Catfishing happens offline, too: Don’t assume he is who he says he is

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Article By Nikki Davis // EEW Magazine

Who says catfishing can only happen on the Internet? Without taking great care, you can be tricked and lured in by someone you see face-to-face without even realizing it.

I met a young man at my church three years ago. He was nice, but shy. He didn’t like to talk about himself, but was very much into me. If you had told me he’d break my heart soon after, I would not have believed you.

Charles (which is what I’m calling him) and I began dating a few months after he formally introduced himself. I thought he was awkward, yet charming. We fell in love hard and fast. Well, he told me he was in love. Within four months, he had gained access to my identity, wiped out my savings account and vanished.

Aside from being heartbroken, I was embarrassed. Oh, and I forgot to mention, I was planning a wedding that he knew would never happen. The ring he left me with, that I didn’t get appraised until after he was gone, was fake.

Looking back, things moved too quickly. But you know the saying about hindsight: It’s 20/20. I ignored telltale signs because I was smitten with his six-foot-five frame, his athletic build, and his dark chocolate skin. He had the whitest teeth I had ever seen and one dimple on his left cheek. He looked too good to be bad, I thought. More like too good to be true!

Getting lost in Mr. McDreamy’s eyes got me catfished—in person no less. Before my situation, I don’t know why I thought catfishing only happened on the Internet. In case you don’t know what it is, catfishing is basically when someone strikes up a relationship with you based on false pretenses. They lie about who they really are in order to manipulate or take advantage of you in some way.

Now I know better. Anyone, online and offline, can trick you if you don’t pay attention during the crucial get-to-know-you phase. Church is rife with catfishing types from the pulpit to the pews. I learned that the hard way.

Scripture says in Matthew 7:15-16, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits.”

How do you spot the rotten fruit of a ravenous wolf? Here are five things I noticed about Charles that I now view as red flags. I’m sharing them in the hopes that you won’t get catfished like I did.

1.      He was secretive. Whenever I tried to get Charles to share information about himself, like where he worked, his family, where he lived, and other things, he found a way to avoid talking about it. His favorite way to the change the subject was to say, “I’m boring. Tell me about yourself.” I mistook his elusiveness for interest in me. Big mistake!

2.      He liked to stay indoors. My grandmother told me, “If a man doesn’t want to show you off, there’s something wrong with that.” Charles didn’t go on dates, and he didn’t want to have his picture taken. I even jokingly asked him one time, “Are you a fugitive on the run from the law or something?” I thought it was strange that he always wanted to watch movies at my house and order in. His excuse was that he was a homebody, had anxiety issues and didn’t enjoy being around people.

3.      His work situation was weird. Charles said he worked for himself in finance and was successful at it, but something didn’t add up. I know there are many entrepreneurs with flexible schedules, but Charles made my antenna go up. There was no proof anywhere that Charles was in business. No social media profile. No company website. No office. No information available online. Anybody who has a successful business will have some kind of digital footprint. He didn’t. Something was off about that.

4.      He needed me to pay. How did I miss this? There was always some excuse as to why Charles needed me to pay for something, or ask to borrow money. He had a new sob story every week. One time he told me he got robbed and his credit cards were stolen. He said he had to shut down his account. I felt for him and gave him money to cover his expenses until things got resolved. He never gave the money back. But I was so caught up in his web, I dismissed whatever nagging suspicions I had.

5.      He was too involved in my personal affairs. My greatest error was giving Charles access to my personal information. He spent a lot of time at my house where I had bills, account statements, and my purse lying around. One day I caught him snooping around, which I didn’t like. He looked startled and stunned to see me, but said he was just curious about me. One of our worst arguments was about him being in my business and sharing none of his. How could I not see that I left him a trail of breadcrumbs leading him on the perfect path to rob me blind?

The story is a lot longer than this and there are many more details, but not enough time. Looking back on it, I made three core mistakes.

First, I let my desperation for a relationship cloud my judgement and kill my discernment. Second, I moved too fast. I didn’t give myself enough time to get to know him. Third, I was far too open. I revealed private details that made it easy for Charles to take advantage of me mentally, physically, and emotionally.

Don’t do what I did. Take relationships slow. Look past a person’s façade and make sure they are the real thing. Examine their fruit. Pray, pray and pray some more!

These days I am still healing. I keep my favorite scripture just above my bathroom mirror: “Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take” (Proverbs 3:6).