Your sister was telling me that she thinks she can spot artificial people on the internet. While I feel her confidence is lovely, I don’t really want her to get too comfortable with the idea that she knows things about that stuff. Do you?

People who are motivated to fool vulnerable people get away with it all the time. They don’t need the cover of the internet if they are skilled. You may have to learn about those folks the hard way and I’m sorry about that.

Remember the nice talkative lady who stole $20 from your sister at her yard sale? She wasn’t genuinely nice after all. She was a nice-lady imposter who was content to fleece a teenager.

71037048@N00 Anne on flickr
71037048@N00 Anne on flickr

Just try a search on “imposter” and see what the problem is. Imposters try to get things that don’t belong to them. They pretend to be a repair person to get into your house, pretend to be with a charity to get your wallet, pretend to be with the government to get your bank information.

If they are emotional imposters, they are trying to steal sympathy and care. They will probably get around to the money eventually.

I’ve met a lot of interesting people by poking around on the ‘net and I recommend it, but I have also encountered some very disturbed people who gradually demanded more and more of my time and attention. Those were usually the catfish. I’m glad it has a name now. The definition mostly applies to romantic-wannabes as catfish, but there are so many more varieties.

It’s kind of unfair to catfish that their name is used for the label. It’s not their thing to be devious; not like cuckoo birds. Cuckoos are jerks.

So what do you need to know about online imposters?

  1. You are doing most of the misleading to yourself. We sketch a framework around new people, we fill in details with what we expect to find. For example, if you see a person holding a fish net, you will assume they are fishing. If you assume most people are honest, you’re likely to take for granted that your fishy friend is not likely to throw explosives in a lake. You may be 100% mistaken and barking up the wrong metaphor.
  2. You are doing most of the misleading to yourself. If you are considering investing any money or time or emotion in the new relationship, do not delay meeting in real life in a safe way. Nothing you can do online comes within a mile of facing a real-time person in reality. Your gut really does know things you may not be able to articulate. If they are evasive about meeting, drop the contact. At the very least, do not talk yourself into continuing to communicate in more than the most superficial way.
  3. You are doing most of the misleading to yourself. Not everyone is naturally skeptical. Be sure you have that one friend who can spot the fakers in your orbit. Take that friend along on any meeting. Some of you kids are such hippies, and I mean that in a complimentary way, but you may give other people far too much of that benefit of the doubt. Work on the doubt part with your doubting friends.
  4. If you feel sorry for the new person be especially cautious. They may be the most dangerous kind of emotional imposter. Psychopaths adore being pitied; they feed on your pity. It’s actually the easiest way to spot them because non-psychopaths don’t enjoy pity, not even for dessert.

Most people are who they represent themselves to be, but every single day imposters fool employers and retirees and all sorts of people who should know better.

This stuff gets very weird very quickly, so don’t even toy with it. I was reading a very recent article about yet another person who spends a lot of spare time exposing imposters and catfish. The odd part was that the identity detective also befriends targets. Researching just a little deeper, I found that the catfish-fisher is possibly catfishing catfishers. It’s a fun house of crazy right there. (I will not post the link).

Just stay away from crazy, okay? Okay!


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