You’ve probably heard about it. First there was the documentary and the MTV show. Then there were stories from celebrities like Manti T’eo and Thomas Gibson. We’re talking about catfishing, and it’s definitely been a hot topic for a while. So what is it?
A “catfish” is a person who creates fake online profiles and pretends to be someone they’re not. Most of us create what’s called an online “persona” on social media, and it’s usually the best version of ourselves. For instance, we might only upload the pictures of ourselves we like best, or we only post about the great stuff going on in our lives and don’t mention the bad stuff. This isn’t the same as pretending to be a completely different person, which is what a catfish does.
There are a lot of reasons why someone might become a catfish. Some people might want revenge on a former partner, some people might be lonely or bored and some people just want to cause trouble. However, one of the biggest reasons people catfish seems to be because they don’t feel confident in who they really are, so they pretend they’re someone else. Then, if they start falling for the person they’ve started an online relationship with, they’re scared to reveal themselves. If a catfish does “come clean” to the other person, this situation can create a lot of trust issues, since the relationship wasn’t built on total honesty.
What To Watch Out For
It’s a good idea to be aware when using social media or online dating sites that it’s possible you could come across a catfish. But how do you know if you’re dealing with one? Here are some signs to look for:
- He or she is “too good to be true.” If a random person contacts you and claims to be a model or celebrity, with super hot pictures to match, or their life and interests match up perfectly with yours, you might want to be a little skeptical. Not that attractive people wouldn’t be interested in you, of course! But it’s a common tactic of catfish to steal photos of models and celebrities in order to flatter someone into not asking too many questions.
- They won’t Skype or use a webcam to talk with you, or they repeatedly cancel in-person meetings at the last minute. If they’re avoiding talking to you face-to-face, it could be a red flag.
- They have a profile that looks new or incomplete. If you can tell that their Facebook profile was just created, or they’re not tagged in any pictures anywhere, these could be signs that they aren’t a real person.
- They ask you to send them money. Don’t send anyone money if you’ve never met them in real life and don’t know them well – they’re most likely scamming you.
- They profess their love for you really quickly. Like in the real world, it’s ok to take things slow online and get to know a person. It’s easy to get caught up in a new relationship, but if the other person is moving fast and getting serious, it could be a red flag. Often they’re just trying to play on your emotions.
- They give you information that doesn’t add up. For example, in one story featured on Catfish the TV show, the catfish told his victim that he was taking correspondence courses to become an anesthesiologist. Becoming an anesthesiologist requires an advanced medical degree and can’t be done over the internet. Pay attention to what the person is telling you, and if something sounds, um, fishy, well…it probably is.
What You Can Do
If you think someone you’re talking to online might not be who they say they are, there are a few things you can do:
- Often, the best first step is to Google the person’s name. If nothing comes up, or if you get a bunch of odd results that don’t seem to match up to what the person has told you, then there’s a good chance you’re talking to a catfish.
- Do a reverse Google image search for the person’s profile image, which can reveal where it might really come from.
- Ask lots of questions – where they grew up, schools they went to, where they like to go on the weekends. Search around on the web to confirm if what they’re telling you is true (Is that high school actually in that town?). If they don’t want to talk about themselves – but ask YOU a lot of questions instead – they may be trying to avoid revealing who they really are.
- Take steps to protect yourself as you would in any online scenario. Avoid sending photos or videos that you would not want shared with anyone else, and keep your address, school and any other personal information private. If you agree to meet in person, consider meeting in a public place, and bring a friend with you if it makes you feel more comfortable.
If you find out you’ve been catfished, or even if you’re not sure, you might feel like you can’t trust the other person, even if you had developed a relationship online. It can be very confusing: should you move on, or try to make the relationship work now that you know the truth? When trust has been broken in any relationship, it takes time and effort from both people to heal. You might have to take a few steps back and get to know the person – the real person – all over again. Remember, trust is something that can be given and taken, but not necessarily “earned” back, and you’ll have to determine for yourself whether you can or should trust the other person.
If you have questions or need someone to talk to about online dating or relationships, call, chat, or text one of our advocates. We’re here to help 24/7!