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What is Catfishing?

Catfishing is stealing information and photographs from others and utilizing them to establish a new persona. In certain circumstances, a catfisher borrows another person's whole identity, including his/her photograph, birth date, and address, and claims it as his/her own. The catfisher then utilizes this persona to deceive others into interacting with them or doing business with them over the internet.

A single individual may be the target of catfishing in some situations. In these cases, a catfisher may create a persona that they believe would appeal to their catfishing prey. Catfishing has been prevalent in dating for a long time. People would frequently falsify some portions of their profile to entice their targets since the catfisher may hide their genuine identity without being questioned. This frequently entails posing as another person using a profile photo they obtained from somebody else.

Catfishing is an extremely important phenomenon in today's world, which can be called the internet age. Because people exposed to catfishing can suffer severe emotional, physical, social, and financial damage. But even knowing what the concept of catfishing means can increase awareness about it and prevent it without possible harm. One of the purposes of this article is to raise this awareness by considering the concept of catfishing with its various aspects.

Why is It Called Catfishing?

To be a "catfish" in the modern sense means to deceive someone by using a fake identity. It was a documentary from 2010 that gave the term "catfish" its modern definition. Nev Schulman takes the viewer on a lengthy and wild trip in this film. It all begins when a young girl named Abby befriends him on Facebook.

Nev immediately becomes friends with the rest of Abby's family after Abby paints a poignant portrait and mails it to him. Nev and Abby's elder sister, Megan, form a bond as a result of the experience. He eventually chooses to take a road trip in order to meet Megan. She isn't, however, who she claims to be.

Angela greets Nev at the door as he arrives in Michigan. While Megan really exists, Angela was the one who pretended to be Megan during Nev's online romance. Angela's photographs were of a family member. Angela's husband tells the following story at the close of the film, leaving viewers with a haunting feeling:

"They used to tank cod all the way from Alaska to China. They'd store them in the ship's vats. The meat of the codfish had become mushy and unpalatable by the time it arrived in China. So this man came up with the concept of putting some catfish in with the cods in these large vats, and the catfish would keep the cod nimble. There are also some who are life's catfish. They keep you on your toes as well. They keep you on your toes, make you think, and keep you young. And I'm grateful for the catfish because, without it, we'd be dreary, uninteresting, and drab." - Angela's husband, Vince Pierce, believes Angela's deceit was a game.

She kept Nev nimble on his trip by pretending to be someone she wasn't.

"Catfish" took on new significance thanks to Nev's 2010 documentary. Instead of referring to a fish, it came to depict circumstances similar to those that Nev had gone through. Nev's crew created a TV series with the same name after the documentary stunned viewers across the world.

How Does Catfishing Work?

Catfishing is when an online fraudster develops a relationship with a victim over time in an online context while posing as someone else. This can be accomplished by stealing another person's photo and personal information, or by creating a false persona. In certain circumstances, the fraudster may be driven by a desire to merely play around with the deceit as a form of harmless fun. In other circumstances, their motivations may be pecuniary, with the goal of obtaining the victim's personal information and subsequently selling it on the black market or utilizing it to make purchases.

The risk of catfishing has increased as more individuals seek personal interactions online. Fraudsters may readily get photographs and personal information from a variety of places, including social media sites and stock photo libraries. They can even use contemporary artificial intelligence (AI) systems to create lifelike pictures of nonexistent persons. The assets can then be utilized to participate in online chats that lead to relationships that appear trustworthy and genuine to the victims. Unfortunately, scammers can take advantage of this trust to acquire vital information.

Why Do People Catfish?

People sometimes do catfishing for reasons that arise only from their own psychological state and problems. On the other hand, the reason behind the act of catfishing can sometimes be just fraud. Below are some of the main reasons behind catfishing.

  • Self-esteem issues: Due to personal insecurities, someone may opt to catfish another individual. They could think they're 'ugly' or 'not good enough,' so they choose to use the pictures or identities of someone they think is 'beautiful enough' or 'worthy.'
  • Mental disorder: People who suffer from some types of mental illness may be afraid to show their genuine or authentic selves. Someone who is depressed may have poor self-esteem and believe that they are not 'good enough.' There are a variety of circumstances that might lead people to believe that the only way to connect effectively or confidently with others is to pretend to be someone else.
  • Concealing identity: Someone who wishes to hide their identity on social media may use the photographs and/or information of another person. They may desire to conceal their identity in order to troll others, communicate with individuals outside of their current relationships.
  • Fraud: Some catfish form connections just to extract money from their victims, whether through fake sob tales, extortion, or other misleading methods.
  • Revenge: Some people employ catfishing to get even with ex-partners or persons they believe are 'deserving.' Those wanting vengeance frequently create social media profiles in which they utilize the victim's photographs and information to embarrass or harm their reputation. They can even employ fictitious identities to entice the victim into a phony relationship in order to emotionally harm them.
  • Harassment: When harassing someone online, some people create many catfishing profiles to increase the emotional impact. They may establish other social media profiles because the victim of the harassment has blocked their original catfishing account, or they may do so to give the appearance that the abuse is being perpetrated by a rising number of individuals in an attempt to overwhelm the victim.
  • Sexual preference: When someone is unsure or interested regarding their sexuality, they may establish fictitious accounts in order to boldly explore their curiosity without revealing their genuine identity.

How To Tell If You're Being Catfished?

If you suspect you've been catfished, here's what to look out for.

  • They refuse to speak with you on the phone: This might be a red flag that the person you're speaking with isn't who they claim to be. They won't want you to hear their voice if it differs from the footage you've supplied since they'll be caught. It's also possible that the person you're conversing with is someone you recognize, and you remember their voice.
  • They will not allow you to video chat with them: Your online pal's unwillingness to video chat with you is one of the greatest and most clear signals that you're being catfished. Sure, they might have a valid reason, but if you've been conversing for months and they refuse to answer your Internet calls, you should be skeptical.
  • They'll never be able to send you a selfie in the heat of the moment: When you're interested in someone, you definitely don't want them to see images of you unless you're looking your finest, but you'll probably be put together enough at some time to send them a selfie. If you're not getting anything in return, you should ask yourself why.
  • They constantly have an excuse for not being able to meet in person: Most individuals meet someone online with the intention of meeting in person, but if your new romance isn't progressing in that direction, you should investigate why. And if the explanation is rife with drama, it might be a warning indicator. Dramatic or often situations of illness or vehicle accidents - things that would immediately evoke your compassion, might be a strategy to divert your attention away from the fact that they can't meet in person.
  • They never mention you meeting the people close to them: It's simple enough to create phony profiles for relatives and friends, but you'll be able to tell whether they're genuine if their best friend posts a fresh photo of the two of them together that you've never seen before when they're meant to be hanging together. You should be cautious if you never observe such types of encounters. And what if, no matter how serious things grow between you and them, they never talk about you seeing their friends and family? This is a huge red flag. A real relationship is one in which your partner is willing to expose you to his or her family or friends. It's a red signal if the online partner isn't willing to do this.
  • They're unbelievably attractive: Of course, this isn't to suggest you're not deserving of someone gorgeous, but if the photographs you're receiving appear to be model-quality, they're most likely stolen from someone else. Consider this: how many individuals on "Catfish" truly utilize lousy photos they acquired on the internet? There aren't many.
  • They want money from you: Many catfish have a purpose other than making human bonds. Many of them, in fact, are searching for someone to transfer money to them. If someone you're talking to online asks you for money and you haven't met in person, it's a clear indication that they're trying to take advantage of you.

    How To Tell If You're Being Catfished

Figure 1. How To Tell If You're Being Catfished?

How does one Protect Oneself or their Children from Catfishing?

Because of the sheer amount of individuals, we deal with online every day, verifying each identity for authenticity and avoiding being catfished can be challenging; nonetheless, there are ways to avoid or lessen your and your children's chances of getting catfished.

  • Look for the individual you're communicating with on other social networking platforms: Take a peek at this person's social media presence. This includes looking for dated photos, photos of them when they were younger, or photos of them exclusively when they were a specific age. If any red flags appear, investigate further. Typically, if something appears to be too good to be true, something else is going on.
  • Do a reverse image search on Google Images: Take a look at their images. Uploading a profile photo to Google Images and seeing what matches Google discovers is a simple method to evaluate its legitimacy. If the search results reveal that it's a stock photo or that it links to the profile of someone else, it's a red signal.
  • Don't be afraid to ask as many questions as you need: To feel comfortable talking to someone, no matter how unpleasant it is, ask as many questions as you need. If they're a catfish, they might not be able to answer all of the questions correctly, and you'll notice something isn't quite right.
  • Adjust your and your children's privacy settings: Catfishers frequently search for possible victims, and having your privacy settings on your social media accounts set to 'private' makes you and your children less likely to be a victim of catfishing because no one can view the information on your profile.
  • Never give money: Some catfishers may prey on victims in order to defraud them. If the individual requests for credit card information or money to be sent due to an emergency, such as a sick relative or a lost wallet, this is perhaps the most telling clue. Never pay money to anyone who asks for it on the internet.
  • Make restrictions and keep an eye on your kids' internet activity: Parents should be watching their children's social media platforms, what they're talking about, and what they're doing. Ask who is following them or is a friend of theirs if you don't know who that is, and perhaps they'll be able to tell you.
  • Tell your children, not to "friend" individuals they don't know well: "People You May Know" is a feature that appears on social media sites that attempts to link users with friends of friends (of friends of friends...). Tell your children not to "friend" strangers (even if they're attractive!) or accept friend requests from individuals they don't know in person.

Is Catfishing Illegal?

It is not yet unlawful to impersonate someone or create a fake character online. It's not illegal, for example, to pretend to be someone else in an online chat room or dating site. Catfishing may, however, develop into criminal fraud accusations or another felony as a relationship progresses, as evidenced by the following acts:

  • Receiving money or things from another individual under a false identity
  • Infringing on intellectual property by utilizing another person's picture, i.e., creating a phony persona using another person's photo.
  • Defamation of the person he is pretending to be
  • Using a false identity to indulge in or engage in unlawful sexual actions with a minor.

What Are Catfishing Examples?

Below are three real-life stories that clearly illustrate the dangerous consequences of catfishing.

Football player Manti Teo: Manti Teo's story is one of the most well-known cases of catfishing. In 2013, the University of Notre Dame football player revealed that both his fiancee and grandma died on September 12th, 2012. His lover, Lennay Kakua, died in a vehicle accident while battling leukemia, he added. He enjoyed his greatest season for Notre Dame yet since Kakua had encouraged him to keep playing if anything happened to her. Because of this, he has won the hearts of many sports fans in the United States. However, Deadspin got an anonymous tip on January 16th and released an article claiming that Kakua never existed and that the entire relationship was a hoax perpetrated by a man named Ronaiah Tuiasospoo. Tuisasospoo's offline persona is clearly male, and he can't hide it from other people. He constructed a distinct character online, though, because the internet world allows him to do so. His online identity was that of a cancer-stricken lady who died. This is in stark contrast to his offline image. The photos that were used to create Kakua's phony profile were really photos of Diane O'Meara, who stated that she had never met Te'o.

Megan Meier Case: Megan Meier, at 13 years old, had internet contact with a person she knew as Josh Evans in 2006. Megan communicated with this child only online for about a month since he said he didn't have a phone and was homeschooled. Megan got a message from Josh on her MySpace site in October of that year, writing, "I'm not sure if I want to be friends with you any longer since I hear you're not good to your pals." Megan was then referred to as "fat" and a "slut" in bulletins made on MySpace. Megan was upset when she saw the texts and hurried up to her room. Tina, Megan's mother, discovered her daughter hanging in her closet a few minutes later. Megan died the next day, despite her mother's efforts to get her to the hospital. The Meier family discovered six weeks after Megan's death that the boy with whom Megan had been corresponding had never existed. Josh Evans was created by Lori Drew, a neighbor and the mother of one of Megan's friends. She made the profile to listen in on Megan's conversations regarding her daughter. Drew was subsequently acquitted of her part in Megan's killing in federal court.

Anthony Stancl Case: Another, more severe example is Anthony Stancl, an 18-year-old from New Berlin, Wisconsin, who impersonated two girls ("Kayla" and "Emily") on Facebook in 2009. A lot of lads in his high school befriended him and started online romantic ties with him (again, while posing and interacting as these two girls). He subsequently persuaded at least 31 of those youngsters to email him nudist photos or videos. As if that wasn't bad enough, Stancl tried to persuade more than half of them to meet with a male friend and let him engage in sexual activity on them while they pretended to be girls and conversed on Facebook. If they refused, "she" threatened that the photos and videos would be made public. Seven lads complied with Stancl's heinous request and either did sex acts on him or performed sex acts on them. He photographed these interactions on his phone, and the cops finally discovered over 300 naked photographs of male teenagers on his computer. In early 2010, he was sentenced to 15 years in jail after being charged with five charges of child enticement, two instances of second-degree sexual assault of a child, two acts of third-degree sexual assault, possession of child pornography, and repeated sexual abuse of the same kid.

When someone is catfished, it may be extremely destructive to their mental health, especially if they have an emotional bond with the catfisher, whether through friendship or a sexual relationship. Catfishing victims may find it difficult to trust again after their ordeal, harming personal and professional relationships.

Someone who has been catfished may endure shame and sorrow for believing and 'falling for' a wholly non-existent person, in addition to the emotional misery they may experience. Catfishing may result in financial loss as well as mental problems such as anxiety and sadness.

If the catfisher has sent any graphic photographs or 'sexted' with the victim, the victim will feel betrayed and become paranoid that they will be revealed publicly in the form of revenge porn or sextorted by the catfisher in the future.

How Does Catfishing Relate to Cyberbullying?

Catfishing is a form of cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is the repetitive, negative use of technology to purposely harm others, such as uploading unwelcome photographs or messages, gaining unauthorized access to another person's account, establishing phony accounts to impersonate or harass someone, and publishing other people's personal information online.

Catfishing on the other hand is the practice of creating a false online persona and utilizing it to entice individuals into most commonly a romantic connection. To put it another way, people online appear to be someone they are not in order to entice others into an online relationship.

For example, pedophiles may impersonate teenagers in order to form connections with them. They persuade their targets to reveal personal information, which is then used to entice them into a meeting. These gatherings are particularly risky since they may result in violence or kidnapping.

Meanwhile, online impersonation is common among teenagers. Their primary purpose is to humiliate and shame their victims. They might utilize fictitious identities to get someone into a phony relationship. They might later exploit the information acquired to humiliate and bully the target. Impersonating someone else is a kind of cyberbullying.

Cyberbullies frequently take advantage of other people's emotions online, particularly if they uncover anything that makes them unhappy, frightened, fearful, or lonely. Teens might be especially vulnerable to catfishing if they are open about their desire for a boyfriend or girlfriend, or if they talk about dating a lot.

Catfishing History

Catfishing is a distinctively contemporary phenomenon: It was in 2010 when the phrase first appeared in the language. It all started with a documentary about a New York City man who was seduced into an online connection with a beautiful 19-year-old lady from the Midwest. So he reasoned. When contradictions in the woman's tale began to emerge, Nev Schulman flew to Michigan with his brother and a filmmaker friend to see her, only to learn that he'd been conversing with a 40-year-old housewife all along.

The famous MTV series that followed the 2010 film highlighted how pervasive the deceptions had gotten. With dating sites, chat rooms, and virtual-reality simulators, the Internet allowed individuals to be anybody they wanted at least for a short time. You don't like how you look? Make a profile picture out of a headshot of a fashion model. Do you have a dreadful job? Not any longer. You've established yourself as a respected artist (whose works you pilfered from an online gallery.) You could be anything you wanted to be (or at least pretend to be). And you could persuade others that you were telling the truth.