You might have heard of catfishing in the media; maybe from Nev Schulman's infamous television show "Catfish" or his 2010 documentary by the same name. But not everyone actually understands what a catfish is. Catfishing is defined as luring someone online using a false identity or fake information.
The catfish’s intentions are not always malicious—some people online simply find themselves creating fake lives as a way to escape their own—but more often than not, a catfish is looking for a victim. Catfishing simply means interacting with someone who isn't who they say they are.
The internet makes it incredibly easy to connect with new people online. Bumble, Tinder and other online dating sites allow you to find a potential love digitally.
Other websites let you meet strangers on the web. Social networking and social media, of course, allow you to explore the lives of both old and new friends. But catfishing is a serious danger in these types of environments.
A catfish might be looking to lure someone under the guise of being a friend or romantic interest, or they might be looking for money or assistance through financial means. People catfish for many reasons, but whatever the case, here are the warning signs that can help you spot a catfisher to avoid becoming a victim of catfishing.
Warning Signs Of Being Catfished
You never see the person’s face in real time
One of the most well-known pieces of advice when you meet someone online is to always make sure that the person gives you a photo of themselves so you can verify their identity. This advice still applies, but in the technologically advanced society of today, it’s even more important to make sure that you can see the person’s face in real time—in other words, through a video chat like FaceTime or Skype.
Photos are easily editable, found on the Internet, or even taken from other people. If a potential catfish sends you a photo, ask for a video call instead. This way, you'll be able to see them and talk to them in real time, ensuring that at least physically they are what they claim. You can also reverse image search any photo you receive on Google, which can tell if the picture sent ultimately pulled from someone else.
If someone you have never met is adamant that they won’t call, makes frequent excuses, or claims to have “camera issues,” end the relationship.
The person asks for money or financial help in being catfished
The goal of a catfish is often to get money from you. The sooner they can do that, the better. If someone you’ve met online starts asking you for any amount of cash, be very wary.
Similarly, catfishes often tell a victim extravagant tales of their life’s hardships in an attempt to get sympathy. If a victim is sympathetic, it makes them an easier target. These are all red flags; be aware that these stories are likely untrue and an attempt to gain access to your financial help.
As always, never give out your bank account information or any similar data online. If you truly feel like this person is real and a friend in need, use a protected cash-sending service like PayPal or Venmo to help them out.
The person seems too good to be true
If someone you meet online seems like they’re too perfect, they probably are. Catfishes often use doctored photos and vague information to lure in as many potential victims as possible. Don’t be afraid to push the person for more information or more photos, or to ask more questions. A catfish will often bail if you don’t seem like an easy target.
Your relationship moves along quicker than normal in being catfished
A catfish is not looking to spend years interacting with you in order to get what they want. If you feel like your relationship online with the person is moving way too fast, or even just faster than you’re comfortable with, say something.
A catfish wants to fast-track the relationship to get something from you. Push back and tell them to slow down; see what happens. If you find yourself suddenly blocked or cut off, you've just saved yourself from being catfished.
Safety Tips To Avoid Being Catfished
Staying safe online is hard enough, but catfishers can often manipulate a victim into feeling a false sense of security. This makes victims comfortable enough to give away their private information, personal photos, or other important things normally not revealed online.
Keep this in mind when meeting new people online. You never know who’s truly behind the screen unless you meet in person. No matter how safe you feel, always stay cautious until you know for sure.
That being said, don’t be afraid to push for things like an in-person meetup or a video chat. However, if you opt for an in-person meetup, it’s critical that you tell another trusted individual where you’re going and when you should be back.
Set up a safety plan, and if possible, ask them to come with you. Always meet in a public place, and if your online friend suggests otherwise, don’t agree. Even if they're a real person, it doesn't mean they're a safe person.
You can always do research on your own, too. When looking for someone online, you can always search for the person’s name and see if you can find them through social media. If the person has little to no social media presence, this can be a warning sign.
It's possible that they just like to stay private, but a catfish will also have no social media accounts so as not found out or to conceal their true identity.Fact-check anything they tell you and try to discover the truth.
Never give out personal information or images online. Even if the person you’re talking with isn’t a catfish, once you put something on the Internet, you lose control of where it goes.
Finally, always tell the people in your life about your relationships online. If something were to happen, it’s far better to be safe than sorry. You can meet excellent friends or the love of your life online, but there are unfortunately a lot of dangers to navigate also. Stay smart, and stay safe.