Online dating fraud up 40% over the last 18 months – how can you tell if you are being catfished?


Written by Kaia Vincent
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How can you tell if you are being catfished

It’s Sunday morning and as I routinely check my Instagram account, I see I’ve had a connection request from a ‘John David’, who from his portfolio of posts looks like a US service man. As I have no idea who John is and don’t know any US Service men, I’m quite sure this is a catfish lure.

But how can you tell if you are being catfished?

Catfishing is a highly lucrative criminal activity, with fraudsters preying on people who may be going through vulnerable and lonely times – they know these people want a companion to bring some joy and love to their lives so manipulate this situation to their advantage.

63% of social media users have been a victim of catfishing at least once

An article from Mind Body Green suggests that women and middle aged people are more likely to fall for catfishes than people of other genders and ages. People with the following traits are also most likely to get catfished:

  • Romantics
  • Anxious and negative-thinking people
  • Sensation-seeking people
  • Impulsive people
  • Addictive personalities
  • Co-dependent tendencies

A review published by the Clinical Practice & Epidemiology highlighted that over half of social media users (63%) have been a victim of catfishing at least once.

Action Fraud, a national fraud and cybercrime reporting centre, estimates losses to romance fraud – reached £73.9 million during the pandemic period, with Action Fraud receiving nearly 8000 reports.  The number of cases is suggested to be much higher because many victims are too embarrassed to come forward.

Why do people fall for catfishing?

You may think, why are people so gullible! That would never happen to me.  Anyone can work out this is a hoax.  But if you’re lonely and vulnerable, the ‘loving’ attention these fraudsters deliver can have the desired effect.

If you look at the neuroscience behind ‘love’ it’s a powerful thing.  According to another article in Mind Body Green, the neurochemical cocktail can be so powerful that you can become blinded to the red flags in the relationship because you so badly want to be with the person.  You don’t want to see the obvious that is a one-sided ‘fake’ relationship.

Throughout the pandemic, divorce, separation, and those thinking about leaving their partner or spouse has escalated. It’s so important that we check-in on friends and family members to make sure they are OK and ensure they have not started to fall victim to these crimes.

Sussex Police provide some informative insight into romance fraud and some specific case studies

How can you tell if you or someone you know is being catfished?

There is a tool that the Brevity team sometimes uses to check the origin of an image or to ensure that our clients’ images are not being used by anyone else. Usage is free.

It’s call Google reverse image look-up.

Basically, Google scans the internet for an image that you upload. It then provides links to any areas of the internet where this actual photo is displayed.

So along with using the reverse image look-up tool for business purposes, it can equally be used for checking out any new connection requests on Instagram or other social media platforms to confirm their authenticity.

And that’s exactly what I did for John David because I saw he was already following over 1000 people and had 117 followers, most of whom were women and some of those women were potentially vulnerable as they were starting to like ‘his’ posts.

How to use the reverse image search function in Google

Use Google’s reverse image search tool.  Simply go to and then upload your image.  For mobile, I also found another tool which was extremely easy to use and did identify the identity of ‘John David’. Scroll down to see use of the Google Reverse Image Look-up.

Click on the camera icon

Search by image

And then upload the image by clicking ‘choose file’

After a minute or so, Google will come back as to where else your photo is available online.

As an example, I used this image of me:

And Google reverse look-up found these instances of the image.

[Images sourced from Google]

So, was John David real?

After using the reverse look-up search functionality to investigate, I found that the images were of a Gen. David M Rodriguez and some of the images had been swiped from a news item on a US Army site.  Gen. David M Rodriguez has a Wikipedia page and there are many other images of him available online.

I’ll never know ‘John David’s’ reason for trying to connect with me because he’s been blocked and reported to Instagram.  But I’m guessing he was catfishing.

Sadly, with the ease of setting up any social media account, ‘John’ will simply close one fake account and open another.  It’s a shame that these social media giants can’t make it more difficult to set-up.

I’d urge everyone to share this article so people understand the ability to reverse look-up images.  It doesn’t mean that just because you don’t find the person they are genuine but it means that you’re taking steps to minimise the risk.

If you need some calm and clarity when it comes to marketing and PR, give Brevity call on Basingstoke 01256 53600 or Brighton 01273 286771 to arrange a free Discovery Call.