Although fairly commonplace online, the term ‘Catfish’ or ‘Catfishing’ has actually only been around for the past ten years. It originates from the same-named film and subsequent MTV docu-series, following the stories of people who meet online and form deep, meaningful connections, only to find that the other party isn’t who they are claiming to be.

The motivation behind a catfish can vary; it could be to exploit someone financially, to get closer to someone they think might not otherwise be interested, or simply out of revenge or boredom. And that makes it even scarier. It sounds dramatic, but unfortunately these stories are real and still relevant today.

Major red flags

If you’re feeling uncomfortable about the person you are talking to, you should always stop communicating, period. If you aren’t sure whether you are dealing with a catfish, here are some red flags to look out for:

  • Elaborate life stories
  • Hints at, or blatant requests for money
  • Copying your circumstances, e.g. sharing all of the same hobbies and interests, similar background stories etc
  • Last minute cancellations of plans
  • Regular/repeated bouts of illness or ‘family issues’
  • Catching them in a lie, e.g. saying they live somewhere but sending evidence to the contrary
  • Offering or requesting elaborate gifts

How To Protect Yourself

There are many techniques to prevent you falling prey to a catfish. They might seem obvious from the outside, but these people are very skilled at lulling people into a false sense of security, preying on any weakness, and can get inside a person’s head.

Protect your social media:

In order for a catfish to lure you in, you first have to take the bait. A catfish will approach you via social media, so to remove the risk, simply make your social media accounts private (I highly recommend this anyway).

Any would-be catfish will not be able to glean any details about you before they reach out, making it harder for them to make that integral connection.

Fully investigate any friend requests you receive. If you don’t know them directly, check their mutual friends. Chances are, they might just be a MLM seller, especially if you have a random array of mutuals. If at all unsure, decline the request.

Don’t reveal too much about yourself

The catfish MO is picking up on small details about their target to form a bond. This could be shared experiences such as losing a loved one, surviving some sort of traumatic event, or even simply similar hobbies.

They will ask you questions to get to know you, while revealing little about themselves. This might make them come across as caring and attentive, but really it is a smoke screen which is easy to fall for.

If you do end up in a conversation with someone you don’t know, keep your cards close to your chest. Make sure you ask them detailed, original questions, rather than encouraging them to give their answer to whatever they have asked you.

Communicate in other ways

Messaging services are great, but they’re so one-dimensional it makes it easy to pretend to be someone else.

Phone calls and video calls are a sure-fire way to gets more info about a person. Do they look like their photo? If you can only chat through audio, consider the sound of their voice – do they sound male or female? Do they have an accent that matches what they’ve told you? If they refuse to connect this way, or constantly comes up with excuses why not to, then that is a huge red flag.

If you personally prefer to communicate via written message, then you can choose apps which give you a little more protection. For example, What’s App requires a mobile number, (most other services need just a username and email address which can be spoofed) A catfish is unlikely to give out their mobile number, and if they do you can do a reverse look-up to get some information about the user.

You can also look up numbers by searching on Facebook. A while ago, Facebook encouraged all users to add a mobile number and while you can set it to not show on your account, the information does still exist in the backend of your profile. By searching a number on Facebook, it can show you the profile it is linked to – which may not be the person you think it is.

Scope them out

They’ve likely used your social media to find out more about you – you can do the same to them! Things to look out for include:

  • How long the profile has been active – if it was created recently, it’s likely to be a fake.
  • Their friends list – a small amount of connections can hint to them not being legitimate.
  • How much they interact online – check if they have joined any groups, liked pages, or interacted with others. The more engagement, the more likely they are real.
  • Tagged photos – check if anyone else has tagged them in photos or posts

Get help

As a private investigator, I can help you discover a person’s true identity. Using a variety of PI services, I can provide you the much needed information to see whether it is safe to continue an online relationship.

Your safety and wellbeing should always be top priority, so make sure you vigilant online!