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What is Catfishing?

Catfishing is a deceptive activity when someone uses images and information to create a new fake identity online – sometimes using an individual’s entire identity as their own – to trick people who are seeking friends or a romantic partner online.

The newly created social media account can then be used to damage the reputation of the true owner of the identity, or alternatively, the fictional identities that are created using other people’s images and information, can be used to form dishonest relationships online.

Although catfishing used to be seen more among adults using online dating platforms, it has now become a more widespread problem among adults and teenagers.

Reasons someone may choose to catfish include:

  • Poor self-esteem – Someone might choose to catfish another person due to their own personal insecurities.They may feel unattractive or not good enough and feel more comfortable using the images or identity of another person that they consider ‘attractive’ or ‘good enough’.
  • Depression or anxiety – Someone suffering from a mental health illness might feel too anxious to reveal their true self. They may feel the only way they can communicate with others confidently is to pretend to be someone else.
  • To hide their identity – Someone who wants to hide their identity when online, might use the images and information of another person. They may want to hide behind a fake profile to troll others, try to extort money from others or talk to people outside of an existing relationship.
  • Targeted revenge – Some people may use catfishing as a means of revenge on a previous partner. They do this to try and damage a person’s reputation or to humiliate them. They may also use the false identity to entice a person into a fake relationship to hurt them emotionally.
  • Targeted harassment – To maximise the emotional impact of harassing someone online a catfish may set up several social media accounts. This can create the impression that there are several people participating in the abuse, leaving the person targeted feeling emotionally overwhelmed.
  • To explore their sexuality – When someone is confused or curious about their sexuality, they might create false profiles so they can confidently explore their curiosity without having to reveal their true identity.

Signs someone might be a Catfish

  1. You’ve searched their name on the Internet, but they don’t seem to exist and if they do, their photos don’t match the photos on their dating profile.
  2. They ask for money very early into your ‘relationship’. They may say it’s to come and visit you. A person you’ve never met asking for money is a huge concern.
  3. You’ve only been talking to them for a few days or weeks, but they tell you they love you. They may try to overwhelm you with loving messages or words and get you to commit to a relationship – even though you’ve never met.

Never send nude or sexual photos to someone you haven’t met in person. A catfish may attempt to blackmail you with the images. 

  1. They avoid any face-to-face contact or video calls and always have an excuse when you suggest meeting up. They give excuses such as, their camera has broken or they’re too shy. If they do agree to meet in person, they don’t show up.
  2. Their stories are sometimes conflicting or simply don’t add up. They may invent stories to make you feel sorry for them. Additionally, they may tell you stories of family wealth or having a high-level job to make themselves seem more attractive.
  3. They are just a bit too perfect! If everything they say sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

Although most people feel confident that they would know if they were communicating with a completely fabricated identity, after seeing a few images and having a conversation with someone, it would be very easy to assume that you are communicating with exactly who you are seeing in the images they have sent you. It is important to remember that although the signs that you are being catfished listed above can be indicative of something sinister – they can also be completely innocent too.

The Effects of Catfishing

When someone has been catfished, it can be very damaging to their self-esteem, confidence and overall mental health. Some people who have fallen for a ‘catfisher’ may feel a sense of shame or humiliation and sometimes, are too afraid or embarrassed to even contact the authorities and report what has happened.

Following their experience, those who have been catfished may be emotionally devastated and find it extremely hard to trust and this can affect both their personal and professional relationships.

Being catfished can cause mental health concerns, such as, anxiety and depression, and it can also cause financial loss.

If the person who has been catfished sent any explicit images or ‘sexted’ with the catfisher, they may feel betrayed and become worried and paranoid that the catfisher will expose them publicly. This worry can lead to serious long-term problems, such as, stress, anxiety and depression.

How to prevent being Catfished

Due to the volume of people we interact with online every day, it can be difficult to avoid being catfished. It can be difficult to check everyone’s identity for authenticity, however, the tips below from Cybersmile.org may help prevent or reduce your chances of being catfished:

  • Be Cautious– When talking to anybody that you don’t know online, always remain slightly cautious, especially if you have only just started speaking with them or have no solid evidence that they are who they say they are.
  • Never give out money– Some catfishers will target people to scam money from them. You should never give money to anybody you don’t know or who asks for it online.
  • Take your time– Always be careful when sending images or sexually explicit messages to another person online. Once you press send, it can’t be taken back!
  • Talking to someone– If you have concerns about someone you are speaking to online, confide in someone you trust. Tell them about your concerns as they may be able to help you identify any “red flags” you may have not noticed yourself. New perspectives often bring new solutions!
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions– As uncomfortable as it might be, don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as you need to enable you to feel safe and comfortable talking to someone. If they are a catfish, they might not be able to answer all the questions accurately and then you’ll be more likely to know that something isn’t right.
  • Adjust your privacy settings– Catfishers will commonly look for people to target, and by having your privacy settings adjusted on your social media accounts to ‘private’, you are less likely to be targeted be a catfisher because nobody can see the information on your profile.

For anyone who has found themselves in this sort of situation, it is essential to remember that it can happen to anyone. People who engage in this sort of fraudulent behaviour have usually been doing it for a long time and they know what they are doing; they seek out people’s vulnerabilities and take full advantage of them.


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