Imposters is a new show that revolves around a strong female character who happens to be a con artist, and she robs men and women of their money and their hearts.  To celebrate its release, psychologist and relationship expert Honey Lancaster-James talks to us about love imposters- how to spot them and what to do if you’ve fallen for one. 

Imposters is available now exclusively on Virgin TV on demand

Imposters is available now exclusively on Virgin TV on demand

Why has there been an increase in love imposters in the digital age?

In today’s online and connected world, there is arguably more opportunity to meet people than ever. We’re no longer confined by the geographical limits of our local community to find and meet a partner. We can cast our nets wider and meet people through internet dating and apps on our phones.

However, this does also bring problems. While you may be able to swipe left and right, making a snap judgement as to whether you feel an attraction for someone, you really don’t have a great deal of information to go on as to who is actually behind those pictures.

Even among ordinary people, the digital age encourages a certain amount of ‘imposter’ type behaviour. This is because communicating via the internet, social media and dating apps allows people to hide behind their online avatars. 

Another reason people are more vulnerable to being conned these days is that far more people are single and loneliness is on the increase. People who are lonely, are in greater need of human connection and sadly, imposters know this and use it to their advantage.

What impact does a love imposter have on someone both short and long term?

There are some more obvious effects of being conned such as a loss of your hard-earned money or valuables, and some seriously harmful physical effects if it has led to a physical attack. The less obvious effects are often psychological and emotional. It can be very traumatic to suddenly realise or discover that someone you trusted, valued and thought you were having a relationship with, even if it was an online relationship, has exploited and violated your trust.

This kind of trauma can lead to psychological symptoms of depression and anxiety but it can also fundamentally affect your basic sense of trust in others. This is the case when anyone has perpetrated a crime against you or violated you in some way. What’s even worse in the case of imposter scenarios, is that not only do you doubt others and find it hard to trust them in the future, you also doubt yourself and your own perceptions and ability to read other people and their motivations. This can be highly damaging and corrosive to your future relationships since it’s important to have enough self-esteem and self-belief in your own ability to sense who is good for you and who isn’t

What are the warning signs that you’re with a love imposter?

Imposters are highly skilled in deception however, there are often some clues and warning signs that you can look out for:

  • An imposter might tell you things they like or dislike, or values or beliefs that they have, and they may be exactly the same as yours. You might find yourself thinking this person is a perfect match! In fact, they have just researched you and are using your own information to try to convince you that they can be trusted. In reality people are rarely a perfect match and if someone seems too good to be true, they may be playing you.
  • If you find yourself feeling swept up and highly excited by someone, especially someone you’ve never actually met but perhaps only communicated with online, then it could be that all is not quite what it seems. In reality, a healthy relationship develops gradually, over time, people are rarely absolutely perfect at first, but con artists know exactly what you want to hear.

  • Imposters tend to keep the spotlight on you and not on themselves. Sometimes a person may be a little guarded and give little detail away about themselves and their lives when you first get to know them, this is fine and normal. However, if it carries on and you begin to feel that you know little about this new person in your life or that they rarely give anything away, then it’s possible they are hiding something. 
  • As soon as you begin an online conversation with someone, you are revealing information, from your local dialect that might reveal your location, to the things and places you talk about that might reveal details of your everyday life. It does not take long at all for a con-artist, masquerading as a potential date online, to gain your trust and then begin developing plausible sounding stories as to why they might need some money or why you should do a certain thing or meet them in a certain place. Be very aware about the kind of information you’ve given out.
  • Ask lots of questions about the person you’re interacting with and do not be afraid to ask for personal details such as full name and address so you can do some research and verify their identity. If they are shady about this, then proceed with caution. Do not however, reveal personal details yourself before checking them out.
  • Imposters are very clever but they occasionally slip up and there may be little inconsistencies in the stories and details they tell you. If you find yourself thinking or asking “but I thought you said…” then this is a major warning sign.
  • If someone you have been communicating with online makes arrangements to meet you but then, for whatever reason, no matter how plausible sounding, keeps cancelling on you and delaying the actual meet, this should raise a major red flag!
  • Most people who have nothing to hide leave an online trail. They have social media accounts, real world jobs and previous addresses that can all be researched and looked up. Stay safe by being your own detective and looking up your new beau. If they have accounts that reveal barely anything or have limited pictures then be very careful.

What tips do you have for someone who has already fallen for this type of love?

  • NEVER lend, give or send money to someone, for ANY reason, who you’ve recently met, barely know and are not in an actual (face-to-face), fully committed, ongoing relationship. Even then, I would always advise doing so with extreme caution as most adult, normal relationships do not involve the exchange of money. Certainly, NEVER send money or your bank details to someone you’ve never actually met and only know online or via telephone or Skype, no matter how you feel about them.
  • Tell your friends and family about your relationship. If you share the honest details of your interactions, even showing messages that have passed between you, then the people who love you will give you their honest reactions because they can see things more objectively and their view is not as clouded as yours might be by emotions or dreams. The imposter may try to convince you that you cannot trust your family or friends or that they don’t understand your unique relationship. However, this is a tactic to isolate you from the people who you can trust and who would try to protect you from exploitation.
  • If you discover ANY lies or anything fake at all about the person you are communicating with then it’s best to walk away. It’s likely that there are other lies that you don’t know about, and there are plenty of other, entirely genuine, people out there for you to date. Why take any risks?
  • Trust your instincts - if anything ever raises your suspicions proceed with extreme caution and seek professional advice.

How can someone who treats relationships in this way find their way out to a healthy and normal partnership?

If you’ve ever fallen prey to an imposter one the worst effects, aside from the trauma of discovering they were fake and any possible effects of exploitation like loss of money, is the loss of trust you’ll have in others. An experience like this can leave you questioning everyone and doubting everyone’s motives. Worse still, you may find yourself unable to trust yourself and your own instincts regarding who is safe and not safe. In reality, anyone can be perpetrated against by an imposter, and you will have learned some valuable lessons but it would be a mistake never to trust again as you’ll be left lonely and isolated.

British culture is generally all about being polite and not necessarily being completely open about one’s feelings. So sometimes Brits tell ‘white lies’ for what are essentially honourable motives, such as trying not to hurt someone’s feelings or trying to avoid unnecessary conflict or making someone worry about something. However, this can be a slippery slope because if you tell one ‘fib’ this often needs to be followed by more lies. It can become habitual. Brits also tend to worry about their personal image and want to save face so sometimes they lie for this reason or because they tend to be more reserved and avoidant of conflict or embarrassment. However, in a minority of situations people do tell lies for personal gain or in order to hood wink you, and of course, occasionally someone will try to manipulate or exploit with more serious deception. Thankfully, this is relatively rare and hence we are so shocked and outraged when it does happen.

Are white lies acceptable in a relationship?

The vast majority of lies are told for relatively innocent reasons and someone may even have good intentions. However, there are more productive ways to communicate. I would generally encourage more open and truthful communication but ensure that you say things with love and care and at the appropriate time. If you tell a white lie, it may lead to the need to tell another, and then another and eventually, if your partner finds out that you’ve told a lie it could lead them to not trust you on other things. When trust breaks down in a relationship it can be very difficult to repair and build the trust back up.

Why do 25% of Brits not trust the partner they are with?

The research by Virgin TV on Demand found that many people have experienced being lied to in a relationship so this may explain why a number of people don’t trust their partners. It also found that the majority of people do tell lies themselves. We tend to expect of others the same behaviour we engage in ourselves so it may be that people don’t trust their partners because they themselves are not trustworthy. It is also true, however, that around 20% of the population are more anxious and insecure in their relationships in general, regardless of the person they are with. This could lead them to feel a general distrust of their partners.

Can any relationship ever have 100% trust in it?

Trust is a delicate thing. It does not just arrive suddenly,; it takes time to build through repeated positive experiences with someone. Unfortunately, it can be easily broken, and just one occurrence of deception or a single transgression can break what has taken time to be built. Many people do have perfectly healthy and secure relationships, in fact psychological studies have shown that around 60-65% of the population generally experience secure and trusting relationships with their partners. If you’ve been in a relationship with someone for a very long time and your partner has never given you anything but cause to trust them then you may well have a deeply trusting feeling and in such cases you do trust them 100%. Difficulties arise if someone does something to rupture that trust and in some cases, a serious transgression may cause a difficulty that may never be fully resolved and after that point you may never be able to trust 100% again.

33% of Brits have lied in a previous relationship, 3% of which have been serious deceit so are they likely to do it again if they have before?

Just because someone has lied in a previous relationship, even if what took place was a serious deceit, this does not mean that they will necessarily do it again. There may have been contributing factors and the situation may have been very different then to now. It would be understandable to be more cautious, and certainly, if someone has shown a pervasive pattern of telling lies then that suggests this may be ingrained behaviour, part of the personality or way of solving their difficulties. However, sometimes a particular set of circumstances led someone to tell lies and a new set of circumstances may lead to new, more trust worthy behaviour.

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