A few years ago I felt led of the Lord to very carefully extend my ministry to social media. I sensed that God, through the Holy Spirit, had given me creative ideas, enabling me to communicate provocative thoughts to revive sleeping or spiritually dead saints. To help accomplish this, I design social media posters. I have now learned how to get a social media post out in front of several thousand believers within twenty minutes. However, my outreach posts were the very tool that someone recently used on Instagram to target me for a potential scam. I noticed that a woman, calling herself Karen, had been following me for a few weeks and was “loving” all of my posts. Initially, she seemed like a sincere ministry connection. Fortunately for me, because I am aware of the common practices of these “catfishing” scams, I was able to sense deception and get out of the conversation fairly quickly. Regrettably, in another season of my life as a single Christian man, I was not as wise.
A couple of years ago, I was contacted through a Facebook post by an African woman. She claimed to be “extremely blessed” by the posts and articles that I had written. Having done her homework, she even quoted back to me something that I had written in a conversation with a Christian brother on a Facebook feed from a year earlier! She then immediately started sending me pictures of herself. I could see that she was a very attractive woman and had a little daughter. She suggested almost immediately that we switch to the “What’s up” phone app. Convincing you to switch to a different app is one of the first things romance spammers do. At first, I was reluctant to respond, but everything seemed innocent and not at all high-pressure. To me, it seemed like the way any two people who were just getting to know each other would correspond.
Within a short time, video clips of her little girl with sweet greetings started coming. Then I was introduced to her brother, who took me on a video tour of her village. Next, she told me about her small business and showed me pictures of her shop and of many of the items that she had made to sell. Little by little, however, a seed was being sown in my heart of their financial needs. Then one day she reported that she had to borrow a flip phone because her smartphone stopped working. I started sending her small sums of money at that time to help her get her phone fixed. Phone problems are a common trick by “catfishers” to start asking for money. Within a short time, she started talking about being attracted to me and soon thereafter said she was having romantic feelings for me. You would think that at my age, having had many life experiences, I would not be so foolish to fall for something like this. However, people do get lonely even when surrounded by family members and friends each day. I jokingly like to tell people that “Sometimes we just need a Jesus with skin on!” The way we as believers get sucked in is that when we are lonely it is nice to find someone to talk to every evening and sometimes several times a day even if they are from another culture and thousands of miles away! However, the deceptions eventually became more and more obvious. When I wised up and refused to send any more money, she stopped contacting me.
The Federal Trade Commission recently reported that “In 2020, reported losses to romance scams reached a record $304 million, up about 50% from 2019.” www.ftc.gov If you feel that you may be a victim of internet romance fraud there are multiple websites available to help you. However, some people are reluctant to admit or face the truth because they have become so infatuated by an online relationship, which they do not want to end. More than likely that relationship is all one big lie. I pray that everyone who could be targeted will educate themselves regarding these practices and guard themselves from being hooked by a “catfisher!”
Because “catfishing” is such an effective and big dollar crime worldwide, almost every major bank has their own warning pages concerning these practices on their websites. As a Christian, you may fit the kindhearted “sucker” mold mindset that these organized crime “catfishers” are looking for, especially, if you have been praying that God will send a special someone into your life! The following are four things to look out for.
Beware of the person that you have met, either through an online dating site or through social media, who wants you to quickly move with them to another phone app or form of correspondence. In the last case that I mentioned in this article this woman that we will call “Karen” wanted me to go to Google “Hangout.” She offered to wait while I made the change and then she began cheerfully interacting with me, demonstrating that she knew a lot about the Christian world and the Bible. She claimed to be from California and named her church, which is part of a well-known Christian organization. She quoted scripture, talked about God working in her life, and knew how to compliment my work and how to say kind things about my ministry.
What we have to realize is that many of these people are part of a type of crime syndicate and actually have a type of “pimp” in the background and the “actors” receive a “cut” of the money they bring in. The FBI and the CIA reports that these organized crime groups have “lists” of people, that have already been successfully scammed out of money. They target those people, calling them “suckers,” knowing that they are an easy “catch”. I have to admit that I believe that I was on that list. A single mother, who had a little girl, had previously touched my tender heart. Knowing this they portrayed “Karen” as the single mother of a little girl and a little boy. “Karen” wanted to know if it was ok for her children to start calling me “daddy?” Then it was “daddy” this and “daddy” that! That was my first indication that I was up against another spammer.
Warning sign number two is that “They fall for you immediately.” When we are lonely for an extended period of time we are very vulnerable and can be sucked in quickly by compliments. With the “daddy thoughts” came compliments from Karen like, “Oh you are so sweet” or “You are so kind, I have been searching for years to meet someone like you!” Just as such emotions would not be shown so quickly in real-world dating scenarios, and would turn us off, being too much too fast, so should we be leery of such flattery. Proverbs 26:28 states, “A lying tongue hates those that are crushed by it, and a flattering mouth works ruin!” (NKJV) Be on your guard against a deceptive manipulator who may be trying to lure your tender heart in their direction.
In phrase three, they begin to prep you to send them money by telling you about small practical needs which, if met, would enhance your ability to communicate with them. Often the need has something to do with their phone or computer, as I shared was my experience with two different scammers. Their goal is to get you to send them small amounts at first. Then their stories expand to involve the needs of their children or their family members, often medically related.
Lastly, they often either start talking about them coming to visit you, which never happens, or the desire for you to come visit them. Lots of photos are sent. When men are being targeted, the pictures are often of an alluring woman laying in her bed or partially dressed, wearing only her underwear.
Educate yourselves using available tools and seek the help of someone from your banking institution if you already have started to send someone money. Do not feel too bad. You are not alone. Thousands of people every year fall victim to these professionals. “Whom the Lord sets free is free indeed!”