How to Spot a Catfish Online

The online dating scene is tricky enough without worrying about being scammed. If you’re using online dating platforms, learning how to spot a catfish scheme is essential for your safety and peace of mind. With our expert guidance, learn what “catfishing” is online, how to know if you’re being catfished, and the steps you can take to protect yourself.

Key Takeaways

  • “Catfishing” is a common scheme on social media and dating platforms where a user enacts misrepresentation or identity theft with malicious intent to defraud or manipulate other users.
  • Learn to recognize the common signs of catfish behavior (weak social media profiles, too-perfect photos, refusal to prove identity, and more) to avoid falling into their trap.
  • If you suspect a catfish has been attempting to lure you into a relationship, there are specific steps you can take to confirm or invalidate their authenticity and remove them from your life if they prove to be deceptive.

What Is Catfishing?

Catfishing is the act of creating a fictitious persona or identity in an online forum with the intent to lure somebody into a relationship.

In some cases, catfishers create an entirely new persona using another person’s information and photos, usually taken from public social media accounts. In other cases, they steal somebody else’s complete identity (their photos, birthdate, location, etc.) and claim it as their own.

People catfish for a variety of reasons: loneliness, poor self-esteem, or mental health issues may drive them to manipulate others online. And there are catfishers who are scammers looking to exploit vulnerable people with the aim of getting access to money.

Becoming the victim of a catfisher can have devastating consequences. In addition to financial loss, suffering from depression, anxiety, and other emotional or mental health challenges can result from the trauma of being betrayed and deceived. These risks can make dating more stressful, and the time wasted on a catfisher leads to further frustration.

See also: Popular Dating Scams And How To Avoid Them

Signs of Catfishing: Spotting the Common Red Flags

It’s important to be able to recognize the signs of catfishing behavior so that you can avoid becoming a victim of their schemes. Our years of experience in the online dating world and in the matchmaking business have helped us develop a keen sense for their red flags, so we can help you learn how to tell if someone is a catfish. The following signs are the biggest tip offs that the person you’ve been talking to is very likely pretending to be someone else in order to take advantage of you.

Fake-Looking Social Media Photos

If the person you’ve been talking to online shares photos that look too perfect, they might be using stock photos found on the internet. If the photo setting, backdrop, or pose looks staged or edited, be wary of the photo’s authenticity.

Also be wary if they share a very small collection of photos that have little variety to them. This could indicate that the photos are stolen or have been AI-generated.

Snapchat photos can be sent from the other user’s camera roll (meaning they can come from any source online) and heavily edited to look more candid. So, even a less-than-perfect photo isn’t necessarily a sign of authenticity, and you should not rely on these alone to validate someone’s identity.

Poor Communication

If you’re talking to someone online, pay attention to how they communicate. Generic messages sent over private messaging on dating apps are another warning sign of a scam. These may look like vague messages with no personalization or poor context.

Also be on the lookout for poor grammar. Not the kind of abbreviations or unpunctuated messaging that is fairly common over text or social media messaging but word usage that is confusing or unnatural.

Taking Things Too Fast

People who catfish will claim to have fallen in love with you pretty quickly to see if they’ve hooked you. If you’re chatting with somebody for just a few days or weeks and they’re already telling you they love you, be extremely cautious.

Be careful not to fall prey to sexual advances or exploitation. Someone asking for scandalous pictures is a common catfishing tactic to extort money in exchange for not sharing your photos publicly.

Verification Challenges

In our experience, verifying the identification of the person you’ve met online—as early as possible—will help you avoid getting catfished. The best way to do this is to have a video call. If the other person makes excuses or avoids even a very brief video call to confirm their identity, walk away.

If you aren’t comfortable with a video chat early on, at the very least verify their true identity with a photo. You can ask them to take a photo with a time stamp, or with a specific item, to alleviate worry that they have used someone else’s photos and information.

Refusing to Meet in Person

As online relationships progress, it’s natural to be excited about meeting your new love interest in person. A pretty big sign that you’re dealing with a catfish is if they constantly make excuses for not being able to meet you face-to-face.

This could be because they aren’t who they say they are or because they have misrepresented their appearance, status, or financial situation. Even if they have used their own identity, they may have given you false information about themselves for some other purpose. Either way, it’s a clear indicator that they have something to hide.

Online and Social Media Accounts Lack Credibility

Always take the time to thoroughly review your new love interest’s dating profile. Suspicious profiles are typically low on “friends” and should be avoided. Does their profile name make sense? A last name used as a first name, or other anomaly, can be a sign of a fake profile.

Compare their profiles on different dating or social media apps if you can find them. Note any inconsistencies that raise questions.

Inconsistencies in Stories

As you’re getting to know the person you’ve met online, take mental (or even written) notes when they tell you about their life. If details about their family, job, or background change or seem inconsistent, it could be a sign of deception. If they claim to be employed in a profession, or have a hobby interest, but have no knowledge on the subject or profession, your warning senses should be going off.

Always be wary of sob stories or stories that are too good to be true. Catfish usually create elaborate stories to gain your sympathy or support.

Asking For Money

There is no bigger red flag that someone is catfishing than a request for money. Never send money to someone you meet on a dating app or online.

People who catfish are often clever and can manipulate you into offering them money (usually with those sob stories we mentioned above). Don’t offer money and immediately cut ties and report anybody who does make a financial request to the appropriate site admins and authorities.

How to Avoid Being Catfished

If you suspect you’re being courted by a catfish, the good news is that there are ways for you to investigate them and find answers before it’s too late.

See also: Top 5 Tips to Successfully Approach a Woman

Start With a Reverse Image Search on Google

Save copies of the suspect’s photos onto your computer. Go to google.com. On the right side of the search bar there are two icons: one is a microphone and one is a camera. Click the camera icon to search by image, then upload or drag and drop the photo into the search bar and click “Search.”

Look for inconsistencies, and pay attention to discrepancies in the style or appearance of the photos. If you notice these types of differences it’s likely the person you’re talking to is using a fake online identity.

Do Some Social Media “Stalking”

Creeping on social media is something we all do when we investigate someone’s online profiles. We do this any time we are looking to make new friends or find romantic interests. When you’re profile stalking, review photos with their friends, the activity on their accounts, and compare these to their dating apps. Look for any holes in their stories.

Verify with multiple social media sites. Take note of sparse or recently created profiles that have few friends, posts, or interactions as these are often signs of a fake profile.

Ask Them to Verify Their Identity

Have them send a photo of themselves doing something specific such as holding up a sign that has something you requested on it, or have a video chat with you. You can offer to do the talking first if that makes introverted connections more comfortable.

Ask to meet up with them IF you feel safe doing so. This is a good option if the person has already satisfied your other identification requests. Remember that if they avoid a meeting time with excuses and fabrications, you should be cautious.

Entering into a long-distance relationship with somebody who you met online can be risky; a catfish can easily evade the meet-up request by claiming that the distance is preventing them from meeting you in person.

If you’re feeling nervous about putting the person off with your request to meet up, you can tell them that you’ve been misled in the past and that you’re simply wanting to enter into the relationship with peace of mind.

Take Things Slow

Catfish are motivated to hook you fast so that they can get what they want from you quickly—and then move on to their next victim. So, they’ll try to push a relationship fast.

Resist moving too quickly, and don’t be intimidated into doing things you’re not comfortable with. Never send risqué photos to someone online until you absolutely know who you’re talking to (if at all)! Quality people will respect the decisions you make and what you ask of them.

Talk With Your Friends or Family

Don’t feel embarrassed about having been approached by a catfish; it happens to many, many people. If you suspect you’re being catfished but aren’t sure, confide in a friend or family member whose opinion and judgment you trust. An outside opinion could provide a better perspective!

Be On the Lookout for Multiple Red Flags

If your new romantic interest tries to ask you for money, or manipulate you into offering money, know that this is a common catfish strategy. And while lies and pushiness aren’t necessarily indicators of being catfished by themselves, coupled with the other warning signs they should be a signal not to engage further with this person.

Trust Your Instincts

Go with your gut feeling. If something feels off, or too good to be true, pay attention to that. Take a step back and reassess the situation. Gather more information and follow the steps we outlined above on how to spot the warning signs of a catfish.

What to Do if You Catch a Catfish Online

If you’ve taken the steps to investigate a potential catfish and uncovered a scam, you have a few options.

See also: How to Spot a Liar in Your Relationship

Ghost Them

You can walk away; it’s as easy as that. Cut ties with the person online by blocking them on all platforms, on your phone, email, and any other method they have of contacting you.

Report Their Behavior

You can report this person to the social networks and dating sites that you know they are operating on. You can also reach out to their other contacts and let them know (assuming they aren’t fake profiles as well) that their “friend” is not a real person and is deceiving people online.

Speak With Them (but Don’t Get Caught up in More Lies)

You can speak with the person if you have gone far enough to enter into a relationship with them. Be very direct about what you have learned and end things with them. If the person reacts badly, block them from all contact and change your email address.

Remember that manipulative people are good liars. They may be very persuasive in their attempts to win you back and say things that you want to hear. Remember to trust your gut, and remain cautious to the point of suspicion of most online interactions.

Don’t Be Discouraged

When you’re ready to resume dating and want to avoid the stress and time involved in vetting people online to ensure their authenticity, consider using a personalized Matchmaker. Matchmakers do all of the work for you to ensure that you don’t encounter a catfish, and they match you with dates who have the same interests, relationship goals, and priorities as you.

Quick FAQs about Spotting a Catfish

Learning the signs of catfishing behavior will protect you from falling victim to their schemes. Catfish may be hard to spot at first, but once you know what to look for (and the actions you can take to remove them from your life) you’ll be better prepared if you encounter them again in the future.

Why is it called catfishing?

The term “catfishing” came from a 2010 documentary called Catfish. The husband of the catfisher in the documentary (by photographer Nev Schulman) said that catfish are placed in tanks of cod being transported long distances to keep them active and in good shape during the journey. The catfish would nip at the cod and keep them moving and agile in the tanks, resulting in better quality cod upon arrival. He stated that there are people who are like catfish, they keep you on your toes and keep you fresh. The term was coined from his analogy.

Is catfishing illegal?

There are no laws against using a fake name or misrepresentation of yourself online. However, if the catfisher defrauds another person or engages in identity theft, they may be subject to legal consequences.

Who are the most common victims of catfishing?

Victims of catfishing are skewing younger in current years, with the highest percentage of victims landing in their 20s and 30s. Romance scams cost victims hundreds of millions of dollars every year, with both men and women nearly equally affected. Nearly 42% of Tinder users have reported a catfish encounter.

How do you tell someone they are being catfished?

If you suspect that a catfish is working on someone you know, approach your friend or family member with support and understanding; this can be a very emotional and difficult situation for them. Offer to help perform image searches, profile reviews and comparisons, or review their messaging with the suspect for warning signs.


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