Catfishing is a deceptive and abusive activity pretending to be someone you're not online by creating a fake identity to target individuals with a promise of friendship, a relationship; and/ or fraud. These profiles/ identities are also known as 'sock puppet' presences, referring to the manipulation of a simple hand puppet made from a sock.
Reasons people catfish include a lack of confidence, isolation, loneliness and, in some cases, wanting a relationship with someone they believe is 'out of their league' in the real world. For others, the goal is simply to scam money, troll or harass their victims.
The Internet provides catfishing an environment in which it can flourish providing - in many cases - anonymity and shielding perpetrators from obligation or responsibility.
There are also instances where a catfisher is confused or curious about their sexuality. They create false profiles so they can confidently explore their curiosity without having to reveal their true identity.
Though tempting to believe it, catfishing has nothing to do with catfishing fish rather it was Nev Schulman’s 2010 documentary 'Catfish' that brought the practice to light, and there is a US reality-based documentary series based on this.
How to catfish the world!
Researching this topic, we were surprised to find a makeup video (one of many titled "How to catfish the world!" sponsored by Clinique. The presenter appears to regard catfishing as a positive, saying of her video "Some call it catfish I call it enhancing your beauty to the maximum. Most of you probably know all my transforming tricks and tips by now but I thought I would make a video and go a bit more in detail. What level of catfish is this look?!"
MEN R US volunteers admit we don't get the thinking behind this even though she has 5.9 million subscribers.
- You search online for their name but they don't seem to exist
- Photos you do find don't match the photos on their profile
- Their photographs seem too professional
- They ask for money (they might say it's to visit you)
- Even though you've only known them for a short time (days/ weeks) they say they love you
- They are reluctant or won't meet for real, video chat, or phone
- They come across as a little too Mr Perfect
- Information or stories conflict or don't quite add up
- They don’t have any/ many social media followers or friends
- Something is off or just doesn't feel right
Embarrassment, regret and betrayal
Being a victim of catfishing can affect one's mental health sometimes resulting in anxiety and depression. It can be especially difficult when a victim has invested emotionally in a friendship or a relationship believing in and falling for a non-existent person.
There are feelings of embarrassment, regret and betrayal, worsened if there is a financial loss or if (explicit) images are involved. Understandably, victims can become paranoid they might be exposed publicly through revenge porn, for example. There are also additional considerations if the victim is still in the closet, fearful of disclosure, and being outed. After the experience, victims can find it difficult to trust other people which can affect friendships and relationships, both personal and professional.
0300 123 2040 | Action Fraud Helpline
There is no specific crime of catfishing. But is it illegal? | Australia | The Conversation | 29 May 2020
Gay dating app is introducing an AI verification process to clamp down on catfishing | Pink News | 30 | Oct 2019
Why do gay apps struggle to stop catfish? | BBC | 28 Oct 2019
Who's behind the screen? What is a catfish and how can you spot one? | The Sun | 23 Sep 2019
We speak to the gay men who pretended to be girls online to flirt with boys | GQ | 20 Jul 2019
How to catch a catfisher | The Guardian | 20 Feb 2019
Tinder user jailed for tricking blindfolded men into sex | BBC | 9 Nov 2018
Catfishing: What happens when someone steals your identity? | 13 Jan 2019
What is catfishing and how can you spot it? | Metro | 18 Mar 2018
This is what it feels like to be the face of a gay twitter catfish | BuzzFeed News | 13 Sep 2017
Online dating fraud cost victims £27 million last year | Action Fraud | 11 Feb 2016