educate them about this threat and teach them to look for these red flags:
- Be wary of online friends who ask you to go from one platform to another, such as moving from Tinder to text messaging or especially Snapchat, because those messages disappear.
- Watch for people who seem to get attached really quickly. If within the first few exchanges the person seems to be pushing the relationship forward at a rapid pace without having even met you, you are most likely being catfished.
- The person asks for, or offers you, money.
- They always have an excuse for why they can’t speak on the phone, meet up in person, or chat via webcam.
- The person has very few friends on their social media accounts and/or are not tagged in any photos.
- The person has an elaborate story that pulls on your emotional heartstrings.
If you think your teen is being catfished, take these actions:
- Find out if the person and your teen have any mutual friends on their social media accounts. If they do, contact the mutual friend to obtain more information. If they don’t, consider that another red flag.
- Notice if the time zone the person says they are in matches up with the times they are posting online.
- Do some cross-referencing and research on the individual. Check other social media platforms to see if they come up.
- Copy or save the suspicious person’s profile picture and “search by image” in Google. You will quickly be able to see if this is an image they have stolen from someone else (such as a model) or if their true identity comes up.
As your kids spend more time online, and especially if they use social media, chat rooms, or multiplayer video games, explain the importance of not having private conversations with people they don’t know in person. They should never trust someone they have not met in person. And they should be aware that flattering or supportive messages may be more about manipulation than genuine friendship.