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AUTHOR: Matthew Scott Donnelly, MTV.com

We know what you’re thinking when you watch “Catfish” (because we’re thinking it, too): What would compel anyone to pose as a person he or she isn’t? What could a fraud possibly get out of the experience and, more puzzlingly, how does someone else fall for the lies? Well, we talked to some experts on the matter, and it turns out, the online dating masquerade is much more prevalent than we thought. But, there are ways to avoid the pain and embarrassment of being duped. The number one rule? Trust your instincts.

Lucy Papillon, a clinical psychologist who specializes in relationship issues and cases of anxiety, advises anyone who engages in a friendship that starts on Facebook or other social media sites to be wary of basic abnormal behavior in communication. “If they’re not consistent online, they’re not going to be consistent in a relationship,” Papillon told MTV, and said things like not following through with scheduled chat dates or resisting calls are definite indicators that someone is being untruthful. “If there’s any part of you that has this gut feeling that’s something weird–it is. I always tell people to trust their intuition. A lot of people like to ignore that.”

Papillon said those who fake web identities often do so because “they want a sense of control and power,” and said it’s best for people who have doubts about their online crushes’ identities to move on. “People need to ask themselves why they’re working so hard for this,” she said. “They need to look at why they are pushing so hard to meet this person. Is it because the other person is interesting, or is it because you have to have a relationship in order to feel like a whole person?”

We also spoke to Boston University Professor of Sociology Nazli Kibria, who said online dating is a cut-and-dry matter that’s not so different from in-person connections, and added that there’s one surefire way to determine whether an online romance should be pursued. “The marker of a relationship that is legitimate is that your partner should be prepared to introduce you to his or her family or friends,” Kibria said. “So if the online partner is not prepared to do this, that is a red flag.”

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