If He is Too Good to be True

These are my observations at the beginning of this online dating journey about ten months ago in the first days of unprecedented pandemic times. How did I manage to attract “catfishers?” I am assuming this is a new world to many in my readership who unexpectedly, tragically find themselves trying to build a new life with a new partner. What I am sharing is common knowledge for women who have been single for a while, but of which I was only vaguely aware. So, if this is your world, read on. If you are happily spending Valentine’s Day with a loved one, forward to a single friend!  I had been drawn in by both a Facebook “friend” request as well as a dating site that has several safeguards built in.

First, the Facebook experience. We have all received weird friend requests from men we immediately delete without a thought. I made an exception to a request from a nice-looking guy, about my age, born in Oslo, Norway, widowed, and he identified himself as an evangelical Christian. By all appearances genuine. Four photos included one of him flyfishing and another of his two cute dachshunds. I have a heart for widowers. I also have a background photo of a Norwegian fjord on my page. I imagine he sees I am also widowed, and I apparently like Norway. Sounds like at least a good penpal. I answered back and asked him how he knew me. He noticed me on his recommended friend list, so I figure somewhere we have an acquaintance in common. He said he was attracted to my smile. I am an ordinary looking woman, so I was flattered.

The texting intensified. I click “friend.” Now for those of you who are new at this, note these warnings: His Facebook page is obviously very recent. No list of “friends,” no history of events. He asked if he can text me instead of messaging on Facebook because he doesn’t check in often. OK, sounds reasonable. I tell him to send me his cell phone number first. He does and I text back. He sends me a selfie of himself. I send one back. Now we have each other’s phone numbers. He looks like the man on Facebook. I proceed. His Facebook page disappears a few days later. I google his name and he has no public online presence.

Some of you are going to start nodding here in familiarity of what will happen, and I will tell you from the beginning, thank God, nothing bad happens. I just didn’t know these things and I thought I was taking necessary precautions. He claimed to be a senior petroleum engineer on an oil platform off the coast of Canada. He was finishing his last contract and he wants to settle down to retirement life with a nice woman. We text every evening and talk about everything. He quite intelligently talks about his faith and church life growing up in Oslo, including the church where he grew up and mentioned his mother had been the pianist there. He is very convincing− and I see through people quite well. I also didn’t realize that I missed the company of a man, loved falling in love again, and enjoyed the flattery, so possibly I was blind to a few warning signals.

For women who may fall prey, note these characteristics! He is in a location where supposedly he can’t zoom, skype, facetime, and has limited internet access. He stated his love, yes love, for me sight unseen, in way too short a time. He is planning his life with me to the point of asking if I have garage space for his car. He gave the impression that he is about to leave the oil platform.
Next warning sign! I did not hear from him for about 48 hours. He experienced a crisis. At this point, victims of this kind of scam receive a panicked request for money. I did not, and that would have set off alarms for me.  When I did hear from him, he claimed to have experienced a “blast” on the oil platform, was injured and he had been in the infirmary where Wi-Fi is not allowed because of medical equipment.

This is the first point where I am beginning to get suspicious. I asked him to send me a selfie of his injuries. I expected a photo of his face with a bruise. He had sent a selfie before, so I knew it was possible, even if he protested that his contract did not allow it. Another point of suspicion was that he said that he liked to shower a woman he loved with surprises! He didn’t want me to discuss our on-line affair with anyone. Hummm? I did anyway. My saving grace: I had shared with my adult kids and friends that I was texting this man.

They told me that “catfishing” was a thing. Who knew? Look it up. My computer savvy daughter-in-law reversed checked all his photos and got no information, except for the one he sent of his “injury” which came from a website. Now, despite disappointment, I came to the realization that this whole experience was phony.  I confronted him with the evidence. He denied it. He didn’t understand what he did wrong and he still loves me. End of story. I blocked his number. There are websites informing of these phenomena. I was totally unaware. I had not responded to an email from Nigeria from someone asking for emergency funds.

What are the chances this would happen again? One result of this experience: I came to the realization that a man in my life would be enjoyable. Somewhat jaded, I try legitimate dating websites. One I examine has many safeguards built in. Applicants must make a selfie video and turn their head left and right. Someone who monitors the site compares each photo submitted to photos on Facebook and other online presence to certify that the person is really the one on the profile. Seemed fool proof.

A guy contacts me first and says, “I just can’t help noticing your smile and can’t resist a woman in a pretty dress.” My smile seems to be getting me into trouble! OK, nothing inappropriate. In his profile he calls himself Christian-Protestant and he says his faith is important to him. We text for a few days. I give him my website address which he shows evidence that he actually read by noting he agrees with my positions and admires my aggressiveness in expressing what I believe in. I notice he took down his original profile on the dating site. He says I am the one he was looking for and he is now concentrating on me. I am thinking some of these fellas sure do know how to flatter a woman and I am also hearing the same phrases I have heard before.

He portrays himself as widowed and from a suburb of Denver, so it is entirely realistic we will meet. He sends me several photos of himself with grandchildren and his corvette. Hum . . . I have seen muscle cars before! We agree to meet, but within a day of our date he says he is at the airport on the way to an exotic location for business. Can we delay the date? He is so sorry and will send me a gift to make up for it. Later, I receive a call from the location where he says he is traveling in South America . . . during a pandemic? So, we actually talk. I think this is progress from the last experience I had. He has a nice-sounding voice, a ready laugh, he is going to see me as soon as his business is completed. Again, I share with friends and family that I am texting someone and it sounds too good to be true. They, like me, think this can’t be happening twice!

He emails me on a letterhead which − incidentally? − includes his business website address. I click on to a very slick website with his name prominently displayed as the owner managing partner of a firm with multiple international branches.  It also includes his photo, maybe a few years old, but it definitely matches photos I already received. My trusty tech savvy kids start reverse checking this photo. This is why you have kids!

The photo matches that of a man running for office in a professional organization. This brings up another victim of this kind of scam. The online identity of a perfectly hapless individual has been stolen, including photos of his family, grandsons and his fancy car. Other than notifying the person that someone is pretending to be them, I do not know if any recourse is possible.

In summary, for those readers who may be older and not aware of the pitfalls in the world of singles, here are the safeguards I have collected. Use the computer to your advantage and if this is a foreign territory to you, just ask your younger friends for help. It is easy to reverse search images, check Linkedin for his professional history, and look for a lengthy Facebook page. Very few people do not have an online presence anymore.

Other warning signs: the man has a lot of time to text very fluent and flowery phrases. He will proclaim exclusive interest in you and love after just a few days. He will start planning a life with you – just as soon as he is freed up from his current professional entanglements. He is in a location where communication, other than texting, is not possible. He is about to meet with you, but then there is a last-minute snag. He experiences an emergency of some kind and seems to enjoy the sympathy you extend.

I am not quite able to wrap my head around this phenomenon of men flirting online with women while pretending to be someone else. It is not an innocent vice, there are possible dangers, if nothing more than disappointment and waste of time. It is common knowledge that one does not give personal identifying information or bank account numbers to unknown people. Give me credit for that much discernment. The guys I texted with were wordsmiths, and they were total gentlemen never suggesting impropriety.

One can be misled into the feeling of intimate acquaintance by online communication alone. A woman can begin to feel like you know the person well and start to divulge too much information and reciprocate the feelings. Most disappointing, an online suiter can claim to be Christian and is indeed knowledgeable and totally convincing about his faith. I am fearing a similarity with pornography, and since in my experience, the men were able to speak knowledgeably about the Bible and describe church involvement, they may be Christians looking for companionship in a seemingly more innocent way than pornography.

I ask, if they are so skillful at seducing a woman online, why don’t they just go out and meet women in reality? Someone please educate me! Of course, they may be married. Beyond that, they seem to vicariously enjoy inventing a glamorous life in which they can only dream of inhabiting−far beyond their mundane life. They spin an almost James Bond, yet believable lifestyle that a woman, in her own vulnerability, is drawn into. The online flirting is their readily available substitute. They get the serotonin rush in this fantasy world, as their victim can get hooked into participating as well.

As we are discovering in 2020, online communication is effective and we are getting better at it. So much work, as well as the mission of the church can be accomplished online. The Spirit is still working, even through the means of technology. Yet here is another ensnarement for all of us to be aware with the difference that we must be informed of the advantages as well as the dangers technology offers. The means of delivery is new, but the deviousness is an old story, nothing is new under the sun.

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