I’m sure a lot of you have heard of the show Catfish, or have at least seen some shows/read some stories on the topic of “catfishing.” Catfishing is when someone makes an internet profile of a fake person, and goes on to hurt one person or a lot of people. Sadly, these people tend to target lonely, kind people who often times are very naive and don’t know much about the internet.

How can you protect yourself from the threat of being Catfished? Here are five tips to help you be able to tell if someone is scamming you online.

 Tip # 1: They ask you for money at any time during the “relationship”, but especially soon after you start talking to them.

Asking for money is a really, really big red flag. No matter what your current feelings are for that person, if they ask for money, it’s usually a sign that they are not who they say they are. Someone who really cares for you will not ask for money. No matter what, DO NOT send money to ANYONE online whom you haven’t met in person. They will not pay you back, even if they say they will.

 Tip #2: They send you very sweet messages far too soon after you meet.

Anyone can get caught up in flattery. However, if you’ve only been talking to this person for a few days or a few weeks, and they already declare their love for you and their wishes to marry you, or send you several flowery, lovey-dovey messages, that is a big red flag. It means they’re trying to rope you in, showering you with compliments that you may not get from others. Don’t fall for their “affections” because the things they say are usually not true. A lot of times, their “compliments” to you are simply copied and pasted from other websites such as “love letter” sites.

 Tip #3: Every time you try to meet, something comes up and they can’t.

If you try to meet them three or more times, as in have a date set, bought the tickets and everything, then they cancel at the last minute each time with some elaborate excuse, chances are you are not going to meet. This person will keep you hanging on because they will tell you that “next time it will happen”, but when “next time” comes around, you end up getting disappointed yet again. If this has been going on for a while, you should either call it off, or if you want to see if they are real or not, buy your own ticket and go fly out to see them. If they don’t want to see you while you are there, it means that they are not who they say they are.

 Tip # 4: They have one dramatic story after another to tell you, to make you feel sorry for them.

Yes, a lot of drama can happen in people’s lives for real. However, if it’s one constant thing after another, chances are it is the catfish trying to make you feel sorry for them, in hopes that you will give them money to help them out with their current situation, or play with your emotions. Don’t fall for it.

 Tip #5: You try to have a video chat or talk to them on the phone, but they refuse.

This is a big red flag as well, because most of what keeps a real online relationship going is the ability to have video chat/phone conversations. If this person you have been emailing or messaging online refuses to get in front of a webcam to chat with you or keeps coming up with excuses each time you ask, don’t let the relationship go any farther until they can prove to you that they are the person they say they are.

In a real online relationship, it’s almost like hanging out in person, except for, of course, the lack of physical contact. All you have is skype, but it still helps you to feel closer to them when you can’t be together. If all the stories, facts and information this person shares with you seem to add up, and you can have an actual face-to-face conversation as if you were together in real life, then they are most likely to be who they say they are.

It can be tricky to get involved with someone online, especially from a distance. Just make sure to watch out for the signs, and use caution while exploring your online dating options. It might sound scary, but don’t rule out online dating completely -who knows, you could be missing out on meeting a genuinely awesome person online. Not everyone online is a catfish. You just have to be careful.