For those of you who are familiar, Christina Ricci played a matchmaker in the American Pie films. These days she appears on screens across the country, most notably in the comedy film, What to Expect When You’re Expecting.

The comedy was inspired, in part, by the real-life story of Ricci and her husband, Rob. The couple wed in 2017 but previously dated for several years. In the film, Ricci’s character, Sarah, sets up a fake profile on a dating site in order to convince her best friend, Kate (Anne Heche), that a potential life partner is worthy of her attention. Kate eventually falls for the ruse and exchanges vows with the man she believes is her soul mate. What’s so fascinating about this story is not only is it based on a real-life relationship, but the dating site used in the film, PlentyofFish, is the same site the couple initially met on.

The film’s premise is nothing new. The practice of tricking potential dating partners into pursuing you is known as catfishing. While there’s no denying that such practices exist, there is also a dark side to this type of dating. It’s a side that includes emotional manipulation and empty promises. Let’s take a look at the darker side of catfishing and how you can avoid it.

The Dark Side of Catfishing

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows when it comes to online dating. Catfishing, the act of creating an online profile with the intent of tricking unsuspecting men or women into a relationship, is a multibillion-dollar industry. Every year tens of millions of people fall victim to catfish scammers who attempt to hoodwink them into a committed relationship. Those who do so often fall prey to the charms of the scammer who assumes a hybrid identity, often using fake photos of celebrities and popular icons.

There are red flags you can watch for to identify a scammer. One of the most convincing ways to scam unsuspecting victims is through the use of ‘scented’ messages. Smelling roses and feeling like you’re being cared for can make even the most skeptical person’s heart race. If a potential partner seems too good to be true, that’s probably because you’re being scammed. Remember: your gut always tells you if someone is genuine or not.

Another red flag is constant change. The scammers will often hide their true identity by presenting themselves as some sort of well-wisher, trying to win you over with kindness and affection. If someone you don’t know suddenly shows up in your life and insists upon calling you by your first name, keep your guard up. A fake profile owner who changes their username frequently is a red flag.

In some cases, scammers will send gifts, ranging from flowers to perfume, and engage with potential victims in an online chat room or over the phone. If someone you don’t know sends you flowers or a perfume and insists upon talking to you, keep your guard up. Never give out personal information, such as your phone number or address, over the phone or in an instant message chat room. Never accept a dinner invitation from someone you don’t know, especially if this person suddenly wants to talk about finances or says they work for the FBI and need to investigate you.

How to Identify a Catfisher

If you suspect you’re communicating with a scammer, take a step back and consider whether or not you should continue with the interaction. Look for these telltale signs that will give you an indication of whether or not you’re dealing with a legitimate or an impostor:

  • They don’t match the physical description you gave.
  • Their first few messages didn’t match the strong emotional connection you felt in the conversation.
  • Their messages tended to be short and to the point.
  • They asked for money unexpectedly.
  • They asked you to do something for them without explaining why.
  • They constantly change the subject of the conversation.
  • They send gifts or expensive gifts.
  • There’s no real conversation. It’s just a string of emails back and forth.

Obviously, you can’t always spot a scammer by looking at their profile. Sometimes they’ll have all the right answers, and, at other times, they’ll display a complete lack of any kind of social media presence. The best way to tell if you’re interacting with a scammer is to take a step back and consider whether or not you should continue with the interaction. If you feel like you’re being pressured into doing or saying something you don’t want to do or say, it’s probably best to cut your losses and walk away.

The Moral Of The Story

This is a tale of two cities: the bright lights of Hollywood and the darker side of the Internet. The former is populated by beautiful people looking to meet the right person, settle down, and enjoy life. The latter is filled with people who see online dating as a way to make quick cash, a sort of digital pickpocketing. We’re all vulnerable to romance scams, especially since they can look so real. That’s why it’s so important to be wary of those who say they’re the ones you’ve been looking for and want to change your life. If you don’t feel right away that you’re connecting with the person you’re talking to, if they don’t seem to have the same interests as you or if they ask you for money, walk away. Don’t give out any personal information, and certainly don’t get involved in a commitment if you don’t agree to do so right away. If your gut feeling is that something’s not right, it probably is. Your heart will thank you for being wise.