Online Dating


Many of us are aware of the term “catfishing” which was inspired by a 2010 documentary called “Catfish”. Catfishing is when a person sets up a fabricated online identity, or an entire social circle, to trick people into an emotional/romantic relationship for financial gain, to compromise a victim in some way, or to simply troll another person for self-gratification. In fact, in 2019, the US Federal Trade Commission reported losses of over $200 million dollars in romance scams. It’s a reality that in today’s online world, where teens are building their identity and sense of self, they will turn to technology when it comes to relationships, dating, and intimacy. In fact, a 2021 survey from the dating app “Bumble” found 91% of respondents felt there was no longer a stigma attached to meeting and dating someone from a dating app   However, on more than one occasion, we have helped both teens and adults who have fallen prey to an online catfish via dating apps, so we thought we would dedicate a chapter to the “tricks of the trade” that we use as online investigators to help uncover a catfishing attempt. We hope these techniques will help you and your teen to become your own digital detective when it comes to meeting new people online. Also remember that none of these techniques provided are 100% foolproof, but they will provide you with some useful insight to help make a reasonable assumption as to the authenticity of who a person puts themselves out to be online.

#1: Conduct a reverse image search on their profile picture

We know that many catfishers will use pictures of people, other than themselves, to hide their true identity. Conducting a reverse image search on their profile picture can help you to see if they are using a stock picture that has been ripped online to mask their true identity.

One of the best free reverse image search tools that you can use is “Google Reverse Image Search” Google has one of the largest photo caches in the world that can easily be searched and compared to the profile picture of the person you are interested in.

The second free reverse image search tool we recommend is a website called TinEye Similar to conducting a Google Reverse Image Search, TinEye will compare any picture you paste to their site and search the internet for results.

We like to use both Google Reverse Images and TinEye given that sometimes we have found that TinEye will pick up on pictures that Google does not find, and sometimes Google will find pictures that TinEye does not identify.

Both Google Reverse Image Search and TinEye are best used on a desktop or laptop computer. For mobile phones and devices, we recommend an app called “Reversee”  for the iPhone/iPad, and “Photo Sherlock”  for the Android platform. 

#2: Data mine what we like to call “search engine gold” using the power of Google.

Search engine gold includes a person’s name or username, their cellphone number, and any email address they may provide. All these pieces of personal information should be checked using Google, to help provide some insight as to who this person may be. Whenever searching for any piece of information on Google, make sure you place them in quotations. As an example, rather than just typing into Google the name John Smith, use “John Smith” with quotation marks. The use of quotations helps Google to narrow its search parameters and provide more focused results back to you. If this Google technique provides very little information on the person you are searching for, it could indicate they are not who they say they are and should be considered a warning flag.

Although Google is the best-known search engine that most people turn to when conducting searches online, there are several others out there that will sometimes return results that you can’t get from Google. One of the best online tools that search several sites at the same time is called Dogpile.  Make sure you still use the quotation marks that you use in a Google search when using the meta-search engine DogPile.

#3: Check other social media-specific search tools with the name of the person you are interested in.

If the person you are interested in is using a dating app, then they will likely be using other social media platforms as well. One of the best free tools on the market to conduct social media platform searches by a person’s name, or username, is “Social-Searcher” Under the “mentions” search block, type the name/username of the person in quotations and see what pops up. Another free product we use is called “PeekYou” Again, if these two search tools provide very little information on the person you are searching for, it could indicate they are not who they say they are and should be considered a warning flag.

#4: Before you meet, ask to video conference with the person first.

After you have conducted the above-noted 3 investigative steps, and you feel comfortable with the fact that the person appears to be who they say they are, ask for a video streaming opportunity (Skype or FaceTime) before you meet them face-to-face. This step will also help to confirm that the person is real, and not someone else or a computer bot designed to harvest personal information. If the person doesn’t want to video chat or makes excuse why they can’t prior to a face-to-face meeting, this should be considered a warning flag. Notice we said, “video chat” and not just a phone chat.

#5: Never provide your real phone number.

Until you can confirm the identity of a person and meet them face-to-face, never provide them with your real phone/cell number or email address. Instead use a free “Google Voice Account” that will allow you to set up a phone number for calls, texts, and voice messages that cannot be tracked back to you. This number can quickly be discarded if the person starts to harass or stalk you after you made the first contact, are no longer interested in a relationship, and does not wish to have any further communication with them. You can then create a new Google Voice Account number and continue your search for that perfect online date.

#6: Always make sure that the first couple of dates take place in a public location.

When meeting anyone face-to-face from a dating app or social network for the first time, make sure you do so in a very public place, and continue to do so until you feel comfortable with the other person. Again, if the other person would rather meet in a more private location this should be considered a red flag.

#7: Trust your instincts.

Our sixth sense, or what researchers call our “etheric sense,” is a result of millions of years of evolution that is designed to keep us safe. When your intuition is saying that something is not right, then something is not right. Don’t ignore this feeling or blow it off;  trust it and act accordingly. This is especially true if what you learn about them online, using the above-noted tools and techniques, does not match up with what they have posted and now they attempt to distract you when confronted with specific questions based on your online research.

We do believe that online dating is becoming more the norm than the exception for young people. In fact, a 2017 online dating industry report found that about 19% of brides reported meeting their significant other through an online dating app or social network. We hope this chapter will help you and your teens to experience online dating in a safer and more secure manner so that you do not become the target of those who catfish and troll these apps and social networks looking for their next target.

Here’s a great Facebook Live Event that we hosted where we demonstrate the above-noted safety protocols that start at the 4:42 minute mark:

Here’s a GREAT article from Dr. Pamela Rutledge on the topic of “Online Dating and Teens: Looking for Love in Digital Places”

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