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8:05 PM Mon, Nov. 12th

Dear Rhonda & Dr. Cheri: ‘Catfished’ girl needs help

Dear Rhonda and Dr. Cheri,

My family is well-off financially. My college-age daughter was dating someone who pretended to be someone else who looks like a well-known wealthy person and he used his name.

She said he was sweet, intelligent, and well-dressed. He said he went to a prominent college and he lives in Vermont.

My daughter never met him, a family member or a friend of his. He gave one excuse after another.

Finally, she the told us a disturbing story about how his family disowned him (it’s a ridiculous story).

She then divulged, rather sheepishly, that she met him through an online dating service.

She said she felt so badly for him, when she found out he was living in poverty. She used thousands of dollars that we gave her, to give to him. She said he really needed it and we didn’t.

We hired a private investigator who said this man is a scammer and has been in jail for it. He comes from poverty in Virginia. He’s done this to several wealthy girls online and he’s doing quite well now, financially. He resents wealthy girls because they’re “snobs.”

We showed our daughter the evidence. She said we were horrible to make this up just to stop her from dating “the first man who really loves her.”

Why won’t she believe us?

Signed,

Troubled Parents

Dear Parents,

This phenomenon is called “Catfishing.” A catfish is someone who makes up a false social networking online identity in order to defraud a victim, seek revenge, or commit identity theft.

The catfish may have lured your daughter into a relationship to scam money and get revenge on a “rich girl.” Reporting the story to authorities could bring the truth of your daughter’s catfish to light.

Nev Schulman, the subject of a 2010 documentary, brought viewers into the world of deceptive online relationships when he tried to track his own Internet love. The TV show, “Catfish,” tells stories about people who have been tricked and exposes lies.

Ways to prevent catfishing:

1) Use Google’s “search by image” feature to check for multiple Facebook profiles with the same photo.

2) Verify, verify, verify — order a background check, look for low numbers of friends, family members, and photos.

3) Protect yourself and don’t give out too much information. Meet as soon as possible in a public place. If they cancel the meeting, do more fact checks or block them. Skype with them (block them if they won’t).

4) Any feelings of doubt are there for a reason — don’t ignore them.

The adage “It’s better to be safe than sorry” is especially true with online dating.

Signed,

Rhonda and Dr. Cheri

Rhonda Orr is the president of Rhonda’s STOP BULLYING Foundation and host of a podcast at BullyingLifeAndStuff.com. Dr. Cheri L. McDonald, PhD, LMFT, is a crime-victim specialist. Write them at Rhonda@rhondastopbullying.org.