The Scoop: Each year, a significant number of singles lose money to romance scams — and many more are too ashamed to report that they’ve been duped. Social Catfish helps online daters prevent fraud by providing tools to verify information about potential partners, including their name, photos, email address, profile information, and more. The service offers singles access to vetted data and allows them to move forward with dates while maintaining their peace of mind.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported a significant increase in romance scam complaints from 2019 to 2020. In 2020, victims of those scams reported a combined loss of $304 million — and that number likely isn’t accurate because of the shame and stigma that keep many victims from coming forward.
Romance scammers typically create fake profiles on dating apps or social media platforms to lure others into contacting them. Many fraudsters post that they live abroad or provide reasons why they can’t meet their victims face to face. Once they’ve developed a relationship, scammers typically ask for money.
The FTC reports that money requests often purport to cover travel expenses, medical bills, gambling debts, or customs fees for items. They may ask victims to wire money to bank accounts or provide funds through gift cards or reloadable credit cards.
Identifying those scammers can be difficult as their profiles are designed for deception. That’s why many online daters turn to Social Catfish to help them authenticate singles before they connect. The platform offers tools that allow users to investigate the legitimacy of email addresses, phone numbers, online profiles, and even photos.
Most singles don’t think they’ll fall prey to romance scams. However, as these scams become more sophisticated, it’s important to remain vigilant online — even if a potential partner seems perfect. Social Catfish can determine if that perfection, including good looks, a great job, and a strong connection, is genuine or if it indicates someone is a scammer.
Both men and women turn to the Social Catfish to verify the identities of people they meet online. Most customers range in age from 30 to 65. They turn to the platform to authenticate other people, and some even check to see if their own identities have been stolen or to verify people they meet in person.
“I care about having an impact on people. It’s fulfilling to have a staff and a huge number of people coming to us online,” said David McClellan, President of Social Catfish. “It feels good to have a service that provides something like this — people are embarrassed, and we’re grateful to be able to help them out.”
Verifying User Information Provides Peace of Mind
Seven years ago, David found that the internet was starting to feel like the Wild West. Users could pretend to be whomever they wanted, and there were few ways to determine if they were telling the truth.
At first, he started posting articles about common types of scams and how to avoid them. Those articles struck a nerve, and each piece began receiving hundreds of comments from scam victims who wanted to share their stories and protect others from meeting the same fate.
“All of these people were leaving comments about needing help, saying, ‘I’m talking to this person,’ or ‘I’ve given this person a ton of money,’” David told us.
Those comments showed David there was a desperate need for tools to help singles verify the identities of potential partners, so he started building Social Catfish. Its core offering is an image search feature that lets users match images across the internet. That means that, if a scammer takes a photo from someone else’s Facebook profile or a stock image database, Social Catfish will return that information.
“What public images are there, and who is the person behind these images? People do pretend to be someone else online,” said David. “The majority of scammers steal pictures from others who are victims and then revictimize as many people as they can. They tend to be overseas in places like Russia, China, Nigeria, and the Philippines.”
Users can also verify the names potential partners provide. That allows online daters to know if the person they’ve connected with lives and works where they claim to.
A Growing Need for Authentication Services
Social Catfish has steadily increased in popularity over the last five years. Today, more than 1 million people use the website each month, and 40% of those visitors want to stay safe while dating online. Those numbers have made it the 17th fastest-growing company in the state of California.
Another feature that’s important to the Social Catfish team is customer service. Many people who have fallen prey to romance scams, or are worried about someone they’ve connected with, feel vulnerable. The website’s team subscribes to the motto “be the brand in our customers’ hearts.”
With that mission in mind, the team created a Facebook group that users can join to share their experiences with fraud. The group educates its users about scams and allows members to ask questions and seek help.
The Social Catfish team also promotes education, perhaps the best tool for preventing online scams. During the pandemic, the company has been ramping up its YouTube channel, sharing scams to help singles identify if they’re getting duped. They’re also building out a free middle school course that discusses online fraud.
Educating the public about romance scams is crucial because so many people think they’ll never fall victim to one. But as the amount of money lost in the last year indicates, these clever frauds can trap almost anyone. Users on any mobile app or website with a chat feature, even online games, need to be cautious.
“A lot of people don’t understand, and they don’t think they can be deceived online. If you need to know that you’re making the right decision — or your ‘spidey-sense’ says something is not right — that’s what our service is for,” David told us.
Social Catfish: Preventing Money Loss and Embarrassment
Romance scams are widespread and problematic, but the full extent of their impact isn’t entirely known. AARP recently reported that only 17% to 20% of people report online scams, perhaps because some only gave a small amount of money or didn’t want their families to know.
“A lot of people go online and don’t know to look out for this kind of thing. They can be too trusting, and they end up losing a lot of money,” David said.
That’s why Social Catfish plays an essential role in online safety and has plans to expand its functionality. Its newest offering will be the Privacy Guard feature, which functions similarly to a credit score for personal information.
“You put all your information there and monitor your information online. Who has it? Where does it come from? People can monitor their credit, and we’re going to help them monitor their identity online, too,” said David.
David and the Social Catfish team are passionate about preventing romance scams. In addition to his platform’s tools, David also wants to hold businesses, especially dating apps, more accountable in protecting their users from fraud.
“Businesses have a responsibility to educate their members and use technology and other means to protect them. I hope it happens,” David told us.
Until that is the norm, singles can date online with more peace of mind thanks to Social Catfish. The idea behind the platform isn’t to make singles more wary to meet others online but rather allow them to date with confidence, knowing potential partners are who they say they are.