What is Catfishing and How to Avoid Being Catfished

  • By David Lukic
  • Published: May 07, 2021
  • Last Updated: Mar 18, 2022

 We’ve all heard the horror stories of people being duped online by someone pretending to be someone else. There is a term for this type of online fraud, and it is called catfishing.

What is Catfishing?

The term catfishing comes from a popular real-life MTV show and the documentary Catfish in 2010, where fraudsters who were pretending to be someone else were unmasked and exposed to their victim. However, although the term is relatively new, the practice of impersonating someone to trick and victimize another person has been going on for ages. 

What Is Catfishing Online

A catfisher will use stock images or information from other people’s profiles and create a whole new persona to commit fraud. Other times, the scammer will actually steal an existing person’s identity and pretend to be them while doing things in their name such as posting on social media, sending messages, or signing up for new accounts.

Often the catfishes will establish a relationship with someone and continue to groom them for weeks, months, and even years, hoping to get a big payoff in the end. They may also bleed someone dry with small loans or “help” in the form of prepaid gift cards, travel vouchers, or other compensation. The victim gives willingly because they trust the catfisher and have no idea who they really are. It happens often with online dating

what is catfishing

How to Know If You Are Being Catfished

A golden rule to count on when interacting online is “never trust anything you see, hear, or read.” You never really know who you are dealing with, even if the profile and pictures look legitimate you could be dealing with someone using a fake identity. 

Signs you're being catfished are:

  • Catfishes rarely have any friends or followers online. Typically, they will create an account to target someone specific or someone they meet online, so they aren’t really building an audience. 
  • Their profile may be sparse and missing a lot of information. It’s easier to lie to someone if you don’t have to answer questions about a fake profile you created.
  • They have only one profile picture in their online identity or none at all. Catfishers will often take stock photos or steal some from other social media accounts, so they won’t add new selfies or photographs to their account. Their entire profile will remain the same, which is a red flag in itself. 
  • They refuse to call you or do a video chat. That is because if you see them or hear their voice, you may pick up on the ruse. Often young men in other countries will pretend to be someone else to dupe lonely women out of their life savings. They may provide excellent excuses about why they can’t do a video call for a while, but if it continues, you may be dealing with a catfishing scenario. They cannot do anything to let you find out their true identity. 
  • Additionally, they will avoid a face-to-face meeting. They may say they are in the military and stationed overseas. That is a common lie used to avoid any in-person meetings.
  • Their stories keep changing. Liars often have a hard time keeping all the lies straight. Keep in mind they may have other targets too, so they might be trying to keep a few story lines straight with multiple victims
  • They ask you for money, usually in the form of wire transfer, online payment platform, or prepaid gift cards. They may use the excuse of a medical emergency or family issue, travel, or other reason to tug at your heartstrings, so you open up your wallet.
  • They profess strong feelings for you too quickly. 
  • They seem to be too good to be true and probably are. If their dating profile looks like a dream come true, do some research first.

Common Catfishing Schemes

According to the popular TV show Catfish, some of the most popular catfishing schemes are:

  • Someone pretending to be the opposite gender to trick the victim into an online relationship. They may also be a very different age than they say they are. This happens often on social media sites and in romantic relationships. 
  • Sometimes catfishers do it for revenge. They may create an online profile and connect with an ex or someone who hurt them and then torment them with revenge tactics. Catfishing is often part of cyberbullying.
  • Often, catfishers have low self-esteem. Therefore, they will swap out their real photo with one more appealing especially on dating sites. Later after meeting up, it’s often quite shocking for their victim to find out who they really are in the end.
  • Believe it not, there have even been cases of friends, catfishing friends. Sometimes it is with the best intentions, and other times strictly for personal gain.
  • The romance scam is one where catfishing is used frequently to snag an older woman or man looking for romance and string them along until the scammer can bill them for funds.

what is catfishing online

Statistics and Facts About Catfishing

Catfishing is an interesting phenomenon and more common than you might think. Some facts and statistics about catfishing include:

  • 24% of catfishers are pretending to be the opposite gender.
  • 64% of catfishers are actually women. 
  • More than 53% of Americans falsify their online profiles.
  • 54% believe that other people’s profiles are fake.
  • A whopping 73% of people use someone else’s photo on their profile instead of their own. 
  • More than 53% of the users of dating apps are already in a relationship.
  • Women lie about age, and men lie about money.
  • 83 million Facebook accounts are assumed to be fake.

If you are wondering why do people catfish? Some common reasons someone chooses to catfish are:

  • Low self-esteem.
  • Revenge using a false identity.
  • Explore their sexuality with fake profiles and start a new romance. 
  • Using false profiles to hide their identity for fraud.
  • They are depressed or anxious.
  • To harass someone.

How to Avoid Getting Catfished Online

No one likes being lied to or tricked. To avoid being catfished online, follow these tips below:

  • Use an online reverse image lookup tool to find out who belongs to the profile pic.
  • Use their email address or phone number to perform a full background check to see if you find any holes.
  • Share very little until you get to know the real person in real life. Never offer to pay for anything online if someone asks you for money.
  • Ask pointed questions that they should be able to answer. If you make them uncomfortable because they think you suspect foul play, they may terminate the relationship, and then you will know.
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