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Catfishing:these scammers who seduce seniors

As we know, seniors tend to look like perfect clients — or perfect pigeons, if you'll excuse the expression — with scammers of all stripes, ready for all subterfuges to extort their savings, even if it means using abuse of weakness. It's true that less comfortable with new technologies in particular, they tend to be more gullible... and that's without counting on neurological disorders as well as on another scourge, which particularly interests us here and affects them. massively:loneliness. Because it must be admitted, seniors did not wait for the advent of the internet to be fleeced by hucksters of all kinds. And some of the latter will stop at nothing to achieve their end. Not even to tug on one of the most sensitive strings of all:love. To believe that as if it were not enough to be ripped off, it would be necessary to make things worse with a layer of humiliation, and to take advantage of the loneliness and the distress that often accompanies it to sink even more the victims of these practices, without any qualms about the emotional violence inflicted at the same time.

Because yes, there is a category of scammers who have specialized in this "love" scam so to speak, and thus earn their living at the expense of others by seducing people online. This is called catfishing. While senior citizens are not their only targets — who are fairly indistinct in terms of age and gender, with younger men and women equally likely to be targeted — they are among the most gullible and therefore fall victim more often than the rest of the population. And between the democratization of the use of screens and the internet and the destigmatization of divorce among the elderly (and therefore of the desire to meet new partners), the opportunities multiply for the so-called suitors. Thus, the count of catfishing victims has only exploded in recent years. In the United States, there were almost 15,000 victims of the practice in 2016, almost triple their number two years earlier – for a total of 220 million dollars extorted. And in France, according to data from the government platform Pharos, dedicated to reporting illegal content online, it is the over 40s, generally divorced or widowed, who are the most vulnerable. If women over 60 are particularly likely to fall into the trap, men are not spared from the phenomenon either, the male ego being it seems always strong enough at a well advanced age to believe capable of seducing young women as beautiful as they are seductive…

What is a catfish?

The word catfish Means “catfish” in English — a creature that may not be the most alluring of the animal kingdom, but which gave its name to an eponymous 2010 documentary following a victim of the practice. He was unknowingly having a long-distance relationship with a 40-year-old housewife posing as a 19-year-old young woman. The term has therefore passed into common parlance to designate any person hiding under a false identity on the internet in order to deceive, manipulate and/or scam another user.

Besides a few purely Machiavellian cases aimed at emotionally manipulating a victim by building an imaginary relationship, a catfish is generally easily recognized in that it is only after one thing:your money. More or less patient – ​​some catfish can manipulate their victim for months before achieving their goal – they will always end up claiming this money which is supposed to make the hours spent establishing a relationship of trust with their victim profitable.

Catfish methods

There are several methods by which a catfish will hook its victim. These are also very easy to reproduce endlessly online, where a person can be exposed to hundreds or even thousands of others in a few moments. Thus, if proportionally only a small proportion of the people approached will fall into the trap, their net is cast so wide that it will necessarily catch a few people in its meshes. And just one is enough for a skilled manipulator to line their pockets.

The most obvious method is through dating apps and sites — especially since, as mentioned above, seniors represent a growing demographic for this industry. There are even sites dedicated specifically to meetings between seniors, which, for example, only accept registrations above a certain age. And the more classic applications also allow you to filter the different profiles by age. However, not all of them are necessarily very careful about the registration process. Nothing could be easier than to register under a false profile invented from scratch, using the photos of a person found online, and this completely without the knowledge of the latter. And since these sites are precisely intended to facilitate meetings between their users, this makes them the perfect playground for pseudo seductive talkers.

However, this is not the only tool available to a catfish. Others operate by email, or contact their victims directly on social networks, again with a profile created from scratch. Here again, they rely on the credulity of certain segments of the population, including the elderly - and all the more so if they live in solitude - to establish contact with their victims. While it may be tempting to break the monotony and loneliness that beset some older people by maintaining virtual relationships with people you meet in this space, it is of course generally more prudent to simply add people that you knows "real life" on the networks.

Recognize a catfish

A fairly simple way to protect yourself from this kind of unpleasant experience is ultimately to show the same type of distrust of strangers you meet on the internet as you would in the outside world. If someone approached you in the street, it's a safe bet that you would be at least distant and suspicious before letting your guard down. Even if the low time spent on the internet by seniors makes them less able to detect abnormal behavior, it is a question of exercising the same mistrust with regard to this type of person. If you tell your grandchildren not to talk to strangers, don't hesitate to follow this advice yourself, whether it's a sleazy salesman or a mysterious seducer you meet online! In short, never transfer money to someone you meet online, no matter how trustworthy they seem to you.

However, here are some clues that leave little room for doubt as to the malevolent intentions of your interlocutor. One of the most obvious is when someone seems "too good" for their victim. Admittedly, love is blind, but if a profile that appears to belong to a much younger person and ticks all the boxes of conventional beauty criteria is interested in a much older partner - by showing itself to be particularly enterprising , with a lot of cajoling and teasing remarks – it's a safe bet that the person behind the screen has nothing in common with who they claim to be and no intention of meeting their interlocutor. There can of course be exceptions, but beware. Because the more a person finds himself in a certain emotional and affective misery, the more he risks refusing to see all the warning signs, however blatant they may be. A good way to test this possibility is to perform a reverse search with the photos of your interlocutor on search engines. Suspicious accounts on social networks (few friends, few photos) and hasty statements should also alert.

The other criterion which must absolutely be questioned by a victim or his relatives, if they are in the confidence, is of course that of an invitation to advance costs. A variation on the theme of the famous scam of the "Nigerian prince", where a credulous person received an email from the alleged relative of a member of a foreign regime, demanding money to get out of a thorny situation which he promised to return a hundredfold, the catfish will, for example, claim transport costs to meet their victim, claim hospitalization, and so on. Once their misdeed has been accomplished, the criminals will of course disappear in less time than it takes to say "catfish".

Contrary to what one might think, there is no need to be stupid to be the victim of a catfish. People whom those close to them consider to be lively and intelligent are also the victims of these scammers, through simple negligence, or because loneliness makes them sensitive to advances, however incongruous... Be careful, then!