Traci LeBrun

Catfishing is defined as “the process of luring someone into a relationship by means of a fictional online persona.” This deceptive practice is used for financial gain and can be used in either romantic relationships or a friendship/acquaintance.

I heard a form of this recently happening to someone I know. This person was sent an email from someone they knew, but their friend’s email was hacked – which seems to be happening more and more these days.

The hacker or “catfisher” sent this person a message saying they needed help getting a gift card for their niece, was having difficulties and needed their help. Seeing that the email was sent directly from the email address they were familiar with, and being a generally trusting person, they purchased a $200 gift card online and sent the hacker information for its usage.

This person was out $200, but that wasn’t enough for the catfisher. The next day, they had the nerve to ask for more saying “kids will always be kids” and that the gift card was not enough for what their niece wanted to do with it.

The victim of the scheme complied and tried to get another gift card to help their friend out but was unable due to their credit card company not allowing another purchase.

Detecting scammers

If you get an email that appears to be from a friend but doesn’t feel quite right, there are some things you can look for. Sometimes it’s words like “Regards” or “Render” or “denomination” or “uncordially” – very formal words a friend would not be using or improper English grammar or spelling.

This particular hacker stated, “Please can you render me a one more favor and i promise to pay back as soon as am back i need you to help me purchase another gift card worth of $400 ($100 denomination) so she could complete what she has to with it.Thanks let me know when you purchase them and i promise as soon as am back i will refund your cash [sic].”

The next day, the hacker said, “Good Morning. I will be very glad if you could help me get more . i have try all my best on getting this done but uncordially no luck . REGARDS [sic].”

Notice the hacker used very formal language in some cases and then used a lowercase pronoun “i” and the word “uncordially” and bad grammar and mechanics – this is a red flag as often hackers are foreign agents unfamiliar with the colloquials of the English language.

If you are catfished or a hacking recipient

If you do receive an email like the one mentioned above, contact the sender directly via phone or text message to see if they were the true sender. If they did not send it, delete the message. Never click on any links included in an email as this could corrupt your computer and compromise your stored personal information.

I have heard of older friends even receiving phone calls from someone posing as their grandchild asking for money in an “urgent situation.” Unable to detect whether it is them or not by the sound of their voice, they have given them money electronically. My own grandma was going to meet someone somewhere to give money to whom she believed was one of her grandchildren, but thankfully my aunt was alerted to what was happening, stopped the interaction and called authorities.

But there are really no legitimate instances of people whom we are not close with asking us for any kind of monetary, urgent help. So that is always a red flag. Of course, there are always fundraisers or what not for people we know, but those things can be verified as well.

If you do fall victim to giving someone money, contact your bank immediately and let them know what happened.

But never give out your social security number, bank account number or credit card number when emailed or called – legitimate organizations will never ask you for this information when they email you or call, unless you called them to purchase something and you know it’s a legitimate number.

Unfortunately, we live among those who are like prowling lions, seeking out people to take advantage of. But with a couple extra steps, the prowling lions can be identified and our loved ones can still be helped with our generosity.

If you suspect a scam or fall victim to one, contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at, or by phone at 1-877-382-4357 (9:00 AM - 8:00 PM, ET).

The FTC accepts complaints about most scams, including these popular ones: phone calls; emails; computer support scams; imposter scams; fake checks; demands for you to send money (check, wire transfers, gift cards); and student loan or scholarship scams, prize, grants, and sweepstakes offers.

The FTC also collects reports of identity theft. Report identity theft online at or by phone at 1-877-438-4338 (9:00 AM - 8:00 PM, ET).

Traci LeBrun is the editor of the Messenger.

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