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How to spot a catfish from someone who has caught dozens

Michele Sponagle is a prolific lifestyle journalist who has written extensively on a wide range of topics, from the art of revenge to the thrill of tracking polar bears in Canada's far north. When she's not writing, she's likely travelin...

The tell-tale signs your online love interest is scamming you

If you’re looking for love online, chances are very high that you will come across at least one catfish. A catfish is the lowest form of life on a dating site. As a woman who has gone online to find love a number of times, I’m far too familiar with catfish and their tactics. My latest foray into cyber dating was a minefield. Along with very nice men that weren’t necessarily what I was looking for, I ran into unsavory types whose main goal was to find women to exploit.

My first catfish almost had me hooked. Charming and handsome, he seemed to have it all, but when I caught him in a bold-faced lie, he confessed he was looking for a woman to finance his schooling. The photos and the profiles were fakes. Nothing about him was real. That experience sharpened my catfish-spotting skills and I was able to catch about two dozen. I reported them to the administrators of whatever dating site they were using.

If you are connecting with strangers through online dating sites, you need to know how to spot catfish in order to protect your heart and your assets. After a while, you’ll notice behavior patterns. A big red flag is the accelerated pace at which your online relationship progresses.

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After exchanging a few messages, a catfish will already be spilling their guts about how much they like you, as well as sharing their life story, often tragic, in an attempt to tap into the wealth of compassion women are famous for.

You may also notice that the spelling and grammar is wonky. Catfish are worldwide, and not all are English speakers. Poor spelling and grammar is not enough alone to pull the plug, but it is suspicious especially when coupled with his alleged profession and education level.

Some common catfish occupations I came across included: engineers, international businessmen, gold/gem trader and real estate developer and architect. A catfish is not likely to have a run-of-the-mill job. They tend to be more grandiose in how they present themselves to heighten their appeal.

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I’ve also noticed that catfish offer a ton of excuses about a) why they can’t Skype or FaceTime with you; and b) why they can’t meet in person. Obviously, they can’t do either since they’d be caught in their lies. Within a month or so of chatting, someone should be willing to move the relationship offline somehow — on the phone, video chatting or a meet ’n greet over coffee. If there’s resistance, I’d be very suspicious.

Ask plenty of questions of someone you might be interested in. Get into specifics, like where they went to school. One guy I talked to said he went to a certain university for architecture. After a quick online search, I discovered it never offered that program. It’s these kinds of details that trip up catfish. They assume you’re not going to check their facts, but you need to do it.

Photos offer important clues, too. Use to do an image search. Catfish are thieves who steal other people’s photos and pass them off as their own. I did this for a military guy I was talking to and the photo he was using popped up on a scam-busting site. There are a few you can use, including:, or And, if someone online asks you for money, regardless of the reason, abandon ship. This is usually a sign of bad things to come.

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I finally did meet a wonderful guy on an online dating site four years ago. It has been full speed ahead since. I do believe there are good people out there but I think we allow our hearts to run ahead of our heads. We want to believe. But it’s silly to trust someone right off the bat. Trust is something that needs to be earned, not given freely without proof of truth to back it up.

Happy fishing.

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