These are some of the biggest red flags to keep an eye on.
In reality, Mesa Mayor John Giles is happily married — and has been for more than 30 years. He has five kids and five grandkids. And he was born, raised and still resides in Mesa.
But online, his personal photos are attached to a dating profile for a divorced dad in Vancouver, British Columbia, looking for “another opportunity to find something special.”
Giles learned that an unknown, online persona is using his personal photos on Match.com last week when a woman reached out to the Mayor’s Office.
“That day, I went home to my wife and said, ‘You’re never going to guess what happened today. You can guess a thousand things and you’re never going to get it,’ ” Giles said. “It’s really weird.”
‘You’re never going to guess what happened today’
According to an email obtained by The Arizona Republic during a routine review of public records, the woman said she began communicating with the man about a month ago but quickly recognized some discrepancies in his profile.
In her email to Giles’ office, the woman said she asked the man to send her additional photos to verify his identity. He sent her one of Giles with Sen. John McCain, who she recognized as the former Republican presidential nominee.
Upon conducting a reverse-image search, the woman realized that all of the pictures provided by the man were actually of a politician more than 1,500 miles from Vancouver.
“By bringing this to your attention, I’m hoping you could seek immediate measures to identify and stop this person or persons of damaging Mr. Giles (sic) reputation and ensuring there is no further damage done to vulnerable women,” the woman wrote.
Giles said he’s reached out to the police department for advice on how to proceed and contacted Match.com to report the issue.
As of June 1, the profile was still active on Match.com. It includes two photos of the mayor from his Facebook page. In one of the photos, he’s wearing a shirt that says “Mesa.” The other is a picture with his daughter before her prom, with a palm tree in the background.
“I’m tempted to make a joke, like, I wonder how many dates I got? But the sad part is it’s actually not a joke. It’s actually a serious concern,” Giles said.
“Catfishing” — a slang term for using a fake alias to lure someone into a romantic relationship — has become increasingly common as more and more people turn to the internet looking for love.
Giles said if it could happen to him, it could happen to anyone. He said he hopes this sparks a conversation about the seriousness of online dangers.
“If this provokes some conversation between parents and kids, then it’s probably a good thing,” Giles said.
“It has certainly become easier for more different types of people to commit this type of fraud,” said Eva Velasquez, president and CEO of Identity Theft Resource Center in San Diego.
But it’s not every day that a politician becomes a tangential victim in a catfishing plot.
“I’m a big boy. I’m a public person and my image is all over the internet, so I’m kind of easy pickings,” Giles said. “So I’m not particularly rattled by it. But it’s a sobering reminder to everybody that this is a real problem.”
4 red flags in online dating
Velasquez said if someone is in a public position and several photos of him or her exist online, it’s a good idea to conduct a quick Google image search to make sure your photos are not used nefariously.
Luckily, the woman trusted her gut.
Sometimes, catfishing can result in a victim being swindled out of cash or scammed in a different way.
For those who are using the internet for dating, Velasquez shared some of the biggest red flags to keep an eye on:
1. They want to move fast.
If within a day or two of connecting online, a pursuer is already professing their “undying love,” that’s a warning sign.
That may seem obvious — but to someone who is vulnerable and lonely, this person could fulfill a need.
“It’s really despicable. We’re all humans and have emotions and needs,” Velasquez said.
2. They respond to every message immediately.
Pay attention to how quickly a connection responds to your message. If there’s not lag time — that’s not normal.
3. There’s always an excuse.
Scammers thrive off believable excuses, and they are always prepared to offer up reasons why they can’t meet in person — or even communicate on the phone or by video.
If someone wants to keep all interactions “strictly online,” that is fishy.
4. They need money — and fast.
This is where scammers “go in for the kill,” Velasquez said. When someone you meet online is almost instantly asking for money because they lost their wallet or they want to buy a plane ticket to come meet you, that can be a serious red flag.
Velasquez said we call these people “con men” for a reason: “Con” stands for confidence.
“They have a persona and a style that gives you utmost confidence in what they’re saying. Even when your gut tells you, ‘This doesn’t sound logical,’ they say it with such boldness and assurance that it makes you doubt yourself,” she said.
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