The gorgeous Russian catfish on Bumble

... And other people you should watch out for when you're looking for love (or sex, or both) online

Pandemic or no pandemic, people want to date and hook up. Dating apps make it easy, especially if you’re photogenic. And then liars spoil the fun for everyone by pretending to be someone they’re not.

How to avoid them? Well, entire dissertations can be written on the subject, but for the purposes of this treatise, let’s take an app like Bumble, which is a nice middle ground between the freakfest that is Tinder and oh-so-serious Hinge. A lot of the lessons you can learn here can be applied online in general.

What’s most helpful is establishing that there are different types of catfish (i.e. people pretending to be someone else) swimming in your local pond AND different strategies for dealing with them:

The person with the outdated/misleading pictures

This one isn’t even *technically* a catfish, but people engage in this behavior so much that it needs to be brought up. I’m not here to shame anyone for their looks — I’m no beauty queen either! — but there’s a difference between self-acceptance and deliberately misrepresenting yourself.

These people may be verified on Bumble, but even so, they can still mislead you by doing the following:

Post very old pictures.

Post artfully staged selfies.

Edit their photos to the point that they are no longer recognizable.

They’re counting on you to:

Be too polite to say something.

Or else be too desperate and lonely to say something.

Or else they’ll gaslight you and imply that you’re “shallow” because you care “too much” about what they actually look like.

Whether you’re looking for a relationship or a hookup, these people are NOT the way to go. Their behavior is very manipulative. Manipulative behavior is always a warning sign.

Obviously, we all look different in real life than we do online. That’s NORMAL. But, much like obscenity, when it comes to misrepresentation, you know it when you see it.

This is why it should be perfectly acceptable for you to ask for a video phone call with someone or ask for a specific kind of picture (as in, “Take a picture of yourself holding a vegetable from your fridge!”) if you don’t think their pictures are telling the full story. Or if you’ve been burned before. Or if you’re just covering your bases. If they get offended, you can always explain. If they’re STILL offended — maybe they’re just not right for you, dawg. Or else they’re hiding something.

Moving on, please meet

The creeps

Creeps do worse than misrepresent themselves. They literally become someone else for the sake of scoring a connection. They don’t necessarily have to steal pictures to do it either, though some do. Their lies can vary, but what remains constant is the damage they inflict on others. What distinguishes them from the con artists (more on those people below) is that they don’t do it because they’re trying to swindle you financially, they do it because it gives them a rush and a feeling of control.

Some will claim that they’re just lonely and looking to “connect” to someone and that they have low self-esteem and therefore lie — but nine times out of ten, I don’t buy it. Usually because a lot of them put in so much work when it comes to their online disguises.

Here’s an example of exactly the type of person I mean:

Oh, and of course he had the perfect excuse as to why he was acting so shady:

Please remember that creeps can be men and women. They can be non-binary people. Sometimes, they are married and looking for covert action on the side. Either way, they poison the well for all of us.

Some obvious warning signs to watch out for include:

They’ll claim to be high-powered professionals, but won’t be able to talk about their work in any specific or granular detail. Or else their observations will be off.

They’ll claim their equipment is broken or malfunctioning.

They will seek to manipulate you emotionally by telling sob stories from their past to explain their strange behavior: “Oh, I was a victim of stalking, I have a hard time meeting someone for a drink.” “I had a panic attack, that’s why I couldn’t meet you that one time!” These are the types of stories that make you think, “OK, but why are you on a dating app?” … There will be no good answer, aside from the obvious one.

This is not an exhaustive list, of course, but it’s definitely the kind of behavior that should set off alarm bells.

Here’s how you can better protect yourself against creeps:

Ask them to get verified. Bumble has that feature and if you use it, it can definitely weed out some of the more obvious and egregious fakes.

Don’t be shy about those video dates if you think their pictures are stolen.

Look up their alleged past places of employment and/or study!

Don’t let yourself be gaslit. This is especially hard for those of us who were raised to be exceedingly polite. But please remember is that aside from basic courtesy and decency, YOU DON’T OWE PEOPLE ON BUMBLE ANYTHING.

It can be too easy to forget that last bit. The psychology of catfishing is such that it exploits our vulnerabilities. Don’t fall for it though.

And while we are at it, let’s talk about

The con artists

These are the people who construct false identities for financial purposes. While they can overlap with creeps, their motivation tends to be purely the hustle.

Now, if you connect with someone, and they immediately want you to add their premium Snapchat or OnlyFans whatever, that doesn’t necessarily make them a con artist. Some people are always going to be on Bumble to attract clients, and if they’re upfront about it, that’s not an issue.

You know what is an issue?

Making up false stories of hardship in order to tug at your heartstrings and get you to send them money.

Trying to get you to click on sketchy links that may be phishing attempts.

Trying to push their weird MLM, Bitcoin scam, or other shady enterprise.

Non-transparent fundraising for some highly dubious “cause.”

Etc.

Honestly, there are so many schemes out there that they’re hard to list. The bottom line is that you don’t want to fall prey to them.

You need to watch out for:

People who speak in a way that’s a little too practiced and polished. This is a dating app. When somebody is hitting you with a sales pitch, something is wrong.

Avoidance of simple and direct questions

ANY weird links

Sob stories that begin as soon as the person is comfortable with you/have determined that you are nice.

It should go without saying that you should block and report these people. Don’t worry, you won’t miss out on the love of your life.

And speaking of the search for love, another person we should keep in mind is

The cult member/zealot

Unfortunately, some people get on dating apps solely to recruit you into their weird, potentially repressive communities.

They usually target people who are lonely or going through a difficult time in their life and their methods are very sophisticated, which is why there is no cut and dry way of dealing with them.

They misrepresent themselves — none of them are out there going, HAI, DO YOU WANT TO JOIN MY CULT — but they do it very subtly.

The most important clue to watch out for is that they’ll literally just seem too good to be true, or else seem very friendly, until they start hitting you with the spiritual talk and the leading, even intrusive questions about your life and how you feel about yourself and the world.

Honestly, the one good thing I can recommend here is having very strong boundaries and knowing who you are, so they can’t mess with your head.

I definitely suggest disengaging as soon as you think you might be getting brainwashed. Yes, you can be ruthless and merciless about it. Again, YOU DON’T OWE PEOPLE ANYTHING.

And you especially don’t owe anything to the

The malicious agent

I first realized I should write about malicious agents when I noticed how many friends of mine who are in the military are getting approached by these people. Sometimes, they’ll work for foreign governments, or else they’ll work for someone who is closely aligned with a foreign government.

People in sensitive jobs should especially watch out for them.

They will frequently:

Say they’re traveling to a foreign country when they’re actually IN that foreign country.

Pretend to be part of a friendly or at least recognizable organization. Interpol is a favorite for them. But it could also be an NGO.

Their English may be a little off, but they’ll insist they’re of your same nationality — while providing biographical data that cannot easily be verified.

Their interest in your work goes beyond simple curiosity/them wondering if you two are compatible.

They are good-looking, but sometimes, their pictures don’t convey anything personal. Quite simply, there may be something inorganic about them. And I’m not necessarily saying that because they’re cloned by AI (though this too can happen!). I’m saying it because pictures tell stories about us, and if there is no story to tell, your ears should perk up.

A lot of the same responses that I listed above apply in this scenario. But please note that people like this may be particularly interested in obtaining compromising information on you. Therefore, you should especially take care to:

Avoid sending them nudes or other, very personal pictures.

Don’t trash-talk your co-workers to them.

Don’t reveal sensitive information because you want to impress someone who seems polished, and smart, and potentially foreign and “exotic.”

Don’t let them appeal to your ego and run your mouth, generally speaking.

I have a lot of beef with Russian catfishes in particular, because they’ve routinely made my life in D.C. annoying. I don’t really date casually anymore, but when I did, I would have to direct guys to my verified Twitter, and sometimes even subtly reference some details of our conversations on there, just to prove that I am who I say I am. Here’s one of those tweets memorialized for the ages:

However, my willingness to be open, while occasionally time-consuming, has brought me to my biggest point:

When someone is unwilling to be simply be chilled out with you, when they are cagey and not forthcoming, THIS IS ALWAYS A RED FLAG.

They may not be a spy. Maybe they’re just not ready to date.

Either way, who has time for these people?

If you learned something new today, please consider a paid subscription. Just $5 a month helps me keep my most important materials open to the public — and ALL paid subscribers get fun bonus content. If you think you’re being played by someone online, shoot me an e-mail at nvantonova [at] gmail [dot] com, and let’s talk.