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MTV put catfishing on the map, a term used to describe a scenario where someone is lured into a relationship by means of a fictional online persona. It’s become super common, and despite us being aware of the dangers of online dating, people are still falling victim—and losing a boatload of cash in the process.
Here are the states where you’re most likely to fall prey to a catfish scam, and how much money you’ll likely lose along the way.
States you’re most likely to become a victim of catfishing
The top 5 states, based on a recent study, have been adjusted for population. According to the FBI’s 2016 romance fraud data, California has the largest quantity of reported catfish episodes per year at 1,595 (if it wasn’t reported, or if the victim didn’t lose money, it isn’t recorded in these stats). But California has a far larger number of people than some other states, so that number is misleading. When you adjust for population, Alaska tops the list. Turns out, fishing in Alaska is even more popular than we thought.
States you’re least likely to become a victim of catfishing
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Dakota
- Washington, DC
What’s notable here is that, when adjusted for population, the least likely states to become a victim of catfishing are all in the east. Take a look at the most likely states again. They’re all in the west. Why is the west more susceptible? That’s a good question…
How much money do people lose on average in catfish scams
We typically think of catfish scams as situations where people fall for someone online who is not who they say they are. In the end, it’s generally just the victim’s feelings that are hurt, right?
In the United States, the average victim lost more than $15,000 per catfish scam. In total, catfish scams cost victims in the U.S. $187 million each year. The states where victims lose the most money?
- New Mexico
If you’re a catfishing victim in Arkansas, on average you will lose a whopping $37,000 to your scammer.
The reason catfish scams are so valuable is that people form emotional connections with these fictitious personas. They fall in love, they give their heart. Despite the red flags, they can’t see past that connection, so when the person they love asks them for money to help with their financial troubles; or their divorce legal fees so they can be together; or money to pay for flights to come out and see them in person, the victims are far more likely to pay up. In some cases, these online relationships can go on for years before the request for money arrives. The bond the victim has formed, at that point, is incredibly deep.
A recent catfish scam example
Case in point: Diane Amanda Standish, a woman who found love on Match.com. Or, at least, she thought she had found love.
The man she believed was her soulmate was Jerry Michael, aka Darnell Michael, a German contractor developing a project in Bakersfield, California. Of course, Jerry was not who he said he was. The man in the photo was actually Flamur Gashi, a former Bosnian ambassador who was married with two children and had no idea his image was being used in a catfishing love scam.
The scammer had asked Diane for money to help with his divorce, among other things. Diane said she loved the man, and wanted to help any way she could. And she deemed Match.com a reputable dating site and so she “didn’t have a reason to question it.”
In total, she paid $270,000.
Then, the scammer vanished. And according to authorities, so has all her money. As with many of these cases, once you pay a scam, there’s little-to-no chance you will ever see that money again.
How to protect yourself from catfish scams
- Be on your guard. It goes without saying, but people have a tendency to fudge the truth online—be it a photo of themself from 10 years earlier or, in the worst of cases, an entirely fictitious character. If you go into every online dating conversation with this in mind, you’ll be more likely to spot red flags as they arrive.
- Do some digging. With today’s technology, it’s pretty easy to determine if someone is who they say they are. For example, if you have their email, you can search on Facebook for people via email to verify the account. If you know their profession, subtly quiz them on it. Google search the person’s name and the location they live to find evidence of them being a real person. If nothing shows up in all of your searches, this is a red flag.
- Never send any money. Catfish scammers will likely try to get you off the dating app and chat to you via text or email. This is where they can then start laying the foundation for money. Never give anyone you met online money, especially if all you’ve ever done is chat on the phone.
- Ask them to Skype or Facetime. If someone is unwilling to show their face, that’s a major red flag.
- Protect your own identity with Hotspot Shield. Hotspot Shield is a free app that keeps you anonymous online. This prevents hackers or scammers from tracking your every move.
- If something seems fishy, ask a friend. If you’re falling for someone and that emotional connection is strong, it can be tough to see through the mist. So, ask a friend to take a look with fresh, unattached eyes—and take their advice to heart. If they deem something to be wrong, take it seriously and do your due diligence. You don’t need to be untrusting, you just need to keep your eyes wide open.