Dear Annie: In the current COVID-19 crisis, a lot of people are online dating. I’ve never done it before but am interested in trying it. The problem is, I am having a hard time believing people are who they say they are on their profiles, because of all the catfish stories I’ve heard about. How do I find a relationship if I have doubts about the person on the dating site? — First-Time Online Dating Doubter
Dear Doubter: You’re wise to be wary. Online dating is a wonderful tool, but there are always going to be some malicious actors who use it as a weapon. Fortunately, you can take steps to protect yourself.
First, do your research. When you’re messaging with someone on a dating site, Google their name and see if they have social-media accounts. Paste or upload their profile photo to Google’s “Search by Image” page to make sure they didn’t take the photo from somewhere else on the internet.
Second, the standard advice would be to go on a date as soon as possible — in a safe, public place. The quarantine version of that is to video-chat. This is not only smart for avoiding catfishing; it also helps you avoid wasting time chatting online with someone with whom you may have no chemistry.
Last, trust your gut. If something seems off, it probably is. There are plenty of fish in the sea who aren’t up to anything fishy.
More scam tips
Dear Annie: I would like to add to the warning from “Sad Daughter,” regarding scams on older people like her parents. I have worked in financial services for 35 years, and over the last several years, these scams have grown exponentially. Her parents should not be embarrassed. I have seen some very smart, competent people taken by these professional crooks. Everyone needs to be aware that these con artists come up with new scams all the time, and anyone can be vulnerable to the right story that plays on such emotions as love and fear.
Please let your readers know that the biggest red flag when being conned is the word “cash.” When that word is used, hang up the phone. I guarantee, 100% of the time, it is a scam. No one moves cash anymore. The firm I work for transfers millions of dollars every day to individuals, corporations, charities, the Social Security Administration, the IRS and, in a few cases, law enforcement. None of the entities I have mentioned will ever ask you for cash, nor would we ever be willing to send untraceable cash. Con artists and other crooks are the only ones who like to use cash.
Another caution is that some sophisticated crooks set up phony bank accounts. They might use a friend’s or relative’s name with one letter changed — like a different middle initial — which is hard to catch.
The fact that the con artist wants an electronic transfer to an account does not mean it is legitimate, and you still need to proceed with caution. — Have Seen Too Much of It
Dear Seen Too Much: Fraud has only gotten worse during the pandemic, and your letter is a helpful reminder to stay vigilant. In addition to asking for cash, scammers often seek payment via gift cards, which can be as untraceable as cash.
Send your questions for Annie Lane to firstname.lastname@example.org.