Chances are your grandparents met because they lived within a ten-mile radius of each other. If not, perhaps they went to the same college for a number of years. Regardless, proximity was key and the dating game was relatively safe.
Here in the 21st century, the advent of social media platforms and online dating websites allows people to make connections with others at great distances—possibilities grandma would have never dreamed of. But with these convenient romantic outlets have also come scams and frauds—something grandma didn’t have to worry about.
Now you have to worry about being catfished.
What Does it Mean to be “Catfished”?
Quite simply, you have been catfished when you have been interacting with a real person who created a fake persona online, whether through social media or dating websites, to form relationships with other people.
The term, made popular by the 2010 documentary Catfish, can be applied to people with any number of reasons for creating false profiles.
Some catfishing may be no more than an attempt from a lonely person to find things they are missing in real life: romance, excitement, an emotional thrill. But instead of being open about who they are, they hide behind a persona.
In these cases, their victims—the unsuspecting people they interact with and deceive—usually end up feeling a sense of betrayal, embarrassment or having been robbed of countless hours investing in a false relationship.
Other catfishing attempts can take their deception to the next level.
When Catfish Bite
Many who have been catfished had experiences that turned into serious financial scams, with some having lost hundreds of thousands of dollars to a person they trusted, but never even met.
In a worst-case scenario, a person may be catfished only to become a victim of sexual assault or murder.
Here are eight signs that you are being catfished and tips on what to do to protect yourself.
Countless stories from those who have been catfished can be found online, and while the circumstances may all be different, the warning signs are consistently familiar.
- The relationship progresses quickly. Most catfishing stories you read will reveal just how strong and quickly a person will come-on to their potential victims. If within the first few exchanges the person seems to be pushing the relationship forward at a rapid pace without having even met you, you are most likely being catfished.
- They never want to show their face. If they seem serious, but strictly want to keep to written communication or phone calls (or, similarly, they frequently discuss meeting in-person but repeatedly have circumstances pop up to prevent them from doing so), there is a good chance they are hiding their true identity.
- Social media usage is sparse. Having a social media account these days doesn’t guarantee someone’s identity. If their accounts show few friends and fewer posts (being tagged in friend’s pictures is most helpful in this investigation), they might be a catfish.
- They ask for money. Everyone now and then needs a helping hand, but typically it should be from close family or friends that help is requested—someone you have known for a long time. If someone online has romanced you (remember that you’ve never met in person!) and is asking for funds to be sent to them or a “friend,” take this as a major red flag. Never give large or repeated sums of money to a person online that you’ve never met in-person and don’t have history with. Also never give out your bank account information!!!
- They seem too good to be true. You know the old adage: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Does every picture look perfectly modeled and flawless? Are their interests broad enough to match with almost anybody? Take these as warning signs and proceed with caution—they may be a catfish.
- Their “job” sends them around the world. Not everyone who travels for a living is a con artist, but if the person you met online has a “job” that causes them to travel often (particularly to places like Africa or the Middle East), make a mental note. This may be an excuse for them to never be available for communication where they’d have to show their face, and often money is requested by those who claim to be stuck in a foreign country.
- Proper grammar is lacking. If they claim to be from an English-speaking country but there’s evidence that they have little command of the language, don’t be afraid to ask more questions. When it seems like you might be on to them, a catfish will typically end communication and look for someone else to scam.
- They have elaborate stories. Whether they are trying to gain your pity or your money, catfishers know how to pull on emotional heartstrings. Tales of childhood trauma shared early on with a stranger should indicate that they are trying to create quick emotional connection. Similarly, catfishers usually have grand explanations for why they can’t Skype yet again, or even why they need an emergency monetary transfer. Beware of someone online with this habit.
It’s Always Fishing Season
In this day of online everything, we make personal and business connections routinely based solely on online photos and messages. It’s not a bad idea to progress slowly.
If you or someone you know might be developing a relationship online, and any one of these catfishing red flags have been raised, do something!
If you want to be sure, there are services such as socialcatfish.com for people who think they are being catfished. The service can do some investigating and determine the validity of a person’s social media profiles.
What they find out will either put you at ease or put you on alert. Like anything in life, it’s better to be safe than sorry.