Catfishing—Hook, Line and Sinker
Catfishing—No, we are not talking about that plump fish that goes nicely with lemon. The term, “Catfishing,” (also known as “confidence or romance fraud”) is “a scam where someone, the ‘catfish,’ [sic] creates a fictitious online identity and seeks out online relationships. These are frequently romantic relationships...” (FindLaw, 2016). Unfortunately many people have been duped by these fake facades. Just “in 2018, the number of victims filing [confidence/romance fraud] increased to more than 18,000, with more than $362 million in losses—an increase of more than 70 percent over the previous year” (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2019). To avoid becoming one of these victims, it is best to learn about what Catfishing is, why it is done and how to avoid falling for the alluring “hooks” of to-good-to-be-true profiles.
What is Catfishing?
What is Catfishing? Catfish are those who set up a fake profile, posing to be a different person entirely, and proceed to gain the confidence of another person online. This can lead to the victim falling in love with the faux person, being bullied, becoming subject to sexual assault, or even being robbed. Catfishing is determined as a type of fraud and can be even considered cyberbullying. According to the Cyberbullying Research Center, “Anytime someone uses technology in a way that causes repeated harm to another, it can be classified as cyberbullying. Setting up a fake online profile and communicating with someone for the purpose of tricking them into developing a romantic relationship – only to break up with or otherwise harm them – is wrong” (Patchin, 2013). Often, Catfish will grab pictures of a completely different person from the internet to pose as an attractive, model citizen and lover. Overall, Catfishing can be summed up in one sentence — a person posing as someone else through the autonomy of the internet with the goal to build a phoney relationship (often a romantic one) with a victim—which usually leads the latter to being harmed in the end.
Why do People do Catfishing?
While it is easy to presume that all Catfish are malicious bad guys just out for themselves, these perpetrators often have more complicated motives. Factors such as loneliness, low self esteem, escapism and even practicality (e.g., lying about one’s age to play a game) can factor into someone making a fake account (Vanman, 2018). However, malicious motives can not be dismissed. Catfish can also con people for money, to seek revenge, prank, and manipulate the victim’s emotions. (Findlaw, 2016). Regardless of motive, it is wrong. Catfishing, “Although not yet officially a crime, it is never a victimless act” (Vanman, 2018).
How to Protect Yourself
How can you tell if someone is Catfishing you? Luckily, there are some tell-tale signs and ways you can protect yourself. Here are eight ways to arm yourself.
- The person that is too good to be true just starts talking to you out of the blue. Are they a model from Sweden who has a non-profit starving kitten foundation, a pilot, and acts for Hollywood on the side? Sounds like a dream come true, right? Not so fast—They could be Catfish trying to lure you in using Glamorous jobs and lifestyles are common bait (Findlaw, 2016; McHugh, 2013).
- Don’t give out too much information about yourself on the internet—This is said time and time again. Don’t post your address, where you go to school, full name… the works (Lohmann, 2013). Good grief, just don’t do it!
- The person is quick to the draw. If your romantic relationship is moving along quicker than what would be considered normal for you, especially when it is pressured to advance by the potential Catfish—you might be being scammed (Findlaw, 2016).
- The person won’t meet with you through things such as a video chat. Aunt Matilda is sick again… for the fifth time in a couple months? Ah, that darn phone’s camera still needs to be fixed? Excuses for not meeting with you is a huge sign as the person can’t hide their voice or face so easily on things like Facetime. Suspicious, suspicious… (Findlaw, 2016; McHugh, 2013).
- Don’t make yourself a potential target by posting any pictures of yourself that could be used against you later—such as risque pictures. According to Psychology Today, even pictures at the pool or at a sleepover can be considered questionable (Lohmann, 2013).
- If you do finally make a call with the person, can you hear anything in the background? If you don’t hear any background noise, such as people talking, then that might be worrisome as this may be “because [the phone calls] are made with extreme caution” (McHugh, 2013).
- You go to finally meet this person in person… and then their pet Tamagotchi or something died, so they can’t meet you due to this family emergency. Maybe it’s true… Maybe it’s not. According to Findlaw.com, “Inventing stories about work emergencies, personal problems, or sick friends and relatives are common tactics for getting out of a face-to-face meeting” (Findlaw, 2016).
- You know what—consider throwing out online dating out the window. You can avoid this scenario entirely if you just dated people you know in person (Lohmann, 2013). Just sayin’.
Now, it would be amiss to say that online relationships never work out or are always a scam—In fact, many people have found much success in dating apps when finding their significant other. Many authorities have even used Catfishing techniques to draw out online predators from attacking others (Lohmann, 2013). However, when these fake profiles are used to cause harm or gain something from the victim, that’s when it takes a turn for the worse. So, just as would be said in any internet safety blog post, make sure you are cautious with the people you interact with. That way, the only Catfish you will see are the ones that go on a plate.
Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2019, August 5). Cyber actors use online dating sites to conduct confidence/romance fraud and recruit money mules. In Internet Crime Complaint Center. Retrieved from https://www.ic3.gov/media/2019/190805.aspx/
FindLaw. (2016, June 20). What is 'Catfishing'?. In FindLaw. Retrieved fromhttps://consumer.findlaw.com/online-scams/what-is-catfishing.html
Grant, A. (n.d.). States with the highest Catfishing rates – 2020. In Best VPN.org. Retrieved from https://bestvpn.org/catfishing-statistics/
Harris, A. (2013, January 18). Who coined the term “Catfish”?. In Slate. Retrieved from https://slate.com/culture/2013/01/catfish-meaning-and-definition-term-for-online-hoaxes-has-a-surprisingly-long-history.html
McHugh, M. (2013, August 23). It’s catfishing season! How to tell lovers from liars online, and more. In Digital Trends. Retrieved from https://www.digitaltrends.com/web/its-catfishing-season-how-to-tell-lovers-from-liars-online-and-more/
Lohmann, R. C. (2013, April 30). The two-sided face of teen Catfishing. In Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/teen-angst/201304/the-two-sided-face-teen-catfishing
Patchin, J. W. (2013, February 7). Catfishing as a form of cyberbullying. In Cyberbullying Research Center. Retrieved from https://cyberbullying.org/catfishing-as-a-form-of-cyberbullying
Vanman, E. (2018, July 26). We asked catfish why they trick people online—it's not about money. In Phys.org. Retrieved from https://phys.org/news/2018-07-catfish-people-onlineit-money.html