Digital Love Is Trending
Millions of Americans log onto online dating websites every year, hoping for love at first like.
In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, a total of 15 percent of American adults in 2015 reported that they have used an online dating site or app, up 4 percent from 2013. Unfortunately, hopeful lovers are not the only people logging in. Joining them are online scammers.
As a nation, we lost more than $86 million to “Romance Scam” or “Confidence Fraud” in 2014, the most recent figures available, according to the Internet Crime Complaint Center. The organization also reported that complaints involving social media have quadrupled over the last five years.
Those who fall victim to these scams believe they are in a relationship with someone who is trustworthy, without ever meeting them in person. Catfishing, the act of luring someone into a relationship through the means of a fake online persona, has now muddied the internet, particularly for those looking for love online. Not surprisingly, social media has become a popular platform for these criminals.
“Most social media platforms probably don’t like to admit the fact that they have a high number of fake accounts,” says cybersecurity expert and CEO of Digijaks, Alan Silberberg. He says that on a platform such as Facebook, the number of fake accounts might be as high as 30 percent.
“There is software that’s made by companies both in the United States and outside. The software is designed to make perfect fake social media accounts that look really hard to tell from the actual thing,” says Silberberg.
Digital dating has had a boom on mobile over the last few years as well. The Pew Research Center reports that in 2015, 9 percent of American adults have ever used a dating app on their cell phone, compared to 3 percent in 2013. This is nearly a threefold increase. So why haven’t social media platforms established stronger security for online and mobile daters? The bottom line is that secure digital dating boils down to the problem of fake accounts.
“Until they can ban the fake accounts, it’s really hard to deal with the other side of it because the fake accounts drive so much of this. However there are many social media sites, especially ones that are geared toward kids, that really have not created strong policies about this and or need to improve upon it,” says Silberberg.
Needless to say,with a vast number of fake accounts lurking on the internet, it doesn’t take much to get reeled in. However, how does the catfish keep its bait hooked and why? Even further, why does the catfished stay hooked? Surprisingly, the answer as to why both victim and prey stay hooked up is the same.
As cliche as it sounds, love, or at least the idea of it, is what keeps both parties on either end of the hook.
“For years the number one search term…every year at the end of the year Google puts out a list…is what is love?” says Julie Spira, Cyber-dating expert and author of “The Perils of Cyber-Dating.”
“If that’s the number one search term we know that the desire to be in love is so strong and powerful and if someone can come in and be that knight in white armor and that perfect princess and that dream girl, you get so caught up with being in love with love rather than meeting the person IRL (in real life),” says Spira.
So the catfish often plays it smart; stepping in as that knight in armor or that perfect princess. More often than not, the victim is at a more vulnerable position in their life and the catfish gives his victim a false sense of hope and satisfaction. Often times, the catfish eventually ends up mentally fooling themselves too by feeding their desire for human relationship.
“It would appear to be human nature that the less you know about someone, the more you fill in those details with perfection,” says Max Joseph, co-host of MTV’s hit show "Catfish".
Explaining the motivation behind catfishing is not that simple, though.
“Everyone’s motivation is different. There could be somebody looking for financial gain and there could be somebody that’s just really incredibly lonely and insecure,” says Spira.
Although there are various motivating factors driving people to head online for love, the resulting change that has occurred is the loss of online dating’s stigma. Last year, Pew Research found that 59 percent of U.S. adults agree with the statement that “online dating is a good way to meet people,” compared to 44 percent in 2005.
The digital divide in terms of age when it comes to digital dating seems to be closing in as well, according to the study.
Not only has the number of 18 to 24-year-olds who report having used online dating tripled from 2013 to 2015, but the number of 55 to 64-year-olds who use online dating has also doubled from 6 percent in 2013 to 12 percent in 2015.
As previously mentioned, the overall increase in online dating usage has coincided with an increase in the use of mobile dating apps. For the 18 to 24-year old age group, this number has had a fourfold increase from 5 percent in 2013 to 22 percent in 2015.
So by now you’re probably questioning the next click you make with your mouse or the next swipe you make with your finger -- and rightfully so. But for those who wish to continue swiping, there are certain red flags that can help keep -- or get you -- off the hook.
OFF THE HOOK
Pew Research reports that 41 percent of Americans in 2015 knew someone who used online dating. In addition, 29 percent know someone who has met a long-term partner online. So one thing is clear: we have become the generation of clickers and swipers. Swiping right for a shot at love, and left for an absolute “no.”
So what are some signs to look for to determine whether your online crush is really who he says he is or if he is just waiting for someone to bite their bait?
“If the person won’t videochat with you, they’re probably catfishing you. There’s no good excuse anymore,” says Joseph from MTV.
He says that if the other person is reluctant to meet, that is also a huge sign of catfishing.
“If it’s too good to be true, then they’re probably a catfish,” he says.
The bottom line is to take note of red flags such as continuously changing numbers and excuses to not meet in person or video chat. Extremely hyped-up personas such as a profile claiming to be a model should raise suspicion as well. Analyzing red flags along with using strong judgement can help determine whether the person at the other end is really who they say they are.
“With online dating, number one, we hope, we pray that there is truth in advertising in online dating profiles. Nobody wants to be catfished,” says Spira.
She agrees with Joseph in that if a profile seems to be the profile from our greatest fantasies and dreams, it is probably a good idea to question it.
“If it looks too good to be true, buyer beware.” says Spira. “So if you see stock photos of somebody that just looks like a model and they’re just so handsome and so gorgeous, what I tell people to do is take those photos and put them into Google Image Reverse search and see who they really are.”
As for the future of online and mobile dating, Spira describes it as a numbers game that is “growing in every way.”
“The more people that are online, you’re going to find more people that are catfishing and you’re going to find an equal amount of many more people that are finding success online,” she says.
While perhaps just a few years ago, digital dating was seen as taboo, it is obvious that today this is no longer the case.
“There is a gold rush into the space and we’re kind of excited about it. We’re kind of figuring out all the different ways we can exploit new medium for meeting loved ones and things,” says Joseph.
The trick is letting the right hook reel you in.
Catfishing: Diving deeper
Lacey Franks and Alyssa Tirone share the story of how they were both catfished by the same person for six years. (Click here if audio does not play.)
Stephanie Michele launched Our Connection Project and No Text or Next to help others navigate the digital world. She shares her catfishing story which prompted her to take action.(Click here if audio does not play.)
David McClellan co-founded socialcatfish.com to help people verify online profiles and information. Think of it as a catfish private investigator. (Click here if audio does not play.)
Swiping Forward: Safer ways to find digital dates.
For those who wish to explore the realms of digital dating, don't give up just yet. As technology advances, new tools are emerging to help keep us safe online or on mobile. William de Vogelaere has created Flash Dating - a new app which helps to prevent catfishing- so users can now swipe a little more at ease.
(Click here if video does not play.)
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