One of my favourite programmes at the moment is Catfish, from MTV. Nev Schulman and his team help those wronged to face the perpetrator and find closure. Some instances of catfishing go on for over a decade, which made us delve a little deeper to discover ways in which you can avoid this common problem.

This guest post has been submitted to Sunday Woman Magazine to help our readers spot the warning signs of catfishing:

Catfishing is on the rise — according to new figures from the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau and reported by the BBC. There were 3,889 victims of the practice last year, with a record loss of £39 million handed over to scammers, up from £32 million in 2014. The agency revealed that there are over 350 reports of romance fraud a month, and the average victim is also reported to lose around £10,000.

For the uninitiated, catfishing is when an online scammer poses with a fake or stolen profile on social media to gain something from unsuspecting victims, usually for financial gain. One of the most commonly targeted types of online activity is online dating, where one person is actually a fraudster targeting someone who is simply looking for love.

If you are one of the millions of people in the UK with an online dating profile or social media presence, you may find yourself asking what you can do to be ready for a catfishing attempt. Well, you will be happy to know there are a few tell-tale signs for this kind of fraudster. Let’s take a closer look at our top anti-catfishing tips.

 Spot the warning signs of Catfishing

Watch out for one way traffic

A genuine online relationship is not a lot different to a real-life equivalent in that there will be a lot of back and forth discussion about what each person’s life has been like. When someone you’ve spoken to online asks a lot of questions about yourself without revealing much about themselves, the alarm bells should begin to sound. They might give basic details, but a lack of actual stories can be very suspicious.

They are unable to meet you or speak on the phone

As the likelihood is that a scammer will not be based in your local area, they won’t be able to meet you in person, so they will probably resist all efforts on your part to meet up. A popular excuse that is used is that they are working overseas, often as an engineer or another job that requires travel. Overseas catfishers will also resist the temptation to speak on the phone as their cover story might be exposed by an accent or poor English-speaking skills.

They present you with a dilemma involving money

Once they have established a rapport, scammers will make an attempt to extract money from you with a story about a dilemma they are facing. These tales are often concocted to play to the details you have revealed to them. For example, if you have children, they may come up with something about their own child needing to travel somewhere. They can often apply pressure by threatening to curtail your online relationship.

Their pictures are too good to be true

Catfishers need to look their best if they are going to scam you, and that’s why they will often use fake photos to make themselves as appealing as possible. These are often lifted from other sources — perhaps an actor or model — and can be traced with a simple reverse image search. To learn how to use this tool, take a look at Google’s tutorial.

They want to move the chat elsewhere

If you are speaking to someone through an online dating site or similar, you should be wary of anyone who immediately wants to move the conversation to texting, email or another chat app or programme. This can be a method of extracting details like email addresses or phone numbers from you without raising as much suspicion.

What can I do to protect myself?

Secure your social media

Social media is one of the most common sources of information for an online scammer, and an unsecured social media presence could give them an in.

David Brock, Managing Director at computer protection specialists LetUsFixIt, said: “One of the things we always advise people to do is to review every inch of their social media profile to make sure that it is set to an appropriate security level. There should be no important information visible on there, and caution should always be taken when posting any personal details online. If you think someone could use it, it’s best not to post it at all.”

Never give away your personal or financial details

No matter how affecting or trustworthy their story might seem, you should never give your personal or bank details to someone that you’ve never met in reality. Some online fraudsters are very good at what they do and can spin a believable yarn, so it’s not worth even taking the risk.

Use a reputable dating website

If you are thinking of using a dating site or are currently using one, you should make sure that it is reputable and there are steps you can take to report suspicious profiles to them. Only use the site’s messaging service, as this will ensure any requests for money or abuse will be recorded.

If you believe you are a victim of catfishing, you should report the offending profile to the social network or dating site that you are chatting on and cease all contact with them. The next step is to contact Action Fraud, the National Fraud and Cyber Crime Reporting Centre — alternatively, you can ring them on 0300 123 2040.