Catfishing: Not Just About Money

Caleb Townsend
Staff Writer   United States Cybersecurity Magazine

We live in a time where it is easier than ever to deceive people. For example, the internet now enables us to speak anonymously through message boards, comment sections, and even online games. Additionally, the internet can help you pretend to be a different person. Catfishing is the act of pretending to be someone else online in the hopes of gaining money, leverage, or social interaction. It is a form of social engineering and is often employed in scams involving dating sites. Other times, it is simply another form of trolling.

History of Catfishing

The term “Catfishing” is very commonly used in the present day. As most people remember, the term gained popularity after the release of 2010 documentary, ‘Catfish’. The film revolved around Ned Schulman, who records his 9 month relationship with someone he has never met in person. In the end, he meets the person finally, and it turns out she was a much older woman who used pictures from a model’s account to convince Ned she was a hot single woman in her 20’s.

Following the film, a popular spin of series started, in which host Ned Schulman exposes online relationships by facilitating a meet-up in real life. Additionally, this series explores the different reasons someone might engage in catfishing.

Reasons for Catfishing

It is easy to assume why people catfish. Catfishing is often an attempt to trick people out of money. It is a common trick in the phone sex world, in which women or men create an identity. After an hour or so of forming a relationship with their callers, they will often ask for money, or credit card information. People in a vulnerable state are often very willing to give over their card information.

However, money is by far not the only reason for catfishing. Often people catfish because of underlying insecurities or loneliness. It can be exhilarating to be in someone else’s shoes. Additionally, there is a palpable thrill in having people believe you are someone else. In this respect, catfishing is more of an escapist fantasy, almost comparable to playing Dungeons and Dragons or dressing up for Halloween.

Other reasons for catfishing include people exploring their sexuality or gender identity, gaining popularity, or finding out information about someone else in order to blackmail them. Additionally, police often use catfishing techniques to catch criminals and gain information or leads.

How to Tell if You Are a Victim of Catfishing

There are multiple ways to tell if you are currently being Catfished.

  • They don’t provide basic information when you ask them. For example, age, location, place of work, and what school they went to are all questions that they may not have thought through. Additionally, some of these, like school and place of work, are traceable roles that catfishers may not want to reveal. After all, they wouldn’t want you combing through a high school year book only to see that they did not actually attend the school.
  • The refuse to give you any alternative social media platforms. While it is possible that someone only has one form of social media, it is very rare that anyone’s digital footprint is that small. Be wary of someone who refuses to skype, voice call, and has a barren social account.
  • Reverse search their profile picture. Right click on any image and click “search google for image”. Chances are, if they are catfishing, they are using a stock photo or a photo off of someone else’s profile.
  • Anyone who asks you to send them money is probably scamming you. While some people do ask for money online, it is rare that someone will ask you before meeting you in person. In the very least, it is a red flag.
  • Check if the information adds up. Creating a false persona with details is the hardest part of catfishing and chances are, some of their lies will inevitably clash with one another. Look for inconsistencies, and if something sounds suspicious, it probably is.

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