What is Catfishing online: The signs and how to protect

Jorge Felix Last updated: November 14, 2022 Read time: 11 minutes Disclosure

This article introduces the concept of online catfishing and the counter-measures a social network user can take to prevent falling victim to it.

Sneak peek at catfishing

The internet has given scammers a great new toy to play with. Among all the digital scams, perhaps the lowest one is “catfishing.” In this modality, a person will use an alternate and false identity to win over somebody else’s trust. From there, things can go almost everywhere, unfortunately. Because awareness is the best way to avoid falling victim to catfishers, this article gives you all the essential information you need to know about the issue.

Social media and online dating are signs of our times. Both phenomena exploded over the last decade, and catfishing grew along with both explosions, as could only be expected. In 2020, more than 23,000 US residents fell victim to catfishing. And that was with the Covid-19 pandemic at its worst stage. Moreover, consider the damage it does. Those 23,000 victims lost about 605 million USD as their catfishers succeeded.

So what is this “catfishing” thing you keep hearing about? How can you get catfished? Where? Why? What are the signs? What can I do to protect myself from a catfishing artist? If these questions bother you, you’ve landed at the right place. Here, we tell you everything you need to know about catfishing.

What is catfishing?

A catfisher is an internet user who falsely persuades another internet user about wanting a romantic relationship. The scam usually involves creating a false identity, complete with made-up stories, fake pictures, and everything else the catfisher needs to seem completely genuine.

Catfishers come in many flavors. Some of them want to have more romantic attention from another person. But there is also a more mercenary and malicious species with darker motivations. Many of them seek to earn the victim’s trust. Then, they hit, and they ask for money. Once the situation has gone that far, a variety of additional strategies can come into play, like sextortion. Whatever it takes to get the cash they want.

And why is this thing called “catfishing,” we hear, you ask? Well, nobody knows. There was a popular documentary in 2010 called “Catfish.” It told the story of a young man who fell for a woman sporting a false Facebook profile. However, the documentary made the term known. It didn’t invent it.

At the beginning of the last century, fishers would ship catfish along with codfish. Both species are natural enemies, so the catfish would keep chasing the cod around. Thus the cod remained active, healthy, and fresh, making for better food. Since catfishers stalk their victim, too, the word caught on.  

Why do people do catfishing?

People become catfishers for a variety of reasons. Not every “practitioner” of the art has nefarious intentions –although none of them can be considered excellent human specimens. Some are looking for emotional validation –yes, seriously. These people are too lonely or feel stuck in a society that doesn’t appreciate them because they’re not beautiful enough. They want to be “reborn” online with a new persona that attracts people who would otherwise never notice them.

However, let’s not forget that harassing and stalking other people is part and parcel of the catfishing process. So there’s nothing innocent about it, which worsens as it continues. It can end up involving even more severe forms of abuse.

Then there’s the other end of the spectrum. Some catfishes are (or intend to be) pros. They’re in it for the money. Once they’ve secured the victim’s love, they will start offering all kinds of excuses to ask for financial support. Maybe they need the money to go and visit the victim so they can finally meet for real. Perhaps they had to face some unexpected medical expenses. The victim doesn’t have a problem helping them with their financial woes. They’re in love, after all, and that’s the least they could do. How can you put a price on love when it’s all said and done? But the requests for cash never seem to end. By the time the victim finally realizes what’s been going on in his “relationship,” their heart is broken and their bank account much lighter.

But between those two poles, there are many other reasons for catfishing. 

Insecurity about one’s place in real life can push somebody to create an alter-ego that is more like the version of themselves they think they could or should be. In the mind of the insecure subject, his new identity is worthy of admiration, respect, and everything else he’d wish to have but lacks.

Mental illnesses are another factor in catfishing. Depression or chronic anxiety can make a person wish to have a different, better life. The assumed identity they create for catfishing fulfills that fantasy.

Another factor is sexual identity. Many catfishers create an alternate identity to try and experiment with a different sexual preference than their current “official” one.

Last but not least, catfishing gives a person the opportunity to express themselves freely and without limitations. Their false identity empowers them in this way, so they feel more like “themselves” as their alter ego. The next step is to create a full alter life.

Where do you get catfished?

What is Catfishing

Social media platforms and apps are places where catfishing can happen quickly. However, dating sites and apps are steroids for catfishers, much worse than just social media. So let’s have a look at catfishing by platform.

1. Tinder