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Friday, Feb 07 2014 07:00 PM

ACTION LINE: Don't fall prey to a 'catphisher'

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    By Contributed photo

    Blair Looney, president and CEO of Better Business Bureau of Central California.

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BY BLAIR LOONEY Contributing columnist

Dear Action Line: Two months ago I was contacted by a stranger on an online dating site. His name was Joshua, and he seemed like the perfect catch.

The pictures on his profile showed a very presentable man with a 9-year-old daughter. Through the messages we shared, I sensed that he was a devoted father and a compassionate man.

After sharing many conversations through instant messaging and by phone, Josh told me he loved me and spoke of our future together. Although this made me feel uncomfortable, I still felt that he was the perfect catch.

During one of our conversations he asked for my home address. Several days later I received a delivery of roses and a children's bible. This really touched my heart, because my daughter is struggling with reading, so here was something that we could read together and grow spiritually.

Josh called me one night and told me he was at the hospital with his daughter. He said his daughter had a rare disease and that he couldn't cover the cost of treatment, so he pleaded that I send him $3,500 immediately.

I asked Josh for the name of the hospital, but he wouldn't give me the name and started to act defensively. I told Josh that I needed time to get the money, but he was very pushy that I get him the money immediately. I felt that something was not right. What would you recommend in a situation like this?

 

Dear Reader: This particular situation sounds like a catphishing scam, where someone creates a false identity by using social media to pursue deceptive online romances. With the popularity of social media and online dating, these scams can happen to anyone. When victims send money to the scammer, the person disappears and cannot be contacted. Unfortunately, these scammers can be hard to find since the information given to the victim is all based on a lie. It's more important than ever before to know the signs to watch out for.

Typically the scammer:

* Is never able to meet you in person.

* Is quick to develop the relationship and talk of love.

* Has a young child, typically between the ages of 5 and 12.

* Has a sudden emergency, often involving the child's health.

* Has a career or life circumstance that takes him or her overseas (i.e. military).

* Has a reason he or she cannot get money and needs your help (i.e. hospital bills, airfare, car problems).

* Asks you to leave the dating website to continue your conversation through email or IM, as this allows fraudsters to carry out their scam without the dating site having a record of your encounter.

-- Blair Looney is president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Central California. Send your consumer concerns, questions and problems to Action Line at the Better Business Bureau, 1601 H St., Suite 101, Bakersfield, CA 93301 or info@cencal.bbb.org.

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