How To Outsmart Catfish: Protect Yourself From Online Dating Scams

The dating world has changed. Gone are the days when people head out to meet people. A good chunk of dating starts online. Have a phone or computer to hand? You’ll have thousands of singles within easy reach. Convenient, but it comes with a lot of risks. Romance scams are on the rise. In 2021, over $547 million was lost in romance scams, and between 2020 and 2021, there was an 80% increase in the number of online dating scams. The numbers only continue to rise.

While all age groups can be impacted by romance scams, it is the older generation who seems to be the most suspect. The older generation has always been prime scam targets due to their vulnerability, and any dating site that attracts the older generation is likely to have horrendous people looking to scam them out of their hard-earned cash.  

Luckily, many of these scams play out the same way. The same tactics are used – catfishing, the process of faking a persona to build up a rapport. With a bit of know-how, it isn’t too difficult to avoid online romance scams. That’s what this guide is about. We want to teach you, and your friends/relatives how to outsmart a catfish. We’ll tell you the methods they use, the signs of potential catfishing, and how to beat them at their own game.

The Rising Threat of Romance Scams

Statistics have shown that the most-targeted age group for romance scams is over 70, with the average victim losing $9,000 to the scam, and the younger generation losing an average of $750 when they are the victim. So, it should come as no surprise that the average age for online romance scams is so high. Repeatedly, scammers have shown that low technological literacy often translates to high susceptibility to fraud. This is, in part, down to the fact that so many elderly people are not aware that online scams like this exist and, if they are aware, not aware that it is so easy to fall for them.

Remember – just because the most-targeted age group is the 70+ range, it doesn’t mean that younger people are not being targeted too. Everybody should keep their guard up and understand not only how to spot a catfish, but how to outsmart catfish.

As we said – most online romance scams follow the same process. This is known as catfishing. The scammer will pretend to be somebody else. They’ll often build an entire persona. Using this persona, they’ll build up a rapport in the hope of managing to get cash from their victim. It is incredibly sophisticated, and a lot of effort goes into perfecting the techniques utilized by romance scammers.

Multiple scams appear in the dating world. This includes:

  • Photo scams: this type of scam is on the rise. People will ask for rather intimate photos of their target, often after building up a rapport. When these pictures are sent, they’ll threaten to blackmail their victim. They’ll claim that if they do not receive something (normally cash), they’ll send the photos to their friends/family.
  • Fake relationship: the scammer will convince their victim they are in a real relationship. They’ll then ask for cash. Simple scam, but incredibly effective.
  • Inheritance scams: this is a scam that is only ever targeted at the elderly. The scammer will propose marriage so they can get some of the inheritance. You’ll often find this scam used on some of the dating sites that target the richer, older generation.
  • Malware scams: the scammer will send files designed to ‘inject’ bad software onto the victim’s computer. This can steal personal details, including passwords and banking information. This is a much rarer type of scam.

Sadly, it is very hard to spot romance scams once you’re tied up in one. The idea of romance, and dating, is that you put trust in the person you’re talking to. You might have the potential for a relationship there. You may even be convinced that you’re in a relationship. If you care enough, you’ll often believe anything that they tell you. Even people who believe they would never be the victim of a romance scam have the potential to be the victim of a catfish.

Signs of Romance Scams

Our goal is to teach you how to outsmart a catfish, and if you want to outsmart a catfish, then you need to know how to spot the signs of a romance scam.

When you are interacting with anybody online, particularly on online dating sites, you must treat them with skepticism. Until you meet them in person and develop an actual relationship, always assume that you are being scammed. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t speak to people online. We know how difficult dating can be without the online component. Just make sure that you keep your wits about you.

These are the common signs of a romance scam.

Signs of romance scams

They Compliment a Lot

Online scammers rely on building up your trust and ‘love’ quickly. This means that they are not going to be short on compliments. Expect them to compliment your looks, personality, etc. a lot. They’ll rarely say anything negative. The compliments will often come in thick and fast. They may overwhelm you, but you’ll probably feel good. Who doesn’t like to be complimented?

Moving Relationships to Quickly

Scammers want to build up the relationship quickly. The more ‘into’ the relationship a victim is, the more likely they are to buy into the scam. They’ll want you to fall in love with them very quickly, and they’ll often tell you that they love you fast, maybe within a few days. They may discuss marriage, potentially having children, etc. They’ll want you to commit to them. They may even use words like “I want to be yours” or suggest you are in a relationship, even before you say anything.

Online romance scams work fast. The scammers will often work within days and weeks. Although they may carry out their scam (extracting cash) over the process of months or years.

Asking For Money

The whole goal of a romance scam is to get cash from the victim. So, it won’t be long before they start asking for money. If somebody asks for money for anything and you don’t know them properly, then they’re a scammer. Trust us.  They may ask for money to buy clothes, to feed their children, etc. They’ll probably make you feel guilty for not giving them the money, but that’s their game.

Asking for Personal Information

Asking for your personal information beyond your name and where you live? Pretty much a scam. Online dating will involve at least a small amount of tapping into your personal life since you need to get to know each other.  However, you don’t want that information sharing go overboard e.g. don’t share passwords, banking details, addresses, etc.

Sending Files

If somebody asks to send a file, then be careful. You probably shouldn’t open any file you are sent by somebody you don’t know. If you believe you must, then make sure that it is scanned with some sort of antimalware tool.

Asking For Intimate Photos

This doesn’t necessarily mean that they are scamming. People ask for intimate photos a lot when online dating. Just be careful. Think about all the other interactions that you’ve had with a person. If it feels wrong to send an intimate photo, then don’t. Of course, we recommend that you don’t need to send intimate photos to anybody at all. If you do, at least know them properly e.g. meet a few times, etc.

They Won’t Meet You in Person (or Interact Visually)

This is probably the biggest tell-tale sign that you may be dealing with a catfish trying to carry out a romance scam. These people will try to make you believe that they’re in love with you and that you’re in love with them, but they don’t meet you. They’ll do everything they can to avoid meeting you. Not just in person, but online too. This means nothing other than photos and maybe a phone call. No video chat or anything (they’ll make excuses). If you don’t know somebody like this, i.e. never properly met them, then you can’t possibly be in love with them.

They Tell You Not to Tell Others About Them

Catfish don’t want you to get wise to their game. They’ll say you’re in love with one another, but they don’t want others to know this. They know if you start to tell others, there’s a good chance the ‘others’ will try to convince you that what you have isn’t real.

Strategies to Outsmart a Catfish

So, you believe you’ve been catfished, or know somebody who may be? Well, we’ll now give you strategies that you can use to outsmart a catfish. Bear in mind that these strategies are not completely foolproof because catfish are smart. However, you’ll build up more of a complete idea of who you’re talking to.

Remember – technology is the key to outsmarting a catfish. They’re smart, but there’s just no way of getting around certain tools. You may need to use a variety of methods to try to identify who you’re talking to. Don’t worry, it is fine not to trust people online. Online romance scams are too prevalent for you not to. Only when you have met somebody and started to build a proper relationship can you rest easy.

Reverse Image Search

A catfish will always use fake photos. They are likely ‘playing’ multiple people, and they need to create a persona for each of them. Different ages, etc. So, take any photo they send you (or from their profile) and run it through Google Image Search. You’ll find all the places those images have been used online. It may be eye-opening. Test out a few images here.

Location Verification

IP Logger

Scammers will very rarely be located where they say they are located. So, you need to work out who they are. For this, you’ll need their IP address (basically a numerical representation of their location). This is, broadly, unique to them (with some exceptions). However, unless they’re hiding their location, it should always give you a general area. This is a multi-step process:

  1. Find something online you know they’ll be interested in reading.
  2. Take the link and put it into Use the link generated here.
  3. Make a note of the statistics tracking link that has been generated (keep this to yourself)
  4. Send the link to the catfish and wait for them to open it up.
  5. Head to the statistics tracking link, and it’ll tell you where they are located.

Background Checks

Always do research into the story of somebody you’re talking to. Background checks will help with this. If you have a name and location, they’ll be easy to find online. You’ll find social media profiles, phone numbers, news stories, etc. Look for the following:

  1. Details of addresses
  2. Phone numbers.
  3. Criminal background information
  4. Marriage Records
  5. Divorce records
  6. Birth dates
  7. Sexual offense records (this will include vitals such as their race, weight, and age)

The major problem you’ll face is that many catfish will take the persona of a real person and ‘pretend’ to be them. However, since their goal is to convince you you’re in love, they’ll need to deviate their story ever so slightly from the real thing. This means that you may end up spotting holes. Find those holes.

Remember – most background check information can be found for free online. You’ll rarely need to use one of the paid background check tools.

Lookup Phone Number

Looking up a phone number can tell you who owns that phone, where it is located, etc. This should give you vital information about the catfish. One of the best tools to use is


Hire a Private Investigator

Yes. This will be expensive but, honestly, the only way you’ll ever know for sure whether you’re dealing with a catfish is to have them investigated by a professional. If you are on the cusp of a scam, this may end up saving you more money in the long run.

Reporting and Prevention

Believe that you’re the potential victim of a scam or know somebody who is? Well, there are two things you’ll need to do first:

  1. Report the scammer to the local authorities, e.g. police. They may not do anything about it, since it is often not a priority. However, at least you’ll have the information logged with them.
  2. Tell the online platform. They may end up banning the account, potentially stopping future scams.

Online romance scams can be prevented by proper community vigilance. Always keeping an eye out for scammers and reporting them wherever necessary. The more they get reported, the fewer people they can scam. Don’t just ignore a suspected catfish. Tell others about them. It does help.

It may also be worth telling others how to outsmart a catfish (see what we recommended before). If other people have the tools to identify catfish, then they are less likely to be victims of a romance scam. We especially encourage people to use tools like to carry out background checks to check the identity of people met online.

Creating a Safer Online Dating Environment

Online dating will be around for a long time to come. It is an important part of the dating scene nowadays and, thankfully, most online interactions through these platforms are not scams. They are genuine people getting to know one another. Although, this doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t collectively take steps to create a safer online dating environment.

People need to discuss the potential for scams, particularly if you have a single elderly relative who is likely to turn to these online platforms in the hope of romance.

If you have fallen victim to a scam, or know somebody who has, then you have a responsibility to tell your story. We know it may seem embarrassing to share that you have fallen victim to a scammer. However, we promise you, people do. Even the smartest people in the world can fall for a scam if they don’t do their background work. It happens when you think you’re in love. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. You’re doing your duty by telling others about the scammers, and hopefully, this will give them what they need to know when it comes to how to outsmart a catfish.

If more people knew about the potential for scammers online, then the ability for online dating scams to work would go down. If you just told 2-3 people about them, then you have potentially saved 2-3 people money. It does help. All it takes is one person to want to make the change, and they can help so many people.


Online dating scams are rife. They’re becoming harder to spot, but knowing how to spot warning signs can help. This includes avoiding people who want to move a relationship too fast or ask for money. If you do believe somebody is running an online dating scam, then reporting the activity to the relevant authorities will help.

Whenever you are interacting with somebody online, always be cautious and skeptical of who they are. Even if they seem to be genuine, until you’ve met them in person and developed a proper relationship, you should never be sure you’re not a victim of a scam (although, don’t show too much outward paranoia).

Always be proactive about safeguarding yourself from online romance scams (catfish). The tips on this page will help a lot. Make sure you use platforms like to verify any phone numbers you’re given too. It will help to identify potential scammers. Put in the work, and report where necessary, and you can protect yourself and others from online romance scams.

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