How to Catch a Catfish Scammer: A Step-by-Step Guide
Catfishing is hardly new, but the proliferation of online dating made the practice extremely easy and popular.
Just to be clear, "catfishing" here refers to a scam where the 'catfish' creates a fictitious online identity and seeks out online relationships, esp. romantic ones, but also to solicit donations and such. Most catfish just want to see if they can get away with being someone else online, but some have far more nefarious purposes.
Recently, on reddit, a user came to the subreddit /r/catfish seeking help to unmask a long-term suspected catfish, who first went by Vanessa B, then Vanessa N, then Vanessa C, and currently, Venessa P. This is her FB profile.
(The various surnames had been suppressed, even though they are very likely fake names)
Long Tales of Woe
According to the original poster on Reddit, this person had claimed almost every woe possible under the sun, all in the great state of Montana.
This person has scammed my whole town for money. They have changed their names 4 times on Facebook...
...After a few years the account magically transformed into a 20 something year old with 3 kids and a lot of issues. The person on the account claims to have been raped by 10 different people, house set on fire, assaulted, miscarriage, brain tumors, heart surgery. You name it, it's happened. Every claim has been followed by a GoFundMe that has had hundreds of dollars donated...
...She has my whole town added but not one person has met her. She claims to have had a child last year but no pregnancy pictures, no hospital pictures, nothing. No one has tagged her in photos....
...She claims to work at a vet office in Whitefish Montana, but when I contacted them they said they have no one by that name working there...
This shows classic signs of being a catfish, such as a person nobody in town had ever met, a job that can't be verified, and so on. But who is this mystery person in the photo? We will need a few MORE photos to be sure.
Not much to go on here
Other than this woman is pretty and use a lot of hair bleach... not much we can tell from this photo. Nothing shows up on the various reverse image search engines.
Let's try another photo, of a pretty famous franchise restaurant...
Now We're Getting to Twin Peaks...
For those of you who recognized the outfit, these are the hostesses and waitresses of a Twin Peaks restaurant franchise, a competitor to Hooters. This kind of "casual sports bar with attractive waitresses" is colloquially known as a "breastaurant". And the blonde woman in the middle matches the earlier picture.
Given that there are Twin Peaks restaurants in Montana, we don't have enough information to rule in or rule out this person, but this is another data point to find who is the real woman in the photo.
Turns out, the clue was in front of us all along... back in the first picture.
Breakthrough With Combination of Keywords
Remember back in the first picture, there's a nickname there that says "Barbie"?
Searching for "Barbie" and "Twin Peaks" brought me to this photo
Okay, we're getting warm!
We are close, as we're narrowing down the search terms. And searching for the keywords "barbie OKC twin peaks" got me this result... and voila, we have the same woman!
We're getting close!
The Twitter account exists, but the linked Facebook account went to a DIFFERENT RedneckBarbie.
Fortunately, searching Instagram brought us to the right woman, and we can confirm this by finding the other photos in the Instagram feed, ALL of them.
We have positively identified the woman in the picture (NOT counting the sunglasses one, that's TOTALLY irrelevant) as Barbie (REDACTED) who lives and works in Oklahoma. She has nothing to do with Montana, and is NOT named Vanessa. She has a steady partner and has more than one kids.
This conclusively proves that the suspected catfish is indeed, a catfish, and stole pictures from TheOnly.RedneckBarbie's feed.
So what do you do when you caught a catfish in the act? According to Datingadvice, here are four things you should do immediately
1. Block them
Cut contact with the catfish immediately and permanently.
2. Hide yourself
Verify your own privacy settings are not revealing more than it should, like phone numbers, relative's names, and so on.
3. Report them
Doesn't matter if it's a dating site, social media site, or even GoFundMe. Report any suspicious activity. Once the complaints reach a certain level, the profile will be subject to verification, and as they say, the jig's up. If you lost any money, report to local police, as well as FBI's IC3.
4. Be wary in the future
If you are nagging doubts in the back of your head about a person, you should heed that warning. Catfish always leave out certain holes in his or her story, and you may sense it even if you can't verbalize it.
Now, some tips on spotting a catfish without all this Googling.
Tips on Spotting a Catfish
If you are in constant communication with a suspected catfish, the easiest way to poke a hole in the lie is to ask for verification. Some possibilities are:
- Post a photo of you holding up today's local newspaper
- Write down today date and post a selfie with you holding the note visible in the camera
However, I would recommend AGAINST doing this, since this would immediately signal them that you've seen through their scam. You should do this when you are trying to help someone ELSE who is getting deceived, and you need to get the scammer to cut contact ASAP, and move onto someone else who's more gullible. Though there are braver catfish who will instead, try to gaslight you by making you feel ridiculous for doubting him/her.
I'll explain what I recommend at the end. In the meanwhile, here are a few warning signs of a catfish.
- They contact you first
- They have very sparse profiles yet are PERFECT man/woman (esp. romance catfish) for you (almost always white, Catholic, widowed, graduate or PhD)
- Just handful of photos, but all model gorgeous
- Their photos turn out to be stolen/copied off someone else
- Bad grammar and spelling (or alternate spelling, like "programme", "sceptic", etc. even though they claim to be American born and raised)
- Copypasta greetings and replies of standard script
- Extremely short friends list, little if any interaction in the comments (possible sockpuppet accounts)
- Obsessed with you (who gets obsessed with someone who they never met? Scammers and psychotics)
- Luck so bad, s/he shouldn't be alive at all (and thus, looking for your $$$ help)
- They have weird jobs that require travel (military, NGO, Doctors w/o Borders, contractors, salesmen, etc.)
- They can't call or Skype or Facetime, always message and text only
- They can NEVER meet in real life, always SOMETHING came up
- They have virtually no digital footprint other than maybe one or two social media profiles in addition to their dating profile, and friends list that don't seem to overlap.
- They don't ever volunteer stuff about their friends, what happened in their day, and so on. Instead, they ended up talking about YOUR day instead.
- Their stories don't add up, after they've told so many tales... they can't even keep them straight.
So what do you do with a catfish?
According to Alan Levine, perhaps you should scambait them instead, and waste as much of their time as you can. It is an intriguing idea if you have the time. After all, they can just go right back up on the site and make another profile, if you report one and got one shut down. Right? But if you instead, waste a catfish's time, that's time s/he can't spend on scamming someone else.
Who knows, maybe you can leave the world a better place.