While the internet is a great place to meet new like minded peers, you should also be cautious in who you befriend online. If you’re at all suspicious that someone you’re talking to online is not, in fact, who they say they are, you could be a victim of catfishing. So what is catfishing? In today’s article we’ll be discussing that very topic, the catfishing red flags to look out for and how to be safe from these online scammers. Ready? Let’s get in to it!
What is Catfishing?
Catfishing refers to when a person takes information and images, typically from other people, and uses them to create a new identity for themselves. It is the act of creating a false identity in order to lure people into relationships online. The “catfish” refers to the predator who creates the false identity. Catfishing is abusive and deceptive. This practice was widely brought to light in Nev Schulman’s 2010 documentary Catfish.
Catfishing can happen to anyone. In fact, anyone who’s been online dating for any amount of time may have probably dealt with a catfish and some point or another.
In the Philippines, there is no provision in the Cyber Crime Prevention Act of 20120 or Republic Act 10175, that specifically covers catfishing or the act of creating a fake profile online to target someone for deception and fraud.
However, RA 11313 or the so-called Safe Spaces Law in the case of gender-based online sexual harassment. Article 2, Section 12 of RA 11313 states:
Gender-based online sexual harassment includes acts that use information and communications technology in terrorizing and intimidating victims through physical, psychological, and emotional threats, unwanted misogynistic, transphobic, homophobic, and sexist remarks and comments online whether publicly or through direct or private messages, invasion of victim’s privacy through cyberstalking, and incessant messaging, uploading and sharing without the consent of the victim, any form of media that contains photos, voice or video with sexual content, any unauthorized recording and sharing of any of the victim’s photos, videos or any information online, impersonating identities of victims of online or posting lies about victims to harm their reputation or filing false abuse reports to online platforms to silence victims.
The penalty for offenses under this law is prison correccional (six months to six years) or a fine of not less than P100,000 but not more than 500,000, or both.
Possible Causes of Catfishing
People catfish for a number of reasons. Some do not involve malicious intent, while others directly seek to harm specific people. Some of the primary reasons behind catfishing include:
If a catfisher feels bad about who they are in real life, they may try to create an identity that conforms more closely to what they wish they could be. This often includes using a picture of someone they feel is better-looking than them. Catfishers who assume attractive identities may also be trying to garner a lot of “friends” online to feel more popular.
In some cases, people who suffer from depression or chronic anxiety may choose to get involved in catfishing. As they assume another person’s identity, they gain the confidence they need to associate with others and live what they feel is a more “normal” online life. With a more attractive, successful, or gregarious identity, they get a self-esteem boost whenever they engage with others online.
In a study covering people who catfish, 41% of the respondents mentioned loneliness as a cause. One respondent said: “I just wanted to be more popular and make friends that could talk to me, some part of the day.”
There are catfishers who seek revenge on the person they are impersonating. They use the person’s name and image and create an online identity. Then they say or do things online that make the person look bad—or even get involved in illegal activity in the target’s name.
4Experimenting with sexual preferences
Some catfishers use the practice to explore their sexual identities. They assume the sexual preference they are interested in online, using an identity different from their own. As they engage in social interactions under that identity, they get a sense of how it would feel to live that lifestyle full-time.
5To harass their target
When someone has been trying to stalk, bother, or pursue someone online, the target often blocks the aggressor on one or more social media platforms. When this happens, the attacker may use catfishing to continue their pursuits. Even though the victim does not know who they are interacting with, the catfisher, once accepted as a friend or follower, is still able to see the target’s posts and pictures. In this way, they can keep tabs on what they are doing, when, and with whom.
Different Types of Catfish
In Molly McHugh’s Digital Trends article, she wrote that catfishing is not “one size fits all”. There are catfishing types that she identified:
This catfish has tons of time on their hands. They can randomly choose you for their strange entrapment. The bored catfish is motivated by nothing more than the fact that messing with you sounds fun.
This catfish has a grudge against you or maybe someone or something you’re tied to. The revenge catfish made this online romance to simply get back at you.
This catfish has an unrequited crush on you. This person may be someone you know or within your social radar. And for some odd reason they can’t bring themself to confront you in real life for it.
This catfish’s intention is to break hearts and cause chaos. This catfish is much like the revenge catfish but is far more chaotic because they can target anyone. The scary catfish may also attempt to get money out of you by saying excuses like “I would like to meet you, but I’m short on cash” or asking for money to get medication.
This type of catfish usually has a sob story and most likely needs someone to talk to. You end up becoming close and having long talks because, again, this person is lonely and you’re the answer to solving their problems. This catfish may be the most difficult to deal with once they’ve “revealed” their sob story. And like the scary catfish, they can manipulate you into giving them money by guilt-tripping you.
15 Catfishing Signs You Should Know
It can be difficult to tell when you’re being catfished, especially if the person’s profile is detailed and thorough. However, if you do notice any of these signs, you may be a victim of a catfishing scam:
1They don’t have plenty of friends or followers.
Catfishers often do not have many friends or followers on their accounts. This is due to a few different reasons. They may only use the account for a certain target but use their real social media accounts for more genuine interactions.
And second, to gain connections on social media, a user has to self-market, reach out to others, and like or follow profiles. This may take considerable time, and a catfisher may not invest the time and energy to generate enough followers for the account to look “real.”
Another reason is to reduce the chances of being caught. The more friends or followers a catfisher has, the more questions may be asked regarding their identity, their profession, or their location. Each query could result in a slip-up, so limiting the number of contacts helps mitigate the catfisher’s risk.
2They are instantly romantic.
Romantic or sexual attention can feel good. A catfish may love to bomb you — overwhelm you with loving messages or words — to distract you from asking questions about their identity. A catfish may even try to get you to commit to them in a relationship, even though you haven’t met in person. Never send nude or sexual photos to someone you haven’t met in person. A catfish may attempt to blackmail you with the images.
3Their story just doesn’t make sense.
Catfish often make up stories to fit into your life. Additionally, they may tell stories about having high-level jobs or family wealth to make themselves seem more attractive.
Assuming another person’s identity requires a string of flawlessly executed lies. And it is easy for a careless catfisher to slip up. For example, if someone claims to live in one area of the country but is suddenly in your area, they may be trying to intensify their connection with you through closer “proximity.” Sudden adjustments such as this are easy to spot.
4They disappear often.
A catfisher may say they have a job where they travel a lot or they have a reason they have to disappear for long periods of time. This allows the catfish time to be with their own family or work on tricking others. If someone ghosts you and then messages you out of nowhere, this person may be a catfish.
5Their profile picture remains the same.
Because a catfisher only has access to so many false profile pictures of the person whose look they are stealing, they may keep the same profile picture for many years. If you notice that the person is, for example, 45 years old, but their profile picture looks closer to 35, they may be falsifying their identity. A catfisher may be able to grab several pictures of the same person online and then roll them out one by one as months or years go by.
6They are over the top in general.
If you are in contact with someone you have never met and they make overly committal claims like they love you or want to engage in a major business venture with you, they may be catfishing you. It is likely they feel a grand gesture may win your trust.
7Something just feels weird.
If the relationship feels too good to be true then it probably is. The catfisher may even tell you that you’re paranoid for feeling odd. The fact that you are reading this means that your gut is telling you something is wrong. So, remember to trust your instincts.
8They start to ask you for favors.
For the catfish looking to take advantage of people for monetary gain, they’ll begin by asking for small favors or gifts. It may progress to online gift cards, Venmo requests, and more. The same may also be true in reverse: a catfish may shower a victim with presents to win them over. So be careful if you encounter this and do not share any private information with anyone you meet online.
9They ask you for money.
For professional scammers, their main objective will be getting you to give them money. This may be a one off payment or a number of smaller payments. Sometimes the perpetrators will just ask for money to see how far they can take the online relationship.
10They only chat through messages.
A catfish never exposes their real identity so they would likely refer text or chats as their communication. If your online friend only insists on communicating online, they may be a catfish. Confront them slowly about this and proceed to blocking them if they continue to insist on chatting with you.
11They are hesitant to talk on the phone.
Aside from not showing their faces, catfishers do not want to reveal their voice either. Ever wondered why you can never get to talk to them on the phone? Probably because it’s easier to understand a person’s intentions on a call than it is from text messages.
12They often share that they travel a lot.
Hiding their fake identity is of utmost importance to a catfish, and one way to do it is by claiming to travel around the world for work. By doing so, a catfish tries to prevent you from visiting them. Take time to notice this by asking specific questions so you can dodge a catfish.
13They have a few candid photos of themselves.
A catfish usually has to have at least a few photos of the person they’re pretending to be. But recent, updated photos — like a selfie with the giraffes if you said you were going to the zoo that day — aren’t an option for a catfish.
14They avoid showing their face.
If you’ve been talking to someone for a while online and they refuse to video chat or phone chat, they might be a catfish. They may give excuses for why they can’t do it, like a broken camera or simply that they’re shy. A catfish usually can’t send you a candid selfie. They may have access to only a few pictures from whoever they are impersonating. So, if they can’t send you any pictures besides what is on their dating profile or social media page, they may be a catfish.
15They’re hesitant to video chat or meet in real life.
In line with the previous sign, if someone refuses to video chat or engage in a voice call, they may be trying to keep you from seeing how they really look. In most cases, the catfisher will invent excuses as to why they cannot talk or video chat. For example, each time you agree to a time to connect, they claim their schedule is inundated with appointments.
They may also pretend to be ashamed of how they look due to a serious illness, such as cancer. Another excuse may be they are traveling or in the middle of visiting family. Regardless of the excuse provided, repeated rejections of a visual or aural meetup may indicate you are being catfished.
What To Do If You Encounter A Catfish
So you’ve encountered a catfish and you’ve shared some personal information already. Don’t worry we’ve got a list of things you can do to alleviate the situation:
1Treat 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. 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.
2Try talking sense to them.
You could try and talk to them regarding the situation, so that they would stop this harmful endeavour and not victimize anyone anymore. Confront the catfish by collecting screenshots of your evidence and talk to them about the situation. Talking to a catfish may be a lost cause, especially with the anonymity the internet offers. But you could try this if you want.
3Report it and let others know.
There are criminal offenses you can charge related to catfishing (mentioned in the beginning of the article). Report their profiles to social networks, even if it’s just to look out for somebody else. If it’s really serious, report it to your local police. You could also share their profile so others can also be warned about them.
4Block them on all platforms.
We highly suggest you block the catfish account on all of your social media accounts and phone. Axe the relationship so it won’t cause any more harm to you. Change your log in details to more complex passwords immediately if you have shared personal information to the catfishing account.
5Confide in trusted and supportive friends and family.
Getting catfished can cause negative emotions on those who’re victims to it. So know that you can confide in your friends and family. Do not talk to those who’ll say: “I told you so.”, but talk to someone you trust to have your best interest at heart. Bottling up your feelings will keep you feeling stuck in your grief and misery.
10 Tips To Avoid Getting Catfished
You’ve learned how to spot a catfish and are more equipped with knowledge now. And even if there’s no completely foolproof way to prevent getting catfished, here are a few tips to help you make sure the person on the other side of the screen is who they say they are:
1Ask the opinion of your loved ones.
Sometimes, when we’re the ones in the middle of a situation — especially a romantic relationship — we aren’t always looking at things clearly. Moreover, your own feelings may blind you and make you miss the glaringly obvious warning signs.
If you’ve met someone online, it’s a good idea to share the experience with your loved ones. Since they can look at the situation objectively, they might be able to identify red flags that you missed.
2Don’t share too much.
Some catfish may try to steal your identity or get your financial information. Don’t give out details that could answer a security question, like your mother’s maiden name or the name of the street you grew up on. Keep your banking information private — including the name of your bank.
3Use reverse image search.
Your quickest way to figure out if the person you’re messaging with is real is by reverse-image searching their pictures on Google. This will tell you if that cute selfie they sent you has shown up anywhere else online — like a popular model’s Instagram or Twitter page.
Even if the person you’re chatting with looks real, you should still reverse-image search their pictures to double-check before you agree to meet them in real life. Taking photos from someone’s Instagram page or Facebook account isn’t difficult, and you’ll save yourself a lot of time and energy if you can identify a catfish early on. The good news is that conducting a reverse-image search is easy, and if you don’t already know how, here’s a quick step-by-step guide for computers and for phones.
Remember that, while reverse-image search will turn up many catfishers, it still may not catch all of them. Though, a stealthy catfisher may not have taken their images on the internet. They may be using a family member or friend’s photos that are not online. So just because your love interest passes a reverse-image search, doesn’t mean you have to stop looking for red flags.
4Meet or video call sooner than later.
One place a catfisher can’t hide is in real life. Once you know you’re definitely interested in the other person, it might be time to ask for a face-to-face meeting in a public place. If they live too far away to meet up, then you should at least ask them to video call you. You may be a victim of catfishing if the other person refuses to video call or meet you.
5Keep 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.
6Trust your gut.
A catfisher might be using their own photos, but still completely lying about who they are. Unfortunately, there isn’t a great way to determine if someone you’re talking to is lying about certain parts of their life. You just have to trust your own instincts. If you’ve followed every tip and something still feels off, then it probably is — and you shouldn’t ignore your gut. Beyond a gut instinct, common sense is your biggest asset.
7Opt for offline dating if you can.
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.
8Keep 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. 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.
9Always 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.
10Verify 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.
Frequently Asked Questions
Catfishing, as discussed in the article, is not so simple and there are tons of nuances to it. So, we’ve made this FAQ to answer common queries on this matter.
1What do I do to avoid getting catfished?
Simply avoid sharing personal information to any stranger online. The individual you’re talking to may be a cyber criminal looking to gather information about you. They’re probably doing this as part of an identity theft scam.
Early in the online relationship it is best to be guarded in sharing personal information that could be used against you. Plus, think about common security questions or account information like who you bank with, your address, mothers maiden name, first pet etc. Sensitive photos like nudes could be used to extort you for money. So be careful about sending intimate pictures.
2What type of questions should I ask to know they’re real?
If you suspect the individual may not be from where they say they are, then try to ask them specific questions that require some degree of local knowledge. Or get them to send a photo of themselves besides a local landmark. Something that is difficult for a catfish to replicate without giving themselves away.
3How can I deal with a catfish?
For starters, don’t even consider the catfish’s feelings, they’re scammers to begin with. Then, block the catfish on your social media accounts. Additionally, block them on your mobile. And lastly, change your email address, and be very careful about who you share it with. If worse takes place such as harassment, report it to your local police immediately.
4I use a lot of filters and photoshop on my dating profile pictures. Does that make me a catfish?
This is a tough question to answer because it’s highly nuanced. But it is fine so long as you show yourself (may it be through video chat or real life) to the person you’re genuinely interested in. Remember to be cautious, honest, respectful and genuine in your intentions so their time and yours won’t be wasted.
Unfortunately, there is a slippery slope to catfishdom. Have you ever edited your profile picture to look a little better? Do you untag? Have you ever faked a location check-in? We’re all guilty of bending the truth with our profiles to some degree. Heck, it’s what all these platforms want us to do. And the best way to navigate this highly-saturated, digital world is to be mindful of your actions. Know that there are real life consequences in whatever happens or what you put out online.
5Can I legally press charges against my catfish?
Catfishing per se is not a crime. In the Philippines, we adhere to the principle of “No act constitutes a crime unless it is made so by law.” . This means there is no law that punishes the specific act of catfishing. However, acts done together with catfishing can lead to legal consequences. Refer here to see the specific crimes often committed catfishers.
The internet can be a great place to find new relationships. And remember to be cautious, get a third person opinion and trust your gut when meeting someone new. Ultimately, be careful with the information you share and be mindful with whatever you’re putting out online. For more articles like this, you can visit the lauvette blog.