With the surge in social media and online dating over the last decade, catfishing has become more common than ever. In 2020 alone, over 23,000 US citizens reported being a victim of catfishing. Moreover, the financial damage caused by catfishing is devastating. The 23,000 victims reported combined damage of more than $605,000,000.
But what is this dangerous practice of catfishing you’ve heard so much about exactly? Where can you get catfished? What are the signs you are being catfished? What should you do to prevent it if you have already become a victim? We will answer all these questions in this extensive article.
What is Catfishing?
Catfishing means pretending to be someone else to deceive someone into wanting a romantic relationship with the pretender. To this end, the catfisher generally uses made-up stories and fake photos to support their fake identity.
Some people catfish just because they feel they’re getting very limited romantic attention. However, catfishers often have much more sinister motives. Many of them ask for money once they have gained the victim’s trust, for example. Alternatively, they might attempt to force people to “pay up,” for instance, by combining catfishing with other scams, such as sextortion, which frequently happens.
Now, you might rightfully ask yourself: why is it called catfishing? Some people think it came from the popular 2010 documentary Catfish, which discusses a young man being deceived by a woman with a fake Facebook profile. However, the documentary simply popularized the term – it didn’t invent it.
The term originally comes from the early 1900s, when anglers used to ship catfish with codfish. Since the catfish is the natural enemy of the cod, it’d chase the fish around constantly, keeping it fresh, active, and better-tasting. Since digital catfishers also chase their victim, the term was adopted to describe them as well.
Why do People Catfish?
There are many different reasons people catfish. Some are more “innocent.” For instance, some people catfish because they feel lonely or underappreciated in a society that doesn’t find them attractive. Their goal often is merely to create an online persona to attract people they feel wouldn’t be interested in them in real life.
Things get more severe when the end goal of catfishing is to harass or stalk victims. In some cases, catfishing can even lead to or be a part of even more severe forms of abuse.
Then there is the common financial incentive: many catfishers end up scamming their victims for money. They will often come up with excuses to ask for financial help. They might tell the victim they need money to go and see them. Or maybe a family member is ill, and they need some money to cover medical costs. You may feel you’re helping them out by transferring (some) money, but they will likely keep coming up with more excuses to ask for financial aid.
Where Can I Get Catfished?
Catfishing mainly takes place on social media platforms and online dating sites or apps. Below, we discuss some of the most common “catfishing platforms” and what this scam looks like on these platforms.
Tinder is one of the biggest online dating platforms and by far the biggest one in the US. Therefore, it won’t come as a surprise that the “Tinder Catfish” is one of the most common species of catfish. It’s best to learn how to manage your privacy on Tinder to prevent opportunistic catfishers.
Once the catfish has “matched with their victim,” they will message them and try to gain their trust. This is when the catfishing cycle begins. Fortunately, Tinder has recently announced they will soon require ID verification for all users. This should make it much more difficult for catfishers to find their “catch.”
Catfishing on Facebook
With about 86 million fake Facebook accounts and Facebook being the largest social medium in the world, it’s hardly surprising that there is so much catfishing on Facebook.
Many of us have likely received a suspicious-looking friend request at one point or another. It’s best to ignore and delete these. After all, according to the Better Business Bureau, 85% of catfishing scams start on Facebook. The launch of Facebook Dating (in 2019) is likely to have increased this percentage.
Facebook catfishing generally starts with sending a friend request to the victim. Sometimes the catfisher sends a direct message, hoping the victim will answer. Once the victim responds, the perpetrator will reel them in with sweet-talking and fake stories. There are quite a few other Facebook scams out there, so it’s best to remain up to date and arm yourself.
With a platform as visually orientated as Instagram and more than a billion users, Instagram catfishing can hardly be avoided completely. Catfishers can send their victim either a follow request or a direct message using Instagram Direct. The latter will appear as a message request and has to be approved by the victim.
Instagram is no stranger to profiles that (seemingly) belong to the rich, successful, and beautiful. Therefore, anyone can come into contact with someone that seems to be a little bit too good to be true and will eventually turn out to be a catfish. This is just one of many Instagram scams you should know about.
8 Signs You Are Being Catfished
Catfishers are generally excellent at tricking their victims. They rely on the emotions of affection and infatuation to cloud their victim’s judgment. Nevertheless, there are usually a few clear warning signs you are being catfished. We will go over these red flags below and elaborate on each of the signs.
1. Avoiding (video) calls
Catfishers want to avoid situations where their true identity is exposed. Therefore, they’ll never agree to a video chat or to meet up in person. Often, they won’t even accept a regular call (without video). After all, even their voice could expose information they don’t want you to know, such as them being a man instead of a woman or vice versa. Therefore, if someone you met online has constant excuses not to meet up or have a (video) call, this should be a definite red flag for catfishing.
2. No online presence (on other platforms)
A large part of our presence is online these days. Therefore, you can expect someone active on one social platform to also be active on others. This is even truer when we focus on a younger demographic, where catfishing is rampant.
Ask yourself: Why does that successful businessman you just met on Facebook not have a LinkedIn page to promote his company, or even to look for new partnerships and recruits? Why does that beautiful fitness model chatting you up on Tinder not have examples of her work on Instagram or her Facebook page?
If the person you just met has a very lacking online presence, ask yourself why. Especially when combined with other signs, this might just be a red flag.
3. Very few friends or followers
When someone approaching you online has very few friends on Facebook or followers on Instagram, this could be a red flag for catfishing. Most people use social media to connect and keep in touch with people online. Supposedly, part of this process is having a decent online circle to communicate or keep in touch with.
Of course, this doesn’t always mean you’re dealing with a catfisher. If a profile doesn’t have this social circle, this could be because they’re new on the platform or simply prefer not to have too many contacts. It could also be a sign that keeping in touch with family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances is not the primary goal of their social media use. Even so, be very cautious when a profile has very few friends or followers.
4. A very recently created profile
If a social media profile was very recently created, this could be a red flag. This is especially something to look out for if a profile does have a decent number of friends or followers, but something still seems “fishy.”
A recently created profile could just mean someone is genuinely new to a social medium. But it could also mean they frequently create fake profiles to find new victims to catfish. After all, once a profile is flagged or reported on a social medium, it’s often removed. As such, catfish often create many fake profiles, either one after another or simultaneously.
5. “Professional” pictures
Another huge giveaway that something’s off is if your romantic interest only has professional-looking pictures on their profile. Most people on social media — celebrities and influencers excluded — mainly upload pictures taken by family and friends and some selfies.
If you encounter a profile full of professional-looking pictures, this might be either a sign they’re using someone else’s photos (more on this later), or they went through great effort to make themselves look better than they really are. In both instances, it’s wise to ask yourself why.
Even if they are their real photos, it’s probable someone’s trying to lure you in with excessively flattering pictures. Of course, plenty of (aspiring) models promote themselves on social media, but how many of those approach random strangers online out of romantic interest?
6. Stolen pictures
Needless to say, the use of stolen pictures online is an even more serious sign of malicious intent than using stock, professional photos. If someone is using stolen pictures, it’s very likely they are out to scam you. After all, scamming people on social media is one of the most common reasons for creating fake accounts.
Fortunately, it’s often quite easy to find out whether someone is using stolen pictures on social media. You can simply use Google reverse image search to find similar pictures like the one used by your (potential) catfisher and find out where they come from. To do this, simply go to Google Images and click on the little camera icon to upload a picture or paste a picture’s URL and start your search.
7. Asking for money
This is one of the most obvious signs you’re dealing with a catfish. After all, a common reason for catfishing people is to come up with excuses to ask them for money down the line. Ask yourself: How likely is it that you would ask someone you just met online for money, especially if you’re hoping to have a relationship with them?
8. Asking for explicit pictures or videos
Asking for explicit pictures or videos can be a huge red flag. This could mean the asker is trying to combine catfishing with another dangerous form of cybercrime: sextortion. In this scenario, catfishing is actually used to obtain sensitive images of you, which will later be used as leverage to extort you into providing more images or paying the “sextorter.”
Bonus tip: Social catfish
There’s a comprehensive online tool that can help you find out whether you’re being catfished: Social Catfish. This tool allows you to investigate people by filling out their name and country, email address, phone number, social media username, address, or by uploading their image. Alternatively, you can do a more extensive search by filling out more details about the person.
The one downside with their service, however, is that some might consider it quite pricey. It’s around $6 for a five-day trial and about $27 for a monthly subscription. Then there is also the possibility of hiring a “Search Specialist” for a comparatively hefty fee of $297.
Despite the priciness, it’s good to know that such services exist for people who need them. Moreover, Social Catfish’s search results are generally very extensive. You get multiple profiles to choose from after doing a search. Perhaps most importantly, the information you get while clicking on a profile is very comprehensive: everything from their address history and social media profiles to past relationships and criminal records you’ll be able to find.
What (Not) to Do When You’ve Been Catfished
We obviously hope that by studying and recognizing the above catfishing signals, you will stay safe online. However, anyone can get unlucky or have a momentary lapse of judgment. Therefore, we offer you some steps to go through if you’re a catfishing victim below. These steps will not undo your experience, but hopefully they will mitigate some of the damage and help others stay safe(r) online.
- Don’t give the catfish any money. If you gave them money in the past, stop doing so.
- If you have given them money, call or contact your local police department so they can start an investigation. In some cases, people got their money back this way. After all, obtaining money from victims this way is a form of cyber fraud. Use this link to find out how to report cybercrime if you live in Europe (the UK included). If you live in the US you should file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.
- Block the catfish from your social media accounts and stop contacting them.
- Report the catfish on the website or platform where you met them.
- If the catfish scammed you, it can’t hurt to help others stay safe by reporting it to a scam tracker, such as the one operated by the Better Business Bureau.