What’s catfishing? Spotting and preventing online deceit

Guy Bauman

December 05, 2023

  • # Fraud Prevention
  • # Identity Protection
  • # Account Protection

A bad date is the least of your concerns with online dating. If you’re meeting potential partners exclusively through the internet, you’re at risk of being catfished. Catfishing is a form of online deception where individuals craft fictitious identities for various hidden agendas, ranging from emotional manipulation to financial fraud. 

But catfishing doesn’t only occur on dating apps — you might become the victim of this digital security threat via email, a messaging app, or a website. Identifying what catfishing is and how to avoid it is essential to protect yourself.

Why is it called catfishing?

In the past, fish transporters used to throw catfish into storage containers to keep the fish agile and engaged, resulting in better meat upon arrival. In the same way, someone who’s catfishing you aims to keep you interested and engaged in their fictional reality.

Catfishers typically fabricate an online identity to deceive others, often for personal gain. This might involve creating fake social media or dating profiles, sending fraudulent emails, and creating fake websites. They might use another person’s photos to make their profiles seem legitimate, even though it’s not them. 

This term gained popularity thanks to Nev Schulman's documentary and the subsequent MTV show “Catfish,” both of which delved into the complexities of deceptive online relationships.

The motives behind catfishing vary. Some catfishers seek emotional gratification or escapism, creating fake identities to explore relationships they feel unable to pursue in real life. Others have more malicious objectives, such as financial exploitation and identity theft. This latter group poses an increasingly significant threat, leveraging emotional connections to manipulate victims into divulging sensitive information or sending money.

Why do people catfish? 7 reasons

From emotional escapism to deliberate deception, the reasons behind this behavior are as diverse as the individuals involved. Understanding these motivations is critical to recognizing and protecting oneself from online scams.

Here are seven potential reasons someone might catfish another person.

1. User scamming

A common cybersecurity-related reason for catfishing is to scam someone, likely by coaxing them into sharing sensitive information such as credit card numbers. Watch out for fake dating and social media profiles, being wary if one of these individuals asks for overly personal details. 

2. Identity exploration

Catfishing sometimes serves as a means for individuals to explore who they are, perhaps making friends or starting romantic relationships with people they feel too nervous to communicate with in person.

3. Revenge

In some instances, a desire for revenge fuels catfishing attempts. Individuals might use someone else's identity to create a damaging online presence, engage in activities that harm their reputation, or even involve the impersonated person in illegal acts. They could also create a fake profile to show interest in and string along someone they know to hurt that person’s feelings. 

4. Mental health challenges

For those struggling with mental health issues like depression and anxiety, catfishing can offer an escape. Assuming a different identity online can provide a confidence boost, allowing them to engage in interactions that might otherwise feel intimidating or overwhelming in their real life.

5. Harassment

Catfishing can be a tool for continued harassment, like stalking or bullying. When direct contact is blocked, the perpetrator may create a new, fictitious profile to maintain access to their target and continue their harassment undetected.

6. Anonymity 

People might conceal their true identity for benign intentions, like avoiding repercussions while participating in online discussions, or more nefarious purposes, like infidelity, trolling, and financial extortion.

7. Insecurities

Someone might unintentionally catfish because they’re trying to create an online presence that masks things they’re insecure about. This virtual persona allows them to experience interactions and admiration that they lack.

How to spot a catfish

Understanding the dynamics of catfish scams is crucial in protecting against exploitation. IronVest champions this awareness as a fundamental aspect of personal digital security. By recognizing the signs of catfishing, users are better equipped to protect themselves from these digital deceptions. 

Watch out for the following signs to avoid falling victim to fraudulent profiles and sites: 

  • Sparse social connections: A typical catfish profile often has limited friends or followers, a strategy to minimize exposure and reduce the risk of being unmasked.

  • Reluctance for real-time interaction: Consistent avoidance of video or phone calls is a hallmark of catfishing. These individuals often fabricate excuses to evade revealing their true identity.

  • Static profile imagery: An unchanged profile picture over long periods can signal a catfish, as they typically have limited access to varied images of their assumed identity.

  • Narrative discrepancies: Inconsistencies in their story, such as conflicting details about their background or daily experiences, can indicate deceit.

  • Expedited relationship advancement: An unusually fast-paced relationship, often accompanied by requests for money or sensitive information, is a critical warning sign.

  • Exaggerated emotional declarations: Scammers might use overblown expressions of affection or commitment to quickly gain your trust.

Steps to take when you suspect catfishing

When you suspect you've been catfished, immediate and decisive action is vital. Here’s what to do next:

  • Verify their identity: Conduct research, using reverse image search to check profile pictures and Google Search to confirm parts of their story.

  • Cease sharing personal information: Stop sharing sensitive details immediately, as personal data in the wrong hands can lead to identity theft and financial loss.

  • Report and block: Report the profile to the social media platform or dating service. Blocking them prevents further contact, reducing the risk of emotional or financial manipulation.

  • Seek support: Confide in trusted friends or family members. Emotional support is crucial in such situations, helping you process the experience and move forward.

  • Consult authorities if necessary: Contact law enforcement if the situation involves fraud or other illegal activities. This step is critical for your protection and may help prevent others from falling victim to the same catfisher.

How to avoid falling prey to catfishing

Proactivity is crucial to minimize the risk of catfishing.

Adjust your privacy settings across various online platforms, including social media, apps, and games, to limit who can view your content or contact you. Regularly update these settings as platform policies change.

Conduct a periodic search of your name to evaluate your digital presence. This helps in understanding what information about you is publicly accessible, allowing you to take steps to manage it.

When you meet someone who might be too good to be true, trust that instinct. Do some research to see if you can verify their identity or insist you have a video call or meet in person so you can confirm they aren’t tricking you. 

Password security is also crucial. Beyond keeping your passwords confidential, regularly audit them to ensure they’re unique, complex, and include numbers and symbols. And use biometric authentication for added safety wherever possible. 

Strengthen your digital armor against catfishing with IronVest

Engaging in online interactions demands awareness and proactive measures against threats like catfishing. Understanding the signs and motivations is vital for personal digital safety — the next best step is to armor yourself with a robust defense against such deceptions.

IronVest stands at the forefront of this battle, offering advanced solutions like biometric authentication and identity protection services. Get IronVest today and enjoy immediate peace of mind knowing your online data is safe with us.

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