Connecting with family, friends, and peers online can be a great way to have fun and stay in touch, it’s important to know the risks involved to stay safe.
Unfortunately, you don’t always know the person behind the account you’re interacting with online. The number of catfishing and social media crimes continues to rise. In 2021 alone, Catfishing scams were responsible for $547 million in stolen money.
Knowing the signs of a potential scammer or catfish and how to handle the situation can make a huge difference. Here’s everything to know about catfishing in 2023 and how to protect yourself and your online reputation.
What is Catfishing?
Catfishing is defined as a person being deceitful to scam people online using a fake identity. In some cases, this person intentionally impersonates someone else, taking their images, personality, date of birth, and location. The cybercriminal messages you or a loved one pretending to be someone else to trick people or scam. Originally a term used for online dating, catfishing has expanded to include all online platforms and social media sites. The term became used mainstream after a documentary called “Catfish” was released in 2010 and accelerated by the MTV series called “Catfish” in 2012.
Is Catfishing Illegal?
Catfish itself is not a crime. However, it is considered a vehicle toward illegal acts that can lead to criminal charges, including fraud and sex crimes.
Reasons for Catfishing
For many, it’s tough to understand the motives behind catfishing. Here are the most likely reasons:
Revenge – catfishing can be used to get revenge on a previous partner or someone that has wronged them or is considered deserving of unwanted attention.
Lack of Confidence – someone who is a catfisher may be insecure in who they are, to the point where they assume a new identity or take someone else’s image. This is an attempt to escape their own insecurities and become more confident.
Mental Illness – similar to a lack of confidence, catfishers may have significant mental health issues that cause their online behavior.
Financial benefits – cybercriminals and catfishers will trick people into sending them money. These can include scams involving online dating or business/entrepreneurship, and even extortion.
Explore Sexuality – in some cases, the reason for a catfisher is because they want to explore their sexual preferences. They will catfish people as another gender or sexuality.
Signs You’re Being Catfished
If you think you may be getting catfished, there are a few noticeable signs to look for. Keep in mind the following signs in these situations:
A low number of friends or followers online
Not many social media posts
They are telling you what you want to hear
Pieces of their story aren’t adding up
You feel a sense of urgency from someone, and you feel pressured to do something quickly
They avoid meeting face-to-face, or video chatting
They request financial help
If you are experiencing one or more of these signs, there is a chance you may be getting catfished. Whatever situation you find yourself in, use your best judgment.
What You Should Do
If you suspect you may be getting catfished, you must take the necessary cautions to protect the reputation of yourself and your loved ones.
How to Outsmart a Catfish
Keep these things in mind when dealing with a potential catfish or cyber-criminal:
Never send them personal information or photos of you.
Block them on all social media sites applicable.
Block any “friends” or connections you met through them.
File a Police Report – Police may be able to use special tools to track scammers down (in some cases). Cyber crimes are serious and on the rise.
Be sure to communicate with your significant other, family, and close friends to notify them of your experience and to look out for themselves.
In particular, catfishers are known to target a few types of people that are particularly susceptible to these crimes.
Teenagers: Cyberbullies and catfishers (and in several cases, other teenagers) may attempt to target teens to earn their trust and persuade the teen to reveal sensitive information. This information – whether insensitive photos or private information – is used for humiliation or sexual extortion.
Older adults: scammers have been known seniors and older adults who may suffer from cognitive decline or are still learning how to use social media or dating platforms. A common trick targeting older singles is used to create a fake dating profile to trick people looking for love to instead ask for money.
It’s important to have conversations with loved ones of these ages about how to use these platforms, and what to do in a potential situation with a potential cyberbully or scammer.
Protecting Your Reputation Online
With advancements in technology that helps us connect with new people and stay in touch with family and friends, there are people who abuse social media and dating platforms for their own gain – whether it’s financial, or for an ego-boost.
Oftentimes, the victim of a catfish endures a blow to their ego, particularly if they were targeted as an act for revenge and a goal to defamation. Their reputation – both online and in-person is damaged.