MTV has a new hit show on its hands, thanks to Nev Schulman, Max Joseph, and the duo’s quest to help Internet couples come together on “Catfish.” Unfortunately, what makes these romances TV-worthy is that they’re built on deception.
In nearly all cases, one partner in the relationship has been “catfished:” fed a false story, false identity, and false photos by someone that he or she met online. Sometimes, the so-called “catfish” has genuine feelings, but uses a fake identity out of fear of rejection. Other times, the catfish is malicious and self-interested, carelessly using the victim for personal gain.
If the latter is the case, many people who fear that they’re being deceived will turn to a private investigator to uncover the truth. Asking Nev and Max for help is a less conventional option; it will get you on MTV, but if your case is serious enough, they won’t be able to give you the real answers you need.
MTV’s Cookie-Cutter Cases
The biggest roadblock in a case with a catfish occurs when a victim doesn’t suspect that there’s something wrong. As a result, these peoples’ ignorance can prevent them from seeking help and can land them in a bad situation.
While every episode of Catfish begins with Nev and Max opening an email from someone who supposedly wants help with a suspicious online relationship, Hollywood.com has confirmed that at least five of these cases became Catfish episodes when someone other than the victim tipped off MTV. The people being deceived didn’t actually reach out; it was the other way around.
In one case, which profiled Joe Sumeriski of Warsaw, New York, it was his friend Rose who contacted MTV about Joe’s story. It was later revealed that Rose herself was Joe’s catfish—guilty conscience, perhaps?
When someone doesn’t look for help, it’s likely the person’s faith that his or her online partner is genuine that stops the victim from taking the simple steps that the Catfish hosts undertake to determine the legitimacy of the relationship. Anyone in an online relationship can easily do a reverse image search on someone’s photos and Google the person’s name to try to confirm his or her identity.
The Internet is a powerful tool. Victims who are sharp enough to suspect a catfish can use these resources to do a bit of digging on their own.
Investigating Professional Con Artists
Even if you suspect that a catfish has you hooked, basic online searches will only get you so far. For this reason, many victims will hire private investigators when they’re following someone’s digital trail and suddenly hit a standstill.
If the catfish is a professional con artist, he or she will often use a pay-as-you-go telephone number; use unique pictures that cannot be found on the Internet, or alter images so they can’t be found on a search engine; and even use fake mailing addresses and Western Union to obtain money from the person being catfished.
So yes, the cases on MTV are often easy enough for Nev and Max—or a victim with enough motivation—to figure out on their own. But when you’re dealing with expert con artists, the cases get much trickier—and that’s when you need an expert investigator.
Most people who decide to hire an investigator are not being conned by the typical 20-somethings you see on Catfish. Instead, these perpetrators are professionals looking to make money, get free plane tickets, or otherwise exploit their victims.
People will hire PIs to get the real story when they know they’re being deceived. In fact, every time NAI has received a case involving a catfish, the victim’s hunch has been proven correct. That said, it usually takes a lot to push someone over the edge to hire a private investigator—especially considering that it’s a more costly service than the cheap background checks you can find online.
When Is a PI Necessary?
Anytime you think you’re truly being conned—either by giving money to someone that isn’t who you think, or by investing your entire personal life in a relationship with someone who may be a con artist—we recommend hiring a private investigator. Using a real detective is the best way for you to find out if you’re sending money to a stranger. This reassurance will also help your peace of mind.
If you ever find yourself paying for plane tickets, gifts, or just plain cash for someone that you only know online, you need to reevaluate your investment in that person. Hold off on that level of commitment until you can confirm his or her true identity.
Even if you aren’t financially invested, anytime you’re dating on the Internet—even if you know your partner is really the person he or she says—you should obtain a background investigation. The reason for this is that you still can’t know for certain whether someone is conning you for money or citizenship. You’ll have a much longer, harder heartache if this turns out to be the case.
Don’t Rely on Amateurs
If your catfish were an actual con artist, Nev and Max would not be equipped with the resources to uncover such serious fraud and deception. They’re good with Google, but that doesn’t mean they can solve real cases.
Nev and Max can’t conduct a proper investigation for the simple reason that they don’t have access to the real databases that help you run background checks. These are the sources that allow you to see someone’s criminal history, liens and judgments. They also enable you to verify a person’s name, address and citizenship.
Even so, it’s undeniable that Catfish is an intriguing show. And if you’ve always wanted to be on television, maybe Catfish is your perfect opportunity. But if what you really want is answers—not just 15 minutes of fame—you won’t find them on MTV.
If you’re in a suspicious relationship and you’re serious about protecting your safety, you need professional help. Take your case to a private investigator to learn more, and meet with the authorities if you believe your catfish is not only lying to you, but also breaking laws in the process.
All con artists—whether in real life or as online “catfish”—are only out to help themselves. They’re not afraid to manipulate your emotions and leave you empty-handed in order to get what they want. So when you’re faced with this type of serious threat, do the right thing: Take it seriously.