Signs of Catfishing

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on December 13, 2022
4 min read

A catfish isn’t just a fish with whiskers. It’s a term for a person who pretends to be someone else online. A catfish uses fake photos, and sometimes a false persona, to find friends or romantic partners on the internet.

Reasons someone may choose to catfish include:

●Poor self-esteem

Depression or anxiety

●To hide their identity

●Targeted revenge

●Targeted harassment

●To explore their sexuality

The term “catfishing” comes from a 2010 documentary film in which a man named Nev Schulman presented his own experience of being tricked online. Schulman then created an MTV show, which he and his partner Max Joseph host. The show investigates catfishing cases. It often reveals a catfish’s true identity at the end of an episode. 

If you talk to people online, here are ways you can spot someone who might be catfishing you:

They Avoid Showing Their Face

If you’ve been talking to someone for a while online and they refuse to video chat or phone chat, they might be a catfish. They may give excuses for why they can’t do it, like a broken camera or simply that they’re shy.

A catfish usually can’t send you a candid selfie. They may have access to only a few pictures from whoever they are impersonating. So, if they can’t send you any pictures besides what is on their dating profile or social media page, they may be a catfish.

Catfish also avoid meeting up in person. They may agree to meet and then not show, come up with excuses for why they can’t meet, or avoid the topic altogether.

Their Online Accounts Don’t Have Many Friends or Interactions

A catfish usually develops social media accounts to make their persona seem more believable. If someone you met online has few social media friends or interactions, they may be a faker. 

Their Story Seems Too Good to Be True

Catfish often make up stories to fit into your life. In one anecdote, a person reported that her catfish said the large corporation he worked for was opening an office in her small beach town, so he would be there a lot. The story seemed highly unlikely, and it was .

Additionally, they may tell stories about having high-level jobs or family wealth to make themselves seem more attractive.

They may invent stories designed to make you feel sorry for them, like a bad relationship or a difficult family background.

They Ask for Money

A person you’ve never met asking for money is a huge red flag. They may ask for some cash or tell a tale about being in a tough bind.

They Are Extremely Romantic Right Away

Romantic or sexual attention can feel good. A catfish may love bomb you — overwhelm you with loving messages or words — to distract you from asking questions about their identity. A catfish may even try to get you to commit to them in a relationship, even though you haven’t met in person. 

Never send nude or sexual photos to someone you haven’t met in person. A catfish may attempt to blackmail you with the images. 

If you or someone you know is a victim of catfishing, there are ways you can handle it and put an end to it.

Do Your Own Research

If you suspect you’re dealing with a catfish, use an online reverse image search to find out if the person’s photos are on anyone else’s online profiles.

You can also search their messages online. Take any particularly unique or romantic lines they’ve written to you and search to see if they pop up anywhere else. 

Search their phone number as well, if you have it. This can give you more insight into who’s behind the account.

Don’t Share Too Much

Some catfish try to steal your identity or get your financial information. Don’t give out details that could answer a security question, like your mother’s maiden name or the name of the street you grew up on. Keep your banking information private — including the name of your bank. 

Ask Questions That Require Knowledge

If you suspect someone is a catfish, ask them questions about their reported background that only someone with that experience would know. You may ask them about restaurants in the town they say they are from, or about something specific to their job. You can even ask them to take photos with local tourist attractions.

Hire a Private Investigator

Some people talk to each other online for years without ever meeting or talking on the phone. If you want to get to the bottom of the mystery, hire a private investigator to figure out the situation once and for all.