It doesn’t just happen on TV.
“Catfishing” — lying on the Internet to potential romantic partners — remain a common happening among dating-app users, experts told Metro. And as evidenced by a recent pair of assaults in Worcester, sometimes “catfishing” turns violent.
Police in Worcester this week said two men on two separate occasions were attacked by assailants who had posed as a woman on a social media dating app — one on Jan. 4, another on Jan. 10.
In the most recent incident, police said, a 33-year-old man was greeted not by a woman, but by a pair of male suspects who mugged and stabbed him in an apartment lobby (his injuries were described as non-life threatening).
While they’re not always violent encounters, meet-ups online based on fake or misleading profiles are common, Boston-area online dating coach Nick Notas told Metro.
“I wouldn’t say it’s the majority but it happens pretty often,” said Notas, who recently wrote a guide for online daters on scoping out dishonesty. “I think height, age and weight are probably the biggest things.”
He advises clients to do some research on dates, using tools like Google’s reverse image search or just looking up a potential suitor’s Facebook page.
A must for safety, though, he said: let friends know when you’re meeting up with a stranger, and ask them to check up on you via a text or a call.
And, he said, never do what victims in Worcester appear to have done: let strangers come to your home without meeting them first.
“I very rarely say, ‘Hey you should just tell this person to come over blindly and hope for the best,’” he said.
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Fake profiles are now a frequent concern for app-users of all ages in the dating world, said Gene Beresin, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital.
“Truth-telling is not always the norm,” said Beresin, director of the MGH Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds. “In fact, there’s a lot of deception.”
Young people, and adults fresh out of college, Beresin said, are especially at risk — likely to be drawn to online dating and with a lower aversion to risk.
“Far too often, younger people don’t consider the possibilities, the risks and the dangers of an unsavory character going online,” he said.
Boston Police in recent months have responded to incidents of “catfishing,” sometimes leading to robberies, a department spokesman said.
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In November, police arrested 30-year-old Rakeem Austin, suspected of committing eight armed robberies after posing as women online. At Austin’s arraignment, prosecutors said he’d pretended to be women named “Lizzy S.” and “Candy B.” on the site Tagged.com, then mugged the unsuspecting suitors when they met up with him, according to the Dorchester Reporter.
Police at the time warned would-be online daters to be on guard if a potential partner won’t meet face-to-face, use Skype or use a web cam before a date, or if they have a new or “incomplete” profile. They also advised app-users to always meet in public places, not homes.
Another red flag, police said: “He or she seems too good to be true. ‘Catfishers’ will use profile pictures of very attractive people to lure victims.”