Catfishing: Avoiding the tricks of online dating

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - When it comes to dating, they say there's plenty of fish in the sea. And that's a good way to look at it. But what if the fish you're trying to reel in isn't exactly what you thought it was?

Online dating has become a multi-billion dollar industry that shows no sign of stopping. It's a modern day twist on an age old quest for love, that sees people connecting just about every day.

"Generally people have difficulty initiating dating situations," said Jasmine Myers of Myers Life Coaching LLC. "Online form has provided a great tool for people to get to know each other and to build relationships. It has become a multi billion dollar industry because so many people are turning to the internet to find love."

There are plenty of online love success stories, but in some cases, those relationships aren't always what people expect. There are mountains of data on the internet and plenty of ways to create fake profiles. Unlike actual dating websites, all you need to create most social media pages is an email address, and a photo of your choosing.

"It's a way to be anonymous and maybe explore a side of yourself that you're not ready to explore in your everyday life. It opens up the opportunity to be someone that you're not," Myers said.

What can start as a playful joke, can grow into what some see as cruel and humiliating web of lies. Take Jarrod Musselwhite for example. He fell in love with a bubbly blonde named Abby, who didn't exist. All that time it was actually Melissa Henderson of Gulfport on the other side of the screen.

"I did it because I was kind of different from everybody and on the internet you can just kind of be whoever you want to be. That's kind of where I felt most comfortable, but not comfortable with the way I looked," Henderson said.

Melissa was featured on Catfish, a popular reality TV series on MTV. The show is a spin off from a documentary about Nev Shoman, a man who thought he was dating the woman of his dreams online for months, only to find out that she, too, was someone totally different.

"I never meant to hurt him and he knows that. My advice to people is, stop. I learned that no relationship can start on a lie. No matter how perfect you think it is. It's impossible," Henderson said.

Situations like this occur more than you may think. But avoiding this kind of heartbreak can be pretty easy. First, before you get too deep into a relationship with someone you met online, try to connect over video. Services like Skype or Facetime allow you to have a video chat with anyone who has a webcam at no cost.

And watch out for other warning signs.

"Be cautious of pictures that are extremely attractive. It may be too good to be true. Facebook is just categorized names, it can be anything. It's not factual. I'd also be careful of sob stories. Sometimes people will play your heart strings to try to get you to give them money or things that are illegal. Be very leery of that," Myers said.

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