Bonny Albo
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What is catfishing? Simply, when one person pretends to be someone else online, almost always in an online dating context. Several well-known celebrities have been catfished quite publicly, including Manti Te’o and Thomas Gibson.

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How Did Catfishing Start?

Catfishing isn’t a new concept; people have lied about their identities since the dawn of the personals column in the late 18th century.

The origin of what is catfishing in the context of dating is new however, hailing from the 2010 movie (and subsequent TV show) by the same name. To explain:

“They used to tank cod from Alaska all the way to China. They’d keep them in vats in the ship. By the time the codfish reached China, the flesh was mush and tasteless. So this guy came up with the idea that if you put these cods in these big vats, put some catfish in with them and the catfish will keep the cod agile. And there are those people who are catfish in life. And they keep you on your toes. They keep you guessing, they keep you thinking, they keep you fresh. And I thank God for the catfish because we would be … boring and dull if we didn’t have somebody nipping at our fin”.

How Does Catfishing Happen?

There are likely as many ways to catfish someone as there are ways to lie to someone.

Having said that, I’ve noticed a few different, and specific types of catfishing. They come up over and over again with my readers, clients, and in both the TV show and movie by the same name. Here are the most common with folks asking, “What is catfishing?”, in my experience.

  • The Revenge Catfish: It could be an ex, or someone you’ve wronged, but regardless, in this case the person pretends to be someone else to hurt and get back at you for a perceived wrong or injustice.
  • “To Catch a Liar” Catfish: I see this most often with women helping their friend or loved one, to determine if a partner is cheating. They pretend to be an attractive single online, try to seduce the supposed adulterous person, and it spins out of control from there.
  • The Bored Catfish: Sometimes, people will just create an alternate persona online because they’re bored. One friend I know was the victim of a catfishing scheme, where both her and her son’s pictures were stolen to create a complex online presence, which included creating fundraising bracelets for the son’s cancer (which, in real life, the boy suffered from and recovered).
  • “No One Will Like Me As I Am” Catfish: Maybe they’re older, overweight, married, the wrong gender, insecure, or all of the above. Regardless, this catfish feels, for whatever reason, that they’re undesirable as they are, so they create a persona in the likes of someone they feel would be attractive.
  • The Secret Crush Catfish: Perhaps this person feels like you’re out of reach to them, or just can’t openly say they like you. And so, they decide to pretend they’re someone you’d definitely, most wonderfully adore — just to get close to you.

How To Avoid Catfishing – Or Being Catfished

Once you know what is catfishing, there are a couple of key things you can do – just like on the TV show – to find out if you’re being catfished. They’re all easy and straightforward, but I’d recommend asking a friend for help. In case you get too emotional (sad, angry, hurt, happy even) to see the truth of what’s in front of you, it’s good to have backup.

  • If the person you’re speaking with refuses to meet you, or chickens out at the last minute, this is usually a dead giveaway. Ask a friend to go with you to the meeting. Have them watch and keep an eye out for something that might seem off. If they refuse to meet you over a longer series of requests, it’s time to end it.
  • All you get are excuses, and lots of them. Things such as why they can’t use or buy a webcam, add you on Facebook, give you their number, or any other way to determine that they’re real. In this case, tell them you just want to get to know them better. Ask for some personal information in exchange for your own. Meaning, be willing to share everything that you’re asking of them.
  • The pictures you get from them all seem unreal, they don’t age over time, or all have similar lighting, background and clothing. Ask them to take a picture of themselves to send to you with something date-stamped in the image. Like what? A newspaper, or a specially written placard just for you works well.
  • Any history about their life prior to meeting you seems off, vague, or doesn’t add up. Ask for them to fill in the details and blanks.

How To Report Catfishing on Facebook and Elsewhere

If you think you might have been catfished, here’s how to report an internet dating scam.

Facebook catfishing is a bit easier to report: for folks pretending to be someone else go here, for scams go here.

Someone trying to catfish you through Twitter? Impersonation attempts should be reported here, fraud report it here.

Regardless of where the person catfished you, if you’ve given them money or resources, stop all contact. Contact your local police detachment immediately. They’ll give you your next steps.

Some Other Ways To Avoid Being Catfished

Like with a general internet dating or romance scam, most of the things listed here might seem like common sense. Yet when you’re in the throes of a new relationship… Well, you might overlook some of these telltale signs that you’re being catfished.

  • Take the picture(s) you’ve been sent, and perform a Google image search on them to see if there are duplicates on the web, and if they tell a bit more of the story behind the person you’re talking to.
  • Perhaps you’ve talked to them on the phone already – if you haven’t yet, do. Get their number, and search the web for it to see who it’s registered to.
  • Initiate a Skype or FaceTime chat.
  • Check out their social media profiles (if they have any). Look for other signals to prove that they really do exist, like other people tagging them in pictures.
  • Ask to meet within the first week of talking to each other online. Push for a public place, but make sure that you do meet face-to-face as soon as possible.

Feel Like You Understand ‘What Is Catfishing’ Now?

No? Ask any catfishing questions in the comments below. Or, share your own experiences and what you did, how you knew someone was trying to scam you.