Catfishing (Catfishing is generally when a person takes information and images from other people, and then uses them to create a fake identity for themselves. In some cases, a catfisher steals another individual’s complete identity—including their image, date of birth, and geographical location—and pretends that it is their own)
Whatever you want to call it, it amounts to the same objective, to relieve you or the victim of your money, whether that be by payment or investment.
We have had a number of these cases over recent months, one in particular was quite elaborate with a fake passport and other documents being used.
The latest case was just prior to Christmas 2021. A female asked if we could conduct an investigation into a male she had ‘met’ online via a dating app.
Obviously, some alarm bells must have been ringing for the lady in question to contact us. As she explained the circumstances surrounding her enquiry the alarms bells started going off in my head.
The ‘male’ had a profile with several images of ‘him.’ It gave his name and location in the USA. He was described as an entrepreneur and named the organisation for which he was allegedly working. Nothing sinister in that?
This person (and it could be more than one person in some cases) claimed to be from the USA but was at the time in a European country, having flown there on his private jet. This is when the big bell started to clang! They had suggested that the client cancel their dating app subscription and only contact them via phone or email. When a video call was suggested by our client this was dismissed straight away, claiming poor Wi-Fi, phone signal etc. (The person has a private jet but cannot get a Wi-Fi signal strong enough to support a video call).
We had the client send us all the details she had on this apparent suitor. We received images, a name, a business that the person was ‘involved’ in and a phone number.
We set to work straight away. The phone number was checked and found to be a non-existent number. Scammers use systems that allow them to have any number display on your mobile phone. We have all seen this when we have received cold calls from an apparent local number, and it turns out to be a call centre in India or the Philippines.
The images that had been sent to the client were scrutinised for clues and a reverse image search was conducted. This identified the real person in the images. This person did not match the name of the person given to our client. This was also checked. The person they were claiming to be died in the 1960’s.
The next thing we checked was the company that the person claimed to be ‘involved’ with. The company name was very close to a legitimate company of the same name all except the Limited part. The fake company dealt with ‘finances’ and investments, especially Crypto currency.
A check of companies house and a general search revealed no such company existed in the UK. On the fake company website were some indicators that this was fake.
There was no actual office address (not unusual in this day and age). There was no actual contact phone number. The only way to contact the company was by filling in your details on the CONTACT form, which then gave the fraudsters enough information for them to start pursuing a new victim. Also, on the company website under the Documents Tab at the bottom was a copy of the company incorporation document*.
* A Certificate of Incorporation is a legal document that shows that you have formed and registered your limited company with Companies House. It shows the name of your company, its registered number, the date it was incorporated, and where the company’s registered office is located.
This document was interrogated, and the details were found to be 100% fake. The document was blurred not allowing most of the details to be seen. The company number was fake and did not exist. There were no directors details nor was there a registered address.
Once we had gathered our evidence we went back to the client and presented it, informing them that we believed wholeheartedly that this was a scam/fraud/catfish scenario, and not a sophisticated one. We advised the client that if they chose to continue in the belief that this was a genuine contact from a suitor they should not part with any money as we believed that this would be the next stage in the process of the fraudster.
That evening we received an email from the client stating that the person had suggested they invest a large amount of cash in a charity his company was ‘involved’ with. The client suggested that they would need to have details of the charity to do some due diligence. This was met with anger initially, with the person claiming to be insulted and re-emphasising they had a private jet and travelled internationally, they were an honest person. The person said they needed time to reassess whether they wanted to remain committed to the relationship (putting a guilt trip on our client), considering their integrity had been questioned this early in the relationship (the irony was not lost on us). We advised our client that we were surprised Crypto currency had not been mentioned as a possible investment opportunity which seems to be a common lure for a lot of these types of frauds. Within 24 hours our client contacted us and said the person had given it a lot of thought, and they were prepared to overlook the challenge to their integrity but then tried to get our client to invest in Crypto Currency! Needless to say, our client, blocked, deleted, and reported the details of this ‘person.’
These groups or people use all sorts of means to get money out of unsuspecting victims, often preying on those that are lonely, or single, or both.
If you use dating apps, stick to using the messaging service until you have met the person and are comfortable with who they are.
Never part with any money. Ask yourself this; if you needed money urgently, would you contact a perfect stranger or would you ask a family member or friend?
Ask if they are on social media (not everyone is). Look at posts, friends, photos. Ask for a video call (this usually sorts the wheat from the chaff so to speak).