To almost all, we extend our greetings for a pleasant and romantic Valentine’s Day. But not for all. Valentine’s Day is not just the time for pink hearts, flowing ribbons, flouncy cards, and chocolate. It is also a time for the proverbial “catphish” to prey on the unsuspecting victim of love. For my fellow Southerners, I am not referring to the tasty fried denizen of the deep that goes well with hushpuppies. I am referring to the slimy scum suckers who prey on the innocent, pretending to be someone they are not in order to pluck the heartstrings as they plunder the purse strings.
You know who you are. Your anthem looks something like this:
“Song of the Catphish”
(With apologies to Robert Frost)
The scum is slimey, as I am,
But I have paramours to scam,
And many yearning loves to spam,
And many yearning loves to spam.
For those less familiar with the species, the catphish is not found in dark, deep ponds, but in chat rooms, social internet sites, and dating websites. You do not fish for catphish. They fish for you. Like a wriggling worm, they disguise themselves using every form of deception to win your affections and your trust, never letting on that a barbed hook lies within. They court you, and charm you, even relying on pity, patriotism and guilt to manipulate you into making decisions you will regret.
And when, at last, you nibble the bait, they set the hook.
Like their distant but more respectable catfish cousins, catphish are bottom feeders. They seek emotionally susceptible targets of opportunity, the elderly, the young, the emotionally fragile, those yearning for love.
They insist on remaining out of sight. All communications with them will be by e-mail, cell phones, text messages, or untraceable letters. Circumstances will always place them out of reach. They may be overseas, or in prison, or in the military. Meeting for coffee is out of the question. Part of their charm, in fact, is their unavailability.
They may be destitute, dying of cancer, or some other curable disease. Death will usually be avoidable if only they could afford a surgery. They may be healthier specimens, whose distant mother is dying. Her last request is to see her only son; but alas, the son cannot afford to travel to her side. They may be facing a sudden emergency, and need financial help, having no one else to whom they can turn for aid. They may be desperate to come to the side of the lovelorn to render solace, but without the means to do so.
The stories vary as widely as the creativity of the species of catphish at issue, but they all have a common thread: they play on an emotional string, coupled with a financial need they cannot satisfy. The one who comes to their aid will win their undying love. Enter the barbed hook.
Just as Paganini wrote variations on a theme, so the catphish will create a potentially infinite number of variations to bypass the radar of the wary. If you plead poverty, they will find someone to send a cashier’s check, or a postal money order to your account, provided that you are willing to transfer the funds to them. Of course, your transfer must be by wire. Their funds are fraudulent; yours are genuine. And as the catfish can deliver a stinging blow, so the catphish will deliver its financial poison.
Then, having stung its victim, the catphish descends into the muck from which its rose, only to seek its next victim.
So how do you beat the catphish? As my wife reminds me from time to time when I try to open a stubborn box, “You have to be smarter than the box.”
Gentle reader, you have to be smarter than the catphish. Don’t get sucked in. Don’t fall for that ever unseen love. And when you are tempted to send money to a stranger, ask your children if they mind you sending their inheritance to a faceless bottom dweller. The second opinion cannot hurt more than the impending theft.
If you think you are the victim of a scam, contact the Attorney General at 1-888-551-4636.
Copyright 2014 Gregory D. Lucas