No doubt online dating seems adventurous and exciting. But remember that the world of online dating is full of deception and if you aren’t careful, then it can lead to a lot of serious consequences. One activity of deception which is becoming rampant on the internet is catfishing. It can break your heart if you truly fall in love with the fake person you have met online. To catfish means seducing a person with a false identity online.
Stories of people being fooled in online relationships are all around us. Groomers, abusers, pedophiles are all lurking there in the virtual world waiting to catfish people. If you’re active on the online dating scene, you need the chops to outsmart a catfisher or confront a catfisher in order to protect yourself. To be able to do that, it’s imperative to get to the bottom of catfishing psychology and understand their MO.
How do you deal with being catfished? Or how do you avoid being catfished? We spoke to cybersecurity expert Dhruv Pandit, who is certified by the US Department of Homeland Security, to help you understand how to protect yourself from catfishing on the internet.
What Is Catfishing?
What is catfishing? Knowing the answer to this question is important before you learn the ways of saving yourself from scammers in the online world. Dhruv explains the catfishing meaning as, “A phenomenon where a person fabricates online identities just to trap and trick other people.
“The catfisher uses the power of technology to hide their true identity and starts romantic relationships virtually. The aim is to scam innocent people online. Apart from fleecing their victims of money or resorting to sextortion, a catfisher can also steal other people’s identities.”
While technology is good for relationships in many ways, finding love in the virtual realm is also fraught with risks. These can cost you dearly if you don’t proceed with caution. Many people resort to catfishing to extract money from others or get hold of the personal information of others and use it to their advantage.
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While some catfishes fake their identities in order to hide negative things about them from someone they are pursuing romantically, some even catfish just for the sake of having fun as well. For instance, this man pretended to be someone else on Tinder and used his profile to solicit money for sex.
If we look at catfish psychology, extreme loneliness and lack of social bonding appear to be common triggers behind this behavior. People with low self-esteem, who hate their own appearance or aren’t confident about who they are, may also resort to catfishing in the hope of improving their odds of finding a romantic connection.
In some cases, catfishing on the internet is also the result of a desire to explore one’s sexuality. If a person comes from a culture or family where homosexuality or alternative sexual lifestyles are considered taboo, they may resort to creating fake profiles online to indulge in their desires and fantasies. For pedophiles, catfishing is like a boon they have been waiting for all their life. People with a cyberstalking mentality also get into catfishing. Basically, catfishers can be stalkers, sexual offenders and murderers, on a lookout for a victim online.
In that case, a look at the catfishing statistics will give you a clear picture.
- 64% of catfishes are women
- 24% pretend to be the opposite gender when creating their fake identity
- 73% use photos of someone else, rather than real pictures of themselves
- 25% claim a phony occupation when presenting themselves online to a business
- 54% of people who engage in online dating feel that the information in potential mate’s profiles is false
- 28% of people have been harassed or made to feel uncomfortable by catfishes
- 53% of Americans admit to falsifying their online profiles
- At least 10% of all online dating profiles are scammers
- 51% of people who engage in online dating are already in a relationship
Why is it called catfishing?
Now that you understand what is catfishing, let’s address another common question associated with this phenomenon: Why is it called catfishing? The term in its present context can be traced to the American documentary, Catfish, which was released in 2010. The documentary focuses on the trend of people using fake identities online to further their romantic interests.
The term catfishing is used by one of the characters, as a reference to the myth of how cod and catfish behave when shipped in different tanks. The myth suggests that when the codfish is shipped alone, it becomes pale and lethargic. In contrast, when it is shipped in the same container as a catfish, the latter keeps it active and energetic. Likewise, a catfisher uses their victim to stir up excitement in their life or serve an ulterior motive.
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What Does It Mean To Be Catfished?
After the release of the documentary movie ‘Catfish‘ in 2010, it was revealed that many people on the Internet had been duped in the same manner as the protagonist of the movie. “The documentary triggered widespread interest in the phenomenon of catfishing and an MTV show was made to reveal how catfishing was becoming one of the predominant threats in the online dating world,” says Dhruv.
Getting catfished can be quite a frustrating and heartbreaking experience for the victim who has invested a lot of time and energy in an online relationship that turns out to be a farce.
It can make a person feel vulnerable and they might not be able to trust anyone else once again. People develop trust issues and depression after being catfished. Looking at these dangers of catfishing, steering clear of this perilous trend should be your top priority while dating online.
Characteristics of catfishers
Due to the booming online dating industry, catfishing has become extremely common. Faking it online is no longer confined to things like faking the age, height, weight or using older photographs, etc to pursue someone romantically. Catfishing has taken it to a whole other level, with sinister motives like extracting money or taking revenge on someone at play.
To make sure you’re equipped to spot catfishing when you see it, it’s pertinent to understand the characteristics of catfishers. Dhruv spells them out as:
- Emotionally fragile: People who use the catfishing technique are emotionally fragile in some way. It could be a person who has nothing to look forward to in life or someone who is excruciatingly lonely or seeking revenge
- Low self-esteem: Their level of self-esteem is low. They may also be compulsive liars or might have been abused at some point in their life
- False persona: They live in their own fantasy world and are addicted to some false persona. Sometimes, these false personas may become a whole lot more real to them than their actual identities
- Age no bar: When you look at the data and catfishing online dating statistics, it emerges that the spectrum of people who engage in such deceitful acts is really wide. Catfishers can be anywhere between 11 and 55 years of age
- Lurk on dating platforms: The hunting grounds for the catfishers are dating websites, dating apps, chat rooms, social media websites etc.
If you want to find true love on the Internet, you have to keep your eyes and ears open so that you do not fall into the trap of these catfishers. Enjoy the perks of online dating, but do not forget about its downsides as well. And if you suspect that the person you’re with isn’t genuine, you must end a catfish relationship before you get sucked in too deep into their trap.
Warning Signs You Are Being Catfished
Since more and more people are resorting to catfishing online, how will you be able to recognize if your loved one is genuine or not? More importantly, if you suspect something is amiss, how to get a catfish to confess?
Dhruv spells out certain surefire warning signs of catfishing which will help you catch a catfisher easily:
- Weak social media profile: A catfisher’s social media profile will not be convincing. It will either be incomplete or be completely new. His/her friend list will not be long and posts on his/her profile will be meagre
- Would avoid meeting you face-to-face: Even after chatting with you for months, they will make excuses to not meet you in person and will also avoid video chats. The catfisher might agree to meet or video chat with you, but will definitely ditch the plan at the last minute
- Does not take time to get serious: A catfisher might get serious about the relationship with you too soon. They will shower you with declarations of undying love and even propose to you after just a few weeks or months of chatting
- Unrealistic stories: The stories that the catfisher tells you will become more and more unrealistic and bizarre. They are always ready to conveniently give you an explanation and get out of any tricky situation
- Too perfect: Everything seems way too perfect about the catfisher – right from their professional profile photos to their impeccable lifestyle. A catfisher will seem too good to be true
- Asks for favors: They might even ask for uncomfortable favors from you like asking you to pay bills or pushing you to send them money
- Gut feeling: Deep down in your heart, you get the feeling that something is definitely wrong with this person, and you must trust your instincts
If there are signs that you are catfished on Facebook, on Instagram, or on Snapchat, then you should confront the catfisher. Being informed about their MO is the best way to outsmart the romance scammer who’s not only playing with your feelings but could potentially ruin your life in many ways.
It is essential that you take care of your heart and yourself when you opt for online dating. Catfishing has the ability to destroy you not only monetarily but also emotionally. Married people often get down to catfishing to find fun online. So be smart and avoid getting fooled by a catfisher and find the right person while dating.
15 Tips To Make Sure You Don’t Get Catfished
Online dating is not a cakewalk and it has its challenges but if you follow some online dating rules you can stay safe. But you know what the worst thing is? You are trying to forget someone who lied to you, stole your money and gave you false hope of having a loving future together.
Confronting or outsmarting a catfish should not be your priority. The first thing you should do is avoid being catfished. Dhruv suggests these 15 tips to make sure you don’t get catfished:
1. Keep your social media profiles well protected
“All social media websites have certain top-notch security settings which you must take advantage of. Review your privacy settings every month and make sure your personal data is well protected. Always be cautious of what information you share on your social media profiles,” says Dhruv.
Sharon, who was a victim of catfishing, wished someone had given her this advice sooner. She met an attractive-looking foreigner on Facebook and a romance ensued. After a while, they began sexting and sharing nudes with each other. Then, her supposed boyfriend began threatening to leak her pictures and videos online if she didn’t cough up the money.
2. Do not divulge any private and confidential information to anyone
“Even if you have been talking to a person for a very long time, it does not mean that you share every detail about your life with them. Ensure that you do not divulge information, especially confidential information like bank account details, home address, etc. to someone you have met online and not in real life,” advises Dhruv.
It is always better to be safe than sorry. This is especially important if you feel that something is amiss about your partner. Or see the warning signs of catfishing like reluctance to meet in person or sketchy details about their life. “If the red flags are obvious, your best recourse is to end a catfish relationship,” Dhruv adds.
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3. Use the internet to assess the person’s credentials
“Search engines like Google can help you check the person’s name, profile picture and other credentials. For instance, if you suspect that the person you’re dating online isn’t sharing their real photos with you, running a reverse image search can help you verify their authenticity,” says Dhruv.
If your internet search comes up clear, then that’s great. But if it doesn’t, then you must pay attention to the warning. You then need to plan your moves on how to get a catfish to confess. Asking the right questions can help you outsmart a romance scammer who is trying to dupe you.
4. Explore the person’s social media profiles smartly
If the person hardly uses social media accounts, the profiles have a short friend list, few or no tagged photographs, no pictures with friends and family or everyday whereabouts, few posts, then something is definitely suspicious.
So put your social media stalking skills to good use and explore the profiles carefully for any of these signs. If they have created a new profile just for the purpose of catfishing, the tell-tale signs will be there.
5. Always use reputed dating websites and applications
In order to avoid being a victim of catfishing, you must always use reputed dating apps and websites. “Use the ones which allow you to report suspicious dating profiles so that you can not only save yourself but also others from the catfishers.
“All leading dating sites and apps today have great security features, so leverage those. Another great way to save yourself from catfishing is to sign up for premium memberships on these dating platforms, as these come with added features for user control and security,” says Dhruv.
6. Verify the information you gather through a background check
The moment you feel a little doubtful about the person you are dating online, you must take steps to get a background check done on them. This is important to get rid of all suspicions and start a serious relationship based on full faith and trust.
How to get a catfish to confess? Arming yourself with solid information about them is a good starting point. If you suspect you’re being catfished on the internet, confront the person with the details you have on them. This will leave them with very little wriggle room.
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7. Try to set up a meeting with the person as soon as possible
If you think that the online relationship is going well, then there should be no harm in proposing a meeting with the person as soon as possible. A person who is genuinely interested in you will also show equal enthusiasm in meeting with you.
But a catfisher will try to evade such a meeting request by making wild excuses. They will always cancel the date. Steve understood that reluctance to meet was one of the classic examples of catfishing. The man he was dating online would always bail on any plans to meet.
Then, one day, Steve received a frantic phone call from him saying he’d been mugged while on a business trip and needed $3,000 immediately to pay his hotel bill and book a flight back home. Steve transferred the money, and his partner vanished into thin air afterward.
8. Encourage the person to have a video chat with you
In case the person is not yet comfortable with the idea of meeting with you face-to-face, then you can encourage the person to have a video call. Such a virtual date, and see how they respond. Even if after repeated attempts and requests, the person avoids video chatting with you, then something is amiss.
Be mindful of the dangers of catfishing and proceed with caution. Better still, call it off and explore other options. After all, there is plenty of fish in the sea and you don’t need to risk landing in the catfishing net in your search for love.
9. Insist on having phone conversations
By talking to the person on the phone, you will be able to at least take a step toward confirming their identity. You will probably get to know the real side of their personality, as they will not be able to give calculated answers.
For instance, if it’s a man posing as a woman or an older woman posing as a teenager, you can catch them on their lie when you speak to them over the phone. That’s an important step toward how to get a catfish to confess. “Therefore, insist on having phone conversations with the person. Usually. people who do catfishing are very suave and smart but still when you talk you can hurl a googly and understand where you stand,” says Dhruv.
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10. Keep track of your online persona
“It’s a good idea to run an internet search for your name or even set Google alerts for it. By doing so, you will ensure that your online persona has not caught the eye of a catfisher. For example, there are websites that let you know if your name has been searched anywhere on the Internet or if your profile picture has been used anywhere else. So use such websites.”
If someone tells you they have seen your picture in a different profile, take it seriously and instantly track it down and report the matter.
11. Be aware of social media policies and local laws
Is catfishing illegal? Yes. “There are special social media policies that are violated if someone uses fake identities, so you can use such policies to your advantage and report the perpetrator.
“In most places, there are local laws that make it illegal to impersonate someone else’s online persona. Being aware of the laws and regulations can work to your advantage if you do end up being a catfishing victim,” recommends Dhruv.
12. Share the details about your dating life with your friends
It is always a good idea to keep your friends in the loop if you’re dating someone online. Just the way, you tell a trusted friend or confidant when you’re going out on a first date and share your whereabouts with them, make sure you keep them informed about your sojourns in the online dating space too.
They will help you judge the person well and give you clarity on what does it mean to catfish someone and if you’re being victimized the same way. So share certain details with them and see if they have any doubts regarding your guy/girl.
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13. Treat uncomfortable requests as a red flag
Since you are dating online, the boundaries of your relationship have to be more defined and impregnable. At least for as long as you do not know the other person well and trust them fully. If they start making requests that make you uncomfortable too soon in your dating journey, treat it as a red flag.
Requesting you to pay their bills, asking for money, insisting on sharing intimating pictures while sexting or otherwise are all examples of catfishing MO. The right way to deal with this situation is to tell the person in no uncertain terms that you’re comfortable with these requests and politely decline them. Also, the moment they start making these requests, be aware that this is not normal and it’s a catfish on the prowl.
14. Learn to be patient
Even if you get butterflies in your stomach when you talk to this person and they always find the right thing to say to you, you have to learn to be patient. Do not jump to conclusions regarding spending your life with this person.
Take it slow and ensure that you are not falling for someone who is just an impersonator and a cheat. This is crucial because a catfisher will want to take the relationship forward at a dizzying speed because it aligns with their motive of duping you and moving on to their next victim. The onus of protecting yourself is on you.
15. Opt for offline dating
A great way to avoid catfishing is to opt for offline dating. Real life presents a lot of opportunities to find true love. So you should go out, meet new people and try to find the love of your life through real-life opportunities. Offline dating can make you feel safe and secure and help establish a long-term relationship.
Even if you don’t want to shut the window on online dating completely, set the boundaries such that you don’t get too emotionally invested until you’ve met the person and established a connection with them IRL. This is a wise approach to avoid fake relationships.
We sincerely hope that these tips turn out to be helpful for you and allow you to meet people online safely and happily. There are good people out there on online platforms as well. So do not miss the chance to meet them, by taking proactive steps to avoid catfishing.
FBI records show 18,000 people were victims of catfishing, or romance fraud, in 2018. Many experts believe the actual number of catfishing cases is much higher, but many people don’t report it out of embarrassment.
You should try to confront the catfish or outsmart them. But if they have scammed you off money or are blackmailing or threatening you then you should report them to the police.
If there is financial fraud through catfishing or if someone is using your identity or photograph to post lewd comments or blackmail someone, then that comes within the purview of crime that has to be addressed by law. But if someone just creates a fake profile and chats with people they cannot be put behind bars for that.
Google reverse image search is a great way to catch a catfish. There are a number of apps too that will help you find out a person’s true identity. Then check them on social media and insist on doing video chat.