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How to Catfish Someone and How to Prevent It

Everyone should know how to catfish someone — not so you can catfish someone else, but to recognize and prevent it from happening to you. With that in mind, here’s everything you need to know about catfishing.

What Is Catfishing?

You might be surprised to learn that “catfishing” has nothing to do with cats, fish, catfish, or fishing. Instead, “catfishing” refers to the practice of pretending to be someone else online. It might sound harmless enough, but catfishing usually goes deeper than using a fake name in the comments section of a blog or fibbing a little on your online dating profile. The goal of catfishing is to trick someone else into thinking your fake identity is real — and not as a white lie or a simple prank.

Catfishing is a type of con as well as a form of identity theft. Catfishing victims include not only those who are deceived by the catfisher but also anyone whose name and photos are used in the attempt.

Where Did the Term Come From?

The term “catfish” was first used in an eponymous 2010 documentary by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman. The film follows the story of Ariel’s younger brother, Nev Schulman, who fell in love with a beautiful young woman online named Megan — only to find out that the person on the other end of the relationship was actually a middle-aged mother named Angela.

At the end of the documentary, Schulman explains that catfish used to be placed in shipments of live cod. They kept the cod active, which resulted in better-quality fish. He goes on to compare Angela and others like her to catfish whose existence should keep the rest of us alert.

What Are the Most Common Practices?

Stories of catfishing abound, and if you read through examples online, you’ll notice a few commonalities among them:

  • Fake social media accounts. Although catfishers often use real names and photos lifted from authentic profiles, they might also use made-up names and photos found elsewhere online to build their fake accounts.
  • Limited communication methods. When someone isn’t who they say they are, they will communicate via text, email, or instant messaging but shy away from in-person meetings, video calls, and phone calls.
  • Too-good-to-be-true dating profiles. Catfishers often target online dating apps, creating fake profiles with an attractive picture, impressive profession, and other appealing characteristics to generate interest from other users.
  • Coincidences and excuses that seem unlikely. For instance, a catfisher might be “coincidentally” moving to your area soon, have all the same interests as you, or never be available to talk on the phone.
  • Sob stories and requests for money. Catfishers might tell stories of tragic events or circumstances to play on your sympathy. Often this leads to a request for money.

How Can You Identify Catfishing?

Although some catfishers are easy to spot thanks to obvious lies, poor English, or immediate requests for money, others require more digging to uncover. Here are a few simple ways you can identify catfishing:

  • Perform a Google reverse image search using pictures from the person’s profile to see where else they show up.
  • Ask to meet in person or via webchat — anything that lets you see the person’s face. If they refuse, make up an excuse, or fail to show up, that’s a red flag.
  • Search for the person on other social media platforms, paying specific attention to how many followers they have and any inconsistencies.
  • Fact-check as many details as you can, such as the individual’s given address or profession. Google their name, and see what comes up.

What Can You Do to Protect Yourself?

The best way to avoid getting catfished is to educate yourself and stay vigilant. Familiarize yourself with the signs of catfishing, and be on the lookout for red flags in your online interactions. Excuses, unanswered questions, lopsided conversations, moving too quickly, telling you everything you want to hear — all of these could indicate catfishing.

It’s too easy for people to pursue deceptive goals online — and catfishing is just one means of doing so. As technology continues to evolve and internet users become savvier, con artists will adapt. To protect yourself and others, make sure you’re keeping up with new digital trends, including scams such as catfishing.

To catch an on-screen example of catfishing tactics in action, look no further than Eko’s interactive series #WarGames. You’ll see how terrifyingly simple and incredibly dangerous catfishing can be — especially when undertaken by sophisticated hackers.

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