Anyone who’s spent much time dating online is well familiar with what a catfish is. They know it’s someone who isn’t who they claim to be on one level or another, and they likely even know someone who’s fallen victim to a catfish before.
What they don’t realize is that catfishing is something that can potentially happen to them.
Today’s catfish have been around the block a time or two, and they’re really good at what they do. They know how to manipulate people and how to use modern technology to make their deceptions believable, so you need to know how to spot a catfish before you invest too much of your time and energy into the situation.
Here are some tips to keep in mind.
What is Catfishing?
Have you ever been talking to someone online, only to find out later that they weren’t who they said they were? If so, you’ve been catfished.
Most people have at least heard of catfishing, even if they don’t know exactly what it is.
Catfishing is when someone create a false identity online, usually with the intention of tricking someone else into a romantic relationship.
It can also be used to trick people out of money or for other malicious reasons.
Catfishers typically create fake profiles on dating websites or social media sites and pretend to be someone else in order to lure people into a relationship. They may also send out fake messages and create fake websites to further their deception.
Catfishing has been around almost as long as the internet itself, but it gained mainstream attention in 2010 with the release of the documentary Catfish. The movie told the story of a man who fell in love with a woman he met online, only to discover that she was not who she claimed to be.
Since then, catfishing has become more and more common, as well as more public. In recent years, there have been a number of high-profile cases of catfishing, involving celebrities like Manti Te’o and Nev Schulman (the director of Catfish).
Know why someone chooses to catfish
Contrary to popular belief, catfishing isn’t just lying to people over the internet. Even the most honest person out there plays fast and loose with the truth sometimes.
Maybe they add an inch to their height when filling out their dating profiles or routinely use Photoshop to smooth their smile lines before uploading a new profile pic.
The dishonesty involved in catfishing goes well beyond that sort of thing, though. Some catfish invent entire lives and unique identities for themselves. And in most cases, their reasons are about more than tricking other people into giving them attention or tricking them out of money and nudes (although that does sometimes happen).
Many catfish are desperately unhappy, lonely people who long for an escape from their real existence.
Some become so lost in their fantasies, that they themselves forget they aren’t real.
Understanding these things about catfish doesn’t make what they do okay, but it can help a savvy dater get a better read on how to spot one in action.
Always research your dating prospects
By now, pretty much everyone has at least some sort of online presence, especially if they’re into e-dating and in the habit of chatting up potential love interests online. That said, it should be easy to find additional information on someone you’re talking to and trying to get to know.
Even people who claim to be private typically at least have a social media account or two out there, even if they don’t use them much.
Pay attention to what happens when you Google your potential love interest. Does a standard search turn up well-managed profiles on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or anywhere else common? Is there evidence that they live where they say they live, do what they said they do for a living, and so forth? If not, something’s wrong.
No one alive in the 2020s who’s also comfortable dating online has no online presence whatsoever.
Even if someone’s not all that into social media, they’re still likely to have at least a LinkedIn profile for work or a couple of Pinterest boards to their name.
Be on the lookout for common warning signs
If someone you’ve been talking to lately has been giving you catfish vibes, then you’ve probably already spotted a couple of red flags waving in the breeze.
To be more specific, catfish are the kings and queens of excuses. Practiced catfish may be better than average at figuring out what someone specific is likely to believe, but the excuse-making pattern is there all the same.
Does your chat buddy always have an unlikely excuse at the ready as to why they can’t talk on the phone or take a video call despite seeming interested in getting to know you? Or maybe they keep putting you off when you suggest meeting up in person even though they live nearby, have transportation, etc.
Catfish also tend to have things about them that just don’t add up – like pictures that seem fishy. In a day and age where pretty much everyone owns a smartphone and uses it to take at least occasional selfies, a lack of normal-seeming photos is a major red flag.
The same goes for lifestyle details that don’t match what you’ve been told – like a menial job or communication style that doesn’t match their allegedly high education level.
Don’t be afraid to challenge them
If you suspect someone, you’re talking to might be a catfish, it’s fairly easy to catch them in the act. Just try doing or requesting something that wouldn’t bother a person who’s being honest about their identity but would bother a catfish a great deal.
Not sure if their pictures are fake? Ask them to send you a special selfie of them holding a specific item they’ve told you they own or striking a silly (but specific) pose on the spot.
Worried the facts they’ve given you about their life aren’t adding up? Ask them lots of questions about various details, keep track of the answers, and wait for them to slip up.
Sooner or later, a catfish always reveals themselves for what they are. Just be careful of sharing personal information about yourself until you’re sure about a person.