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What Is Catfishing? Signs to Unmask Online Fakes

What is catfishing, and how can you prevent it from happening to you? Here’s how to keep your heart (and bank account) safe from scammers.
Grindr
&
Editorial team
May 24, 2024
June 22, 2024
8
min. read
Table of Contents

The internet is full of people hiding bad behavior behind a screen. It’s where trolls go to bully pop stars and your aunt goes to argue with your other aunt about potato salad recipe hacks.

Anyone who’s been interneting long enough also knows there are much more problematic and dangerous things afoot. Catfishing online is rampant, and many people have experienced it — whether they realize it or not. (Remember those A/S/L AOL chat room moments? Yeah, we were all Brazilian supermodels with huge knockers, too.)

As catfishing techniques become more sophisticated, finding ways to expose the practice and protect yourself is more vital than ever. Let’s pull back the curtain on catfishing so you can avoid having your heart broken by a particularly convincing bot.

What is catfishing online?

So, what does it mean to be catfished? Generally, catfishing is when someone uses a fake persona to start an online relationship. They may post fake photos (i.e., stolen, AI-generated, or Photoshopped beyond recognition) or lie about their identity to increase their amorous appeal. A catfish uses these fake profiles and photos to attract horny strangers, often intending to run a scam. 

Why is it called catfishing? The term originates from a 2010 documentary called Catfish, which follows Nev Schulman’s experience of being swindled into love by an online imposter with a complex web of fake profiles. After an in-person meeting, the catfisher’s husband recounts a parable about how codfish shippers supposedly stick an ornery catfish into their live shipping tanks to keep the cod alert and active. By his telling, the agitating imposter supposedly makes its victim’s lives more interesting. We’re sure that helps them sleep at night.

In reality, catfishing can range from relatively harmless (barring the emotional ordeal) to life-altering if the catfisher in question really knows how to manipulate their victim. Some catfishers might even do it for personal reasons; they could be someone the victim knows who’s trying to upset them or get revenge.

Being on the wrong end of a catfishing scam is especially painful if you’re looking for a romantic relationship. Catfishers love to prey on lonely souls who will do anything for a shot at love. No matter the imposter’s motivations, this deception is a heinous act.

Why do people catfish?

What’s the draw of catfishing? There are plenty of fun ways to pretend to be someone else that don’t harm your partner — sexual role-play, for instance. But sometimes, harm is precisely what this person is after.

Insecurities

Many people catfish because they don’t feel their true identity is dateable or good enough. These catfishers rarely seek to cause intentional harm; they mostly just struggle with low self-confidence. It’s not an excuse for catfishing, but it’s one of the less problematic explanations.

Financial gain

This is the exact opposite; those who catfish for financial gain use emotional manipulation to gain access to accounts, solicit money or gifts, or even blackmail you into giving them what they want.

Fortunately, monetary demands are also the most obvious sign you’re being catfished. However, many catfishers have mastered the art of manipulation. It’s hard to see their true intentions if you’re enamored with them, especially if the courtship has gone on for months.

Struggles with sexual or gender identity

One of the more relatable reasons people catfish is that they’re wrestling with big feelings regarding their sexual orientation or gender expression. These people feel safer and more comfortable adopting a persona to explore these identities instead of reconciling real emotions beneath the surface. It’s a selfish — if understandable — reason a person might catfish.

Deliberate harassment

The cruelest reason people catfish is to intentionally upset or shake up your life. Someone you know might be trying to mess with you, but that’s not always the case. Believe it or not, the internet is lousy with miserable people who get their rocks off by fucking with you. There’s no real redemption here for the catfisher; it’s just an awful thing to do to someone and can cause the catfishee severe trauma. Unfortunately, that’s the whole point.

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Am I being catfished? Common signs to watch for

Love can blind us, especially the too-good-to-be-true love that comes with catfishing, meaning you need to be especially cautious when online dating. Here are some common catfishing signs to keep an eye on:

They never want to meet in person

If you were in a relationship with someone, you’d probably want to see their face in real life at some point. There are plenty of legitimate long-distance relationships where partners don’t meet right away, but most people who feel like their bond is getting serious eventually want to meet up to confirm their feelings (among other things).

Alternatively, you should also take heed if they’re desperate to meet up on your dime. You might send them the money for a plane ticket, only to be stood up at the airport. The only baggage you’ll be claiming is the emotional kind.

They have few or zero followers on social media

One of the fishiest red flags of a potential catfish is when they have next to no followers. Those that do typically have only a handful, and they’re often other bots (or other poor souls who’ve taken the bait). Sure, there’s a chance you’re bagging a hottie who likes to live off the grid. But it’s just more likely that you’re being catfished.

They don’t want to video call

This sign is the most telling. In this day and age, there’s basically no reason someone couldn’t video call you. If they constantly come up with excuses for why they don’t want to video call — especially if they’re getting flimsier every time (how many times can your goldfish actually catch fire?) — that’s a tell-tale sign you’re on the hook, and not in a good way.

Your gut tells you something is off

This goes for every relationship: If your intuition is ringing alarm bells due to their cagey behavior or impossibly sexy selfies, trust your instincts. Although we’d never suggest cutting off all contact with someone solely based on one icky feeling, it’s certainly an excellent reason to start your investigation and see if that special person is actually real.

How to prevent catfishing

You know how to spot a catfisher, but it isn’t a perfect science. So, how can you prevent yourself from taking the bait before you’re stuck in a catfishing spiral? These tactics will protect your heart from the heartless imposters on the internet:

Take things slow

If you want to find a special someone online, that’s great! Many people meet their Mr. Right (or Mr. Right Now) through dating apps and social media. But once emotions get high, you’re much more likely to wear those rose-colored glasses that keep you from seeing the truth. Take your time getting to know someone. Don’t start sending them gifts and baring your soul before you’ve confirmed they’re the real deal.

Avoid oversharing

Although it often turns off IRL suitors, oversharing can make you an easy target for catfishers. Revealing everything from your birthday to the name of your first pet gives these manipulation masters enough info to get into your accounts, make new ones using your information, or even catfish other people by pretending to be you. If you haven’t met the person, be wary about probing personal questions.

What to do if you’re being catfished

You’re neck-deep in an online flirtation when the realization hits you: You’re being catfished. What now? Here’s how to handle the catfisher once you’re snagged on their hook:

Cut all contact

Someone who makes you unsafe or uncomfortable should not be a part of your life. Even if they’re the object of your affection, it’s wise to stop all contact with them immediately.

Pause the conversation, telling the person you need time. Then, take that time to research them and see if anything confirms your suspicions. Start with an image search to see if they really are who they say.

Their reaction to your request can also help you determine whether they’re a catfisher. Most reasonable people will gladly wait while you sort things out, whereas catfishers want to keep you engaged at all costs.

Check your accounts

Some catfishers won’t bother with your bank or social media accounts. They’re purely in it for the thrill of playing pretend, and they haven’t considered taking an improv class instead. But there’s no harm in being cautious. If you suspect catfish is on the menu, check your accounts and consider changing your passwords and security questions.

If you’re being blackmailed…

Catfishers will often use your personal information against you to get money or intimate content. If this happens to you, never pay them or give in to their demands. Instead, block them and report the conversation to the platform or service where the catfisher contacted you. A ban will stop the blackmailer from hurting you or anyone else.

You’ll have to fry harder than that, catfishers!

Hopefully, you’ll have a better online dating experience now that the catfish community has been adequately exposed. Your safety comes first, so always take time to get to the bottom of that bottom who’s DMing you and find out if he’s just a bottom feeder.

Interested in meeting real men with real profiles and real bodies you can meet and/or have sex with? Grindr has you covered. Download the Grindr app today to get started.

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