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High Alert: Warning Signs for Internet Dating

The Internet can be a sketchy place, learn what to look for to successfully navigate the online dating sphere.

Being deceived by someone you're Internet dating can happen to almost anyone. With Sister Wives' Meri Brown's recent confession that she was tricked into a steamy digital affair with a woman masquerading as a man, catfishing is once again in the news. Brown isn't the first—or last—celebrity or non-celebrity to be deceived into falling for someone who doesn't exist in real life.

The term catfish was coined by filmmaker and MTV star Nev Schulman for his 2010 documentary film that sparked the hit television series. Schulman's website defines the phrase simply as "a person who pretends to be someone they're not...particularly to pursue deceitful online romances." Mental health specialists cite a number of motivations for someone to develop a false identity, including low self-esteem, denial of reality, or an unhealthy desire for power over other people.

Fortunately, if you're online dating via Tinder or OkCupid, there's typically some pretty clear warning signs that you're falling for someone who's not what they seem. Join us as we uncover some of the biggest signs that you've caught a catfish.

1. Their Life Seems Absolutely Perfect (or Perfectly Cursed!)
If you've met a guy on Tinder who works a day job as an accountant and spends his evenings at Crossfit, there's a good chance he's telling the truth. It's a downright normal lifestyle for a 20- or 30-something single guy. However, if their lifestyle seems extravagant and filled with private jets or last-minute crises that prevent meeting up, it can be an indicator they're making it all up.

When writer Dori Hartley was catfished by a professional con artist named Teresa, the con claimed to be a handsome young man who was dying of leukemia. If your catfish's life just seems too tragic or impossibly good to be true, your gut instinct may be correct.

2. They're Really Ridiculously Good Looking
Very few catfish steal the photos of someone who is average or below-average in appearance. Most often, they'll steal photos that belong to aspiring models, musicians, or other people who are extraordinarily attractive by most people's standards. This happens far more often then you might think! According to VentureBeat, at least 1 in 10 online profiles are fake or contain fake images.

The simplest way to ensure you're not going to fall for someone who's using stolen pictures on their internet dating profile is to make a policy of always reverse Google searching images as soon as you match on Tinder or another site. When you begin falling for someone, you can lose your ability to be objective. Ensuring the pictures haven't been stolen is just one part of a smart, safety-driven approach to dating online.

3. They Contact You Out of Nowhere
Unfortunately, Catfish relationships don't always originate on internet dating websites. A fair amount of catfish victims are contacted out of the blue on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or other major social media networks. They may claim to have mutual friends in common, or that they discovered you in an unlikely way, such as by discovering your artwork in a gallery.

A catfish who contacts you out of nowhere could be an innocent admirer. It also could be the sign of someone you know in real life in disguise, or a professional con artist. Blogger Suzie the Single Dating Diva was randomly contacted by a "very attractive" man on Facebook who seemed to get too attached very quickly. While she quickly discovered cracks in his story, she cautions other women against falling for the same. Warning signs of a social media catfish, according to Suzie, can include: a low number of friends or followers, immediate interest or emotional investment, refusals to meet in real life or video chat, and requests for money.

4. They're Aggressively Trying to Deepen the Relationship
When it comes to catfish psychology, most perpetrators thrive on the attention they receive from their online relationships. It doesn't matter that the entire connection is built on a web of lies. Hours-long text conversations, phone chats, and email exchanges all feed the catfish's need for attention. If you're too insistent on trying to meet up or refuse to deepen the connection before meeting in-person, the catfish won't be successful. This is why someone who is aggressive about instigating a deep connection, while being hesitant about meeting up, could likely be a catfish.

One user of Reddit reported a friend fell into a months-long relationship with someone who immediately called her "beautiful and charming." Whenever she attempted to verify their identity via Skype or video chat, the catfish would float excuses like "my computer microphone is broken." If your internet dating interest is more interested in hours-long phone chats and always has one excuse or another about a video call or in-person meeting, it's a pretty clear red flag.

5. Your Gut Says Something is Off
People who get catfished aren't unintelligent. They're just like you or me; normal, educated individuals who are hoping to make a lasting connection via online dating. There's a good chance that in the early stages of the deceptive relationship, they noticed one or more red flags and proceeded to ignore their gut instincts.

In one real-life catfishing incidence, a professional athlete was tricked by a woman who systemically stole someone else's social media content. It took months for him to get tired of her continual stream of excuses about why she couldn't meet up. When it comes to internet dating, following your instincts is probably the most important piece of safety advice you can ever hear. If someone seems too good or unusual to be true, it might be because they don't actually exist.

If you're feeling discouraged about online dating, don't be. Fortunately, 90 percent of online profiles represent real people. Your chances of finding love on Tinder, OkCupid or another site are still excellent. However, by keeping the top signs of a catfish in mind, you can avoid heartbreak and deception.

Have you ever been catfished? If so, share your story!

Jasmine Gordon

Jasmine Gordon is a freelance writer who lives in the gorgeous rain forest of NW Washington state. Her writing on love, relationships and technology has appeared on XoJane, Time.com, and elsewhere.

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