The Cyber Expert Guide to Avoiding Catfishing

May 5, 2023
Martha Apeh and Wura T

Fry The Catfish: 5 Ways to Spot a Fake Online Profile

While the mention of Catfish may conjure up images of a steamy bowl of peppersoup that pairs well with a cool glass of white wine or its roasted counterparts that pair just as well with some nicely done potato chips – Catfish is anything but pleasant in the digital world. All it takes is a right swipe or clicking the accept button to find yourself in the company of a Tinder Swindler.

Who or What is a Catfish? 

Catfishing is an internet phenomenon in which scammers (cybercriminals) create a completely false online personality and pose as someone they are not. The person they present online is usually a figment of their imagination, as they make up everything on their profile.

They use a made-up name. Make up a fictitious life. To top it all off, they complete the ruse by using stock images or images of real people. The really brave Catfishers work like con artists; they’ll show up as themselves but will play a character to fool you – sharing fictitious preferences, dislikes, likes, and interests. Ergo, to answer your previous question, a Catfish or Catfisher is the name given to the person or people behind these bogus social media profiles. Catfishers used to be primarily found on online dating apps, but they’re now common on social media platforms as well.

Why Do Catfishers Exist? 

When you see an advertisement for a ridiculously low-cost pair of designer handbags, you know it’s too good to be true. Even in the secondhand market, an original Chanel purse will never sell for $2. It’s a ridiculous idea!

When it comes to love, romance, and the desire for a deep connection with another human being, however, our otherwise rational self seems to fly out the window when a person who can meet this desire appears to be standing right in front of us. Cybercriminals take advantage of this to deceive you for their gain; it could be for money, your trust, or anything else that benefits the Catfish while harming you.

Note: although catfishing is commonly used by cybercriminals as a tool to commit fraud, catfish profiles can also be set up by an intimate partner or a recent acquaintance to spy on you. Catfish accounts are also sometimes used to cyberbully and harass a person anonymously.

However, regardless of the Catfisher’s motivation, you do not deserve to be deceived in this manner. So, we’ve compiled a list of some of the simplest ways to tell if that online profile isn’t what it appears to be.

5 Simple Ways to Spot a Catfish

Catfishing manifests itself in a variety of ways. But, here are some more obvious  red flags to be aware of:

  1. They Insist on Using a Specific Software

Finally, things appear to be moving in the right direction with your new love interest or social media friend, and you’re both ready to take the online relationship from the DMs to video calls, but your new boo insists on using a video calling software you’ve never heard of before.

Sis, that’s a walking, breathing red flag.

We’re willing to bet your brand-new shoes that software is malware in disguise, designed to steal your personal information, including your banking information.

Protect your heart, money, and privacy; signing up for popular video calling services like Skype, Zoom, or Google Hangouts is not that difficult. A lot of messaging apps and social networks now support video calls. So, if they refuse all of the popular options, something is definitely fishy.

  1. They Never Share a Selfie

When you first start talking to someone online, you’ll only send them photos of yourself looking your best. However, as you get to know them better and become more comfortable with them, you progress to sharing the less-than-perfect selfie. If, on the other hand, your lover never reciprocates the selfie, this is cause for concern.

Most catfishers have only a limited number of false images of the person they’re pretending to be. For them, taking a selfie would be too much of a leap. Be wary if all of the photos they have or share are out of focus or do not appear to be recent photographs of them. This is a major red flag that someone is not who they claim to be.

Pro Tip: To confirm your suspicions, don’t be afraid to ask for a selfie with a twist – ask for a picture of them holding today’s newspaper or holding a red apple on their head – the more specific your request, the better. At worst, they vanish, and you can say good riddance; at best, the person on the other end of the screen is who they claim to be, and you both have a funny picture to laugh about.

  1. They Become Friendly Too Fast

Building a solid relationship with another person takes time, contrary to what romance novels and movies would have you believe. However, time is money for the catfisher, and because their goal is usually to scam you, they can’t spend months building a relationship, so they will try to skip some steps and do everything they can to advance your friendship quickly. They will reveal secrets to you, reveal intimate details about themselves (most likely lies), and find other ways to make you feel special. Take a step back if someone you just met online is oversharing way too quickly.

  1. They Never Call or Send a Voice Note 

Refusal to speak with you over the phone is a big red flag that the person you’re talking to online isn’t who they say they are. For example, a catfisher will avoid voice calls at all costs if they are pretending to be someone of a different age or gender than they are. Besides, if the catfisher is someone you know, a voice call could reveal their identity. If someone you’ve been communicating with for a while doesn’t want you to hear their voice, you should be cautious.

Pro Tip: Catfishers can be very creative, so look for signs that they are using a voice modifier or a virtual phone number service such as Google Voice. Using websites like SpyDailer’s “Dial” option, you can quickly look up their phone number and hear a recording of their voicemail. If the person picks up the phone while the service is on the line, it will record whatever they say. This is especially useful if you need to recognize a person’s voice and they don’t have a voicemail

  1. They Ask or Talk About Money

Catfishing scams prey on your trust to succeed. So, if an online “friend” begins telling you pity stories about how they need money to pay their rent or tries to sell you on a business venture with all the hallmarks of a pyramid scheme, that’s your cue to end the friendship. Do not give out your money, even if you’ve been talking to them for months. Consider this for a moment: if they truly needed to borrow money, shouldn’t they go to their family and close friends or get a loan from a bank, rather than some stranger they met online a few weeks or months ago? The answer is yes, so as soon they ask for money, use your block button.

Pro Tip: expect them to use every trick in the book to make you feel bad. Catfishers have no qualms about exploiting people emotionally.

It’s Better To Be Safe Than Sorry

Catfishing can be extremely damaging to your emotional and mental health, and in the worst-case scenario, it can even result in physical injury. That is why it is imperative to avoid becoming an easy target for catfishes.

Generally, it’s best to remove your rose-coloured glasses when communicating with random people on the internet. Carry out some background checks. Google the person’s name, perform a Google reverse image search using their photo and keep an eye out for all of the warning signs outlined in this article.

Yes, you can find love anywhere, including the internet, but try to keep your wits about you even if it feels like you’re banking the flames of your fledgling romance. This also means not getting too personal too soon and trusting your instincts if something seems off. Ignoring red flags will not result in a happy ending.

Do you have a question about catfishing that we haven’t addressed yet? Leave a comment, and we’ll respond as soon as possible!


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