Worried about being ‘catfished’? People are paying an agency to STALK their dates on social media before they meet them for the first time
- Andy Bartram, 46, from Kent, provides a full report on prospective dates for £20
- He uses ‘open-source information’, which includes posts to social networks
- The professional catfish hunter hopes to launch a monthly subscription service
- The fledgling company is currently not hiring any extra catfish hunters
Lonelyhearts are paying an agency to stalk their first dates online to avoid the embarrassment of being ‘catfished’.
The paid catfish hunters trawl publicly-available posts on social networks, including Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and personal websites and blogs.
This is used to verify whether the person on the other end of the dating app is exactly who they say they are.
Dubbed Vet Your Date, the agency charges online daters a flat fee of £20 to obtain a full report of the person they’re hoping to meet for an romantic date, however, a monthly subscription service is due to launch in the near future.
‘Catfishing’ originated as a term for the process of luring people into false relationships that has become increasingly prevalent with the rise of social media.
But it has also come to encompass people giving out false information about themselves more generally.
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Andy Bartram, 46, from Kent, has undergone training in open source intelligence gathering from the College of Policing and has now set up his own online company, Vet Your Date
With mobile dating apps like Tinder and Bumble becoming increasingly popular (almost one in five relationships now start online) there is an increased risk of ‘catfishes’ – people who use fake images in their profile to dupe potential suitors.
Andy Bartram, 46, from Kent, has undergone training in open source intelligence gathering from the College of Policing and has used his knowledge to establish his own online company, Vet Your Date.
The UK-based firm catches out fraudulent dating app profiles using skills acquired during Mr Bartram’s criminal investigation background.
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He said: ‘I have done those kinds of searches as an intelligence analyst and while I was watching Catfish on MTV I thought it could potentially be a good idea to do something similar.
‘Anybody could do it, but in the same way, if you need your boiler fixed, you would get a professional in because of safety.
‘I have spent a number of years as a criminal intelligence analyst and I have had police training. That gives me the power to interrogate webpages to get results back.’
The doting husband, who met his wife in a bar more than a decade ago, has recently revealed he is not looking to hire any additional staff.
HOW CAN YOU CHECK IF YOU ARE BEING CATFISHED?
Dating apps and online websites are plagued with fraudulent profiles, known as ‘catfishes’.
‘Catfishing’ originated as a term for the process of luring people into false relationships, however, it has also come to encompass people giving out false information about themselves more generally.
These profiles often use images of another person to allow users to pretend to be someone else in order to get a date, or scam money from a lonelyheart.
Fortunately, there are certain ways to check if these profiles are real people or if they are bogus accounts —
1. Google reverse image search
This is probably the most valuable tool for catching out a catfish and can be done via Google.
To kickstart the process, people need only right-click the photos that are arousing their suspcions, copy the URL and paste it into images.google.com.
The search engine will search to see if the image has been used elsewhere.
If you find the picture associated with a different person to the one you’re speaking to on your dating app, it’s likely you’ve met a catfish!
2. Use an app called Veracity
It is useful for dating sites such as Tinder, Bumble and Grindr as it allows images from Dropbox or Camera roll (or similar) to be cross-referenced against any matching results.
Load the app, then select a screenshot of the suspicious dating app profile from your camera roll to launch the search.
The app will tell you if the picture belongs to somebody else.
3. Check their Facebook
Almost everyone who has a profile on a dating site will have a Facebook account (most dating apps require users to have one, after all!) so it is always advisable to track down your potential suitor on other forms of social media.
4. Google them
Google and other search engines have an extensive repertoire and most people will crop up in a search.
In this day and age, it’s unusual for someone to have nothing on Google.
Have a search through for them or their relatives, things they’ve said or posted in the past. If there’s nothing, that should raise alarm bells.
5. Skype/Facetime/Video Chat
For prospective romantic engagements, seeing the face of someone you are virtually talking to is essential.
Anyone that asks for money online or via an app is likely to be a fraud.
This is probably a scam and should provide immediate red flags.
The amateur endeavour of social media stalking has now been commercialised, with people able to obtain a full report on their upcoming date for a fee of £20 from Andy Bartram of ‘Vet Your Date’ (pictured)
One of his customers, Michelle McDermott, left a review on the Vet Your Date Facebook page and said: ‘I used Vet Your Date recently and was thoroughly impressed with the professionalism and service provided.
‘The lead analyst, Andy, personally conducted all of the checks and spent several hours on them and at the end he gave me a phone call to confirm his findings.
‘Although he wasn’t able to identify everything I would have liked to have known, he was able to provide enough information to give me some peace of mind.
‘Thanks Andy – great idea; I shall certainly recommend you.’
The business works on a ‘no new information, no fee’ basis.
Vet Your Date does not consider itself to be a private investigation firm, since all of the information gathered and presented in its profiles is publicly-available online.
Mr Bartram said: ‘We live in a new swipe left swipe right culture where people don’t necessarily know who they are meeting or who they are talking to and others exploit that. It is an important issue for health and safety with the potential for fraud.’
The professional catfish hunter is preparing to launch a monthly subscription service where dating app users can request screenings for a number of prospective partners.
Vet My Date works on a ‘no new information, no fee’ basis and claims not to be a private investigation firm, as all the information is open-source. Mr Bartram said: ‘We live in a new swipe left swipe right culture where people don’t necessarily know who they are meeting’ (stock)
HOW DID ONLINE DATING BECOME SO POPULAR?
The first ever incarnation of a dating app can be traced back to 1995 when Match.com was first launched.
The website allowed single people to upload a profile, a picture and chat to people online.
The app was intended to allow people looking for long-term relationships to meet.
eHarmony was developed in 2000 and two years later Ashley Madison, a site dedicated to infidelity and cheating, was first launched.
A plethora of other dating sites with a unique target demographic were set up in the next 10-15 years including: OKCupid (2004), Plenty of Fish (2006), Grindr (2009) and Happn (2013).
In 2012, Tinder was launched and was the first ‘swipe’ based dating platform.
After its initial launch it’s usage snowballed and by March 2014 there were one billion matches a day, worldwide.
In 2014, co-founder of Tinder, Whitney Wolfe Herd launched Bumble, a dating app that empowered women by only allowing females to send the first message.
The popularity of mobile dating apps such as Tinder, Badoo and more recently Bumble is attributable to a growing amount of younger users with a busy schedule.
In the 1990s, there was a stigma attached to online dating as it was considered a last-ditch and desperate attempt to find love.
This belief has dissipated and now around one third of marriages are between couples who met online.
A survey from 2014 found that 84 per cent of dating app users were using online dating services to look for a romantic relationship.
Twenty-four per cent stated that that they used online dating apps explicitly for sexual encounters.
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