Anyone who has ever had online dating experiences knows that there is a chance of being catfished, a term used to define luring another person into a relationship by means of a fictional online persona. We’ve had cases of such. One client was smart enough to think he was being scammed and instead of spending the money to fly across the country to be humiliated, he sent us out to check. What we found was so drastically different than what he was lead to believe, he actually felt bad for the woman.

But these cases can go beyond just disappointment especially in the age of sharing too much personal data, sexting and sharing risqué photos.

Get the Facts – With the rise of social media and online information, doing your own fact-checking has become easier than ever. Drop their name into Google and see what comes back. Use the search by image in Google to see if you come back with multiple Facebook pages of the same profile or stock photo imagery. A fake Facebook profile will be low on friends and often have few photos especially of other people in them, fun adventures or family outings. Obviously model photos should raise a red flag.

Verify further – Do a background check on the person but don’t be scammed by online background checking sites that claim to give you the criminal history of someone or pull all the data about them in minutes. That’s not how it works even for private investigators who have access directly to many records. Seek the help of a professional. Even if it costs a little, think about the potential cost of not doing one.

Protect your data – Don’t give out too much personal information. Even if it feels like you’re talking to someone you’ve known forever, you haven’t even met this individual in person so you really don’t know. Anyone can lie. Anyone can send fake photos and make up stories. Get to know them in person first before you give out too much info.

Meet Quickly – Catfishing cases rely on long drawn out online conversations. Some have even turned to the phone but you still really don’t know until you meet in person. If the person you are getting to know won’t even Skype with you, that should send up a red flag. Watch for constant excuses why they won’t meet up in person or even Skype. A common occurrence is dates being set for these things but constant change of plans and missed opportunities. If someone is really eager to get to know you and wants a relationship with you, they can’t wait to meet you but remember your safety and always meet in a public place and continue to do so until you get to know them better and feel comfortable. It’s easy to have a false sense of security while getting to know someone online.

Watch for sob stories – Is the person asking for money? Family problems? Work problems? These are red flags. Never, never send money or give out financial information to someone you have not met in person and even then be careful with your financial data. But the flip side is also true. If they are promising you riches, are model attractive, and have this amazing lifestyle…think about the old saying….if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.

Don’t Sext with Strangers – Don’t put anything in writing you wouldn’t want your mother to see because in a catfishing case, she might. The same goes with risqué photos. You really don’t know who you’re sending this information to and what they are going to do with it once it’s sent.

Ask Questions – Don’t be afraid of offending. If someone is pursuing you, you have a right to ask questions to make yourself feel comfortable and safe. If someone tells you they really like you, having you feel safe and comfortable will be a priority for them.

Listen to Your Gut – It’s as simple as that. If you are talking to someone online and you feel things aren’t adding up and there’s that rumble in your gut telling you something is off – it probably is. Don’t let the desperation of wanting a relationship or of missing out, block out common sense.

Tell someone you trust – If you aren’t sure what you’re feeling, run the situation by someone you trust and see how they feel about it. Often someone outside the situation can pick up the red flags you might be missing.