what is catfishing

What is Catfishing? And How to Spot an Online Catfish

In literal terms, a cat fish is a diverse ray-finned fish that has distinguishable barbels that look like a cat’s whiskers. But in the figurative world, a catfish is something completely different… and chances are, you’ve heard of this term before. 

Regardless of your views on the matter, being a catfish is devastatingly immoral, cruel, and vicious. 

So today, we’re going to take a closer look at the term ‘catfishing’. What is it, where does the term ‘catfishing’ come from, and how to spot the signs of a potential online catfish. Why? Because no one is immune to online bullying or scamming. 

What is Catfishing?

Catfishing is when someone pretends to be someone else online. This person, known as a ‘catfish,’ will use fake photos, and sometimes take on a completely different persona in order to find friends or romantic partners, to harass, scam, swindle, or even get revenge. 

The saddest part is, catfishing has become a huge trend because it directly appeals to one’s emotions. A catfish will use words of affirmation or express deep love for the person they’re catfishing, leaving them to feel needed, appreciated, and desired. 

Not just that, but humans thrive when they have social connections. Bonding has a slew of positive benefits, such as signaling the brain to release feel-good hormones like oxytocin

For that reason, it is often lonely and/or widowed individuals, or those who have attachment anxiety, who are more susceptible to being catfished. 

Where Does the Term ‘Catfish’ Come From?

So, where does the term ‘catfish’ even come from?

Well, a 2010 documentary called Catfish looked at a young man who was romantically duped by a woman who had created a fake Facebook profile. 

The term ‘catfish’ was used in this documentary to describe the fake person, as it is a long-known tale that fishermen would ship catfish with codfish because the former would keep the latter alert, active, and better tasting. 

In this way, a catfish is someone who would seduce others, and pretend to be more attractive, successful, or interesting—like the codfish swimming with the catfish.

What Are Signs of Catfishing?

There are a variety of red flags that could help you identify a catfish online. The main thing is to trust your intuition, and remember that when something seems too good to be true, it often is.

1. A catfish avoids showing their face

If you’ve been chatting to someone online for a while but they refuse to do a video call with you or to have a voice call, they may be a catfish. Oftentimes, a catfish will give a number of elaborate excuses as to why they can’t video chat with you. Some include that they have a broken camera or that they’re shy.

2. A catfish has social media pages that are fairly new

A catfish (or rather, a ‘good’ catfish) will know that online presence is everything. So before they start deceiving people online, they’ll create different social media accounts that are all congruent to the persona they’ve taken on. For that reason, if you’re talking to someone and many of their social media pages seem fairly new, it could be a red flag.

3. A catfish usually doesn’t have many online friends

As we mentioned, a catfish will usually create a number of social media accounts that align with their catfish persona. But because this persona is not real, they often won’t have many friends or followers on their accounts.

4. A catfish usually uses the technique, “love bombing”

Love bombing is a form of emotional manipulation where a person “bombs” another with over-the-top affection, flattery, gifts, and praise early on in the relationship. This is done as a means to win over one’s attention in hopes of gaining control.

5. A catfish usually messages a lot

Many people who are catfishing will try to speed up the relationship by continuously messaging their victim. They’ll shower them with kind words and “love bombing”, trying their best to gain all of their attention and hopefully move to “the next level” as soon as possible.

6. A catfish may pressure one into sharing personal information

Not all catfish are looking to scam others out of money. Some catfish are merely looking for companionship or romantic interest. However, when catfishing does involve scamming, the person may ask you a lot of questions about yourself while sharing very little about themselves.

7. A catfish usually tells an elaborate story about why they cannot meet you

Just like how many catfish lie about why they cannot do a video call with you, they too will come up with elaborate stories as to why they cannot meet you in real life. They may say that a family member is in hospital, that their car broke down, or that they’re suddenly ill. 

8. A catfish usually tells you about a big crisis that’s going on in their lives

A catfish who is hoping to scam you out of money will usually tell you about a big crisis that’s going on in their lives—a crisis that they need your help with. For example, as mentioned above, they may say that their family member is in hospital and that they need financial help to pay medical bills. Remember, it is at this stage that many victims are already blinded by “love” because they’ve experienced love bombing, making it easier to fall for these kinds of stories.

9. A catfish may, eventually, ask you for money

Whatever the reason may be, when someone you’ve never met in-person asks you for an amount of money big or small, this is a huge red flag. And, as we mentioned, this desperate plea for money often comes with a story about being in a tough bind.

10. A catfish may trick you into sending private information, images, or videos so that they can use them to blackmail you later

Blackmailing is when someone demands money (or another benefit) from someone in return for not revealing compromising and/or damaging information or images of them. A catfish may earn your trust, make you believe that you two are in a “relationship”, then prompt you to send them intimate information or media. This makes it exceptionally easy for them to blackmail you in order to get money.

Oftentimes, we think that only naive or “stupid” people would fall for a catfish. In actuality, it really does come down to the emotional hold that these scammers place on us. 

When we’re flooded with feel-good hormones, feelings of closeness and bonding, it’s hard to see what’s really going on. 

At the end of the day, everyone can benefit from being extra cautious when surfing online or online dating, because being catfished really could happen to anyone.