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Join us as we explore the secret truths that catfishers don’t want you to know. Discover which states have the highest number of catfishers and how you can spot their trickery more easily. We also reveal the best ways to discover if your online friend or love interest is potentially a scammer.
Did you get catfished online and lost money? We will teach you how to escape their hook, take appropriate action, and regain your peace of mind!
Catfishers create fake online profiles to deceive their victims from dating sites, apps, social media platforms, chat rooms and more.
A catfish might lie about their gender, age, location, marital status, career, or even their interest. As catfishers create a fake persona or identity, the lies they tell are part of a scheme known as ‘catfishing.’
The scariest part?
Catfish are getting better, which means that in the modern age, it can be challenging to differentiate them from a real person.
Catfishers are getting smarter, better, and more technologically advanced, which means that catfishers in the modern age can be challenging to differentiate from a real person.
According to the 2010 documentary, “Catfish,” the term catfishing stems from an old tale about the European fishing industry.
As the story goes, fishers put these cods in these big vats as they traveled from Alaska to China by ship. The cod would be so calm during the trip that their fins would deteriorate in quality. The fisherman came up with the idea to put catfish in the containers. They add the aggressive fish so the catfish could nip at the cod. The catfish will keep the cod agile.
What the movie, featuring Nev Schulman doesn’t explain is the origin of that specific description. The original use of the term “catfish” had its start in 1913 Christian literature.
An essay called “The Catfish” appeared in the book of short stories, titled, “Essays in Rebellion”. Henry W. Nevinson wrote the book and described the story above. Its double meaning has developed as catfish keep us moving and swimming, keeping life interesting, for better or worse.
Vince Pierce in the “Catfish” movie said famously, about catfishers:
… they keep you on your toes. They keep you guessing; they keep you thinking, they keep you fresh. And I thank god for the catfish because we would be droll, boring and dull if we didn't have somebody nipping at our fin. Catfish, 2010
Back in 2010, Pierce may not have realized how much harm catfish would eventually cause. After the movie was released that same year, MTV scooped up the concept, recruiting Nev Schulman as co-host along with Max Joseph. After all, Nev was the perfect candidate since the documentary “Catfish” recorded his catfish experience and the deceit and adventure that followed. “Catfish – The TV Show” premiered in 2012 and has gained an enormous fan base in the years since its premiere. The series has also led to the word “catfish” becoming a commonly used term, which no one could have anticipated back in 1913.
However, the biggest gain from the show “Catfish – The TV Show” is exposure. Millions of people around the world now have a general idea of what catfishing entails. Thankfully, for fans of the show, the show is going strong. Although, according to Cosmopolitan Magazine:
… it’s 2018. Even your grandmother knows what catfishing is by now. Secondly, it’s pretty easy to find out whether you're being catfished without Nev, Max and a camera crew.
This is because there are specific sites like Social Catfish which use proprietary algorithm-based searches which scan the web by name, username, image, phone number, email, and more. Social Catfish gives more and more people are performing the detective work that only a private investigator or the television show “Catfish” used to be able to provide.
The truth that doesn’t change is that online catfish have wreaked havoc on internet-users across the world – from children and teens, adults, and the elderly. Sadly, catfish scams have impacted people from every walk of life and income bracket!
Figuring out why a catfish would lie to such an extent is something that psychologists have tried to analyze. Kelly Campbell, Ph.D., of Psychology Today magazine has a different take. She argues that all of us are catfish, in some way, during the beginning stages of our romantic relationships.
However, unlike failing to tell a new love interest that you’re not great at doing laundry, the goal of an online catfish can be far more sinister. The average person who finds love may later end up with a broken heart. It differs from a catfish, as once you’re involved with one, you’ll get your heartbroken. While that might be painful, many catfish have an even worse agenda. They also want to empty your wallet.
Generally, what motivates catfish scammers are any (or all!) of the following:
Money: This can happen domestically or when foreign/overseas spammers (typically out of Nigeria) create fake personas and storylines to reel in unsuspecting victims, in pursuit of cash and gifts.
Friendship: The worldwide web may have brought the world closer together, however many people still feel isolated and sit at home on their computers watching life pass them. Lonely people are particularly vulnerable to a catfish who comes on strong.
Romance: As the multitude of online dating platforms suggests, many internet users are in search of love, which gives catfishers the perfect “in”! Other times, a catfish may already know their victim but pretend to be someone else so they can grow closer or find out intimate details. A catfish might genuinely desire love and closeness, but not feel confident enough to pursue it outside of the internet.
Trickery: Some individuals enjoy making others suffer. They may have a psychiatric condition or a personality disorder that makes them want to bully people. Others enjoy confusing, cyberbullying and hurting people.
Attention: Similar to pursuing friendship, a catfish might want attention and enjoy a stranger focusing on them.
Perversion: A catfish might collect naked photos from someone they met online to fulfill a sex addiction or, in the terrible case of pedophilia, to lure a child into trusting them.
There are many types of catfish. Within each category, there exists a spectrum of characteristics. See if you recognize any of these types in the people you encounter online.
The most common types of catfish are as follows:
1.Influencer Catfish: This type of catfish creates a fake persona of someone others want to be. They pretend to have a lifestyle filled with money, success, and beauty which they do not feel they possess in real life. They will often appear to have a sophisticated luxury lifestyle that would rival any trendsetter or celebrity. The photos they send you will be attractive!
They steal the photos from real social media users. In such cases, they may continually send you new photo uploads to keep you hooked! Another aspect of being catfished are those who pretend to be heroes with glowing records of service (military, police department, etc.).
2. Insecure Catfish: This type of catfish lacks confidence as they hide their identity because they worry you won’t like them as they are. These catfishers are common on MTV’s hit television show, “Catfish.” Generally, the “insecure catfish” present themselves as someone thinner, prettier, or more confident than they feel inside.
Insecure catfishers may be suffering from anxiety or depression, body image disorders, have a health problem, or be uncomfortable with their life, looks, or body. They might let down their guard and have you get to know their personality, but some part of the relationship (appearance, location, lifestyle, etc.) is still a sham!
3. Real Life Catfish: You know this catfish in real life. They might be your friend, neighbor, or ex. Perhaps they sought you out online after meeting you briefly or only know you through an acquaintance. The problem with “real life catfish” is that they believe you’d never be interested in them in the real world, thus creating a fake online identity (and relationship) with you is the best they can hope.
The Real Life Catfish is either a sub-type of the Insecure Catfisher (who doesn’t have confidence and thinks you won’t like them, though you might have if they’d been honest). They are an age or gender that you’re not interested in (example: someone significantly older than you or gay, when you’re straight). Another common phenomenon is when the “real life catfish” is someone you used to date, who can’t get over you or wants to keep tabs on what you’re doing!
4. Overseas Catfish: While it’s sad that some people in Nigeria don’t have running water or proper lighting, this doesn’t condone stealing from innocent people in the United States. An Overseas Catfisher, or 419 scammer, pretends that their location is anywhere that is inconvenient for you actually to meet them in person.
They might lie that they’re in the military and stationed remotely or say that they’re on an oil rig. Others pretend they frequently travel as the CEO of a successful company or pose as genuine travelers. The telling moment with occur when they have an “emergency” and need a loan. It might be the first moment you discover they want money (your money!). They will say or do anything to get it.
5. Money Hungry Catfish: The Money Hungry Catfish is similar to the Overseas Catfish, but they could live more locally, at least in the same country. However, they are looking for you to be their sugar mommy or sugar daddy. They will bend the truth for as long as they need to, as long as you keep giving them money and gifts!
While real feelings may develop as you interact, they will continually expect you to shower them with big money. They might take on a fake identity or base their scam around real-life photographs to draw you closer. Worst of all, you may not be the only one they’re doing this too!
6. Revenge Catfish: You broke this person’s heart, and they want you to hurt in return. They know what turns you on, what you’re looking for, and can base their catfish’s persona on the man or woman online of your dreams. Or, perhaps they’re someone you know at work who wants to find out your secrets. They might want to expose you to steal your expected promotion or even have a personal vendetta against you.
The commonality is that they want you to trust them and will pursue you until you fall into love and ‘in trust.’ Eventually, their lie will come out, or they will expose the secrets you told them, even possibly resorting to blackmail.
7. Double Catfish: Maybe you haven’t mentioned to your online love that you’re still legally married or have gained 40 pounds since the last photograph you sent them. Not only can one person be a catfish, sometimes both people are catfishing each other!
8. Unavailable Catfish: This type of catfish isn’t like the others. They are not an overseas scammer looking for money. Deep down they want love but keep you at arm’s length. They might always be this emotionally unavailable, have experienced past trauma, or be dating, engaged, or married to someone else. They might also have other online attachments, which means that you aren’t their one and only.
9. Opposite Gender Catfish: Whether you are gay or straight, this is when a catfish pretends they’re the gender you’re looking for, but are not the gender they claim to be. It can happen as someone who is gay or bisexual comes to terms with their sexuality. For both the person tricked and the catfisher, the result can be devastating.
10. Lonely Catfish: Life seems bleak for the Lonely Catfish. Often a sub-type of the Insecure Catfish, this catfish starts corresponding with you because they need companionship. They might never have catfished anyone before, but their loneliness makes it impossible for them to tell you the truth as it means they risk that you’ll say goodbye. They are emotionally dependent upon you and being a catfish has nothing to do with money.
11. Romantic Catfish: The Romantic Catfish can be most of the above types, but the primary characteristic is that they will engage with you romantically. They will say that they love you and can make you feel as if you like them. The “romantic catfisher” might tell you that they’ve “never felt this way before” and soon you think the same. They could evolve into any of the other types of catfish – dependent on what they do next and their background or intent.
12. Predator Catfish: Imagine that you are a teen who believes you are communicating with someone your age only to find out you are involved with a significantly older adult who has predatory intentions. If a Predator Catfish contacts you or someone in your family, you should immediately contact the police and the FBI.
A second example of how “predator catfish” take advantage of others is when one party has a restraining order against another. The restrained partner might strike up friendship or relationship with their ex online, pretending to be someone else. Predator Catfishers put their victims at risk because their intentions aren’t pure and may be dangerous, deadly, or illegal! Revenge porn and sextortion fall under this category.
The risk of being catfished by a scammer is serious enough that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has devoted entire online pages to data and suggestions. Catfishing falls under a larger umbrella of criminal behavior called “internet fraud.” Internet Fraud encompasses “romance scams” (i.e., “catfish who want your cash) and other crimes such as extortion, social media scams, personal data theft, and non-payment/non-delivery scams, etc.
The FBI doesn’t mince words when it warns that “online imposters break hearts and bank accounts.” The agency focuses its attention on data and statistics, in hopes that internet users across the United States will take notice. Until recently, catfishers got away with their deceit and their victims’ money, since the victims don’t know where to turn for help.
While catfishing may violate terms of service for many apps and sites, it is not illegal in and of itself. Pretending to be a fictional character online can be as simple as role-playing. It becomes fraud when a catfish uses a fake persona to gain prestige (example, pretending to have been in the military to receive perks or acclaim), money, or to humiliate or defame another person.
To online daters and those who have been scammed or catfished, the results are terrifying! According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center and their “2017 Internet Crime Report”, 2017 marks the year when the IC3 received their “4 millionth consumer internet crime complaint”. Confidence and romance fraud was among the top 3 most costly loses for consumers!
The FBI’s IC3 online PDF also warns that the year 2017 had the highest total loss to date, as criminals and catfish have become more technologically advanced in their trickeries and theft. Similar to the IC3’s 2016 report, the 2017 guide showed the state which lost the most money, to overall internet crimes, was (drum roll, please) California. Indeed, California had 41,974 reported victims who lost a total of $214.2 million. The top five list per state is, as follows:
The FBI’s IC3 2017 Victims by Age Group Were:
Of the total internet crimes reported to the FBI, 15,372 are confidence and romance fraud. One must consider that this figure is likely vastly less than the actual number. It only shows REPORTED cases.Of the total internet crimes reported to the FBI, 15,372 are confidence and romance fraud. Click To Tweet
Which government body handles the repercussions of catfish and dating scams? The Internet Crime Complain Center is the go-to weapon for those who want the government to take action against the trickery. Complaints are collected and analyzed for patterns, so the FBI can issue warnings, such as they have about online dating scams.
Part of the IC3’s mission is to increase awareness and teach the public that reporting internet fraud is essential. The Better Business Bureau is also raising awareness, saying catfishing scams are on the rise in the United States and Canada. Steve Bernas, the president of BBB for Chicago and Northern Illinois, warns, “there are many more victims who haven’t filed complaints because they’re too embarrassed or devastated to speak out.”
Special Agent Christine Beining works as an investigator in financial fraud through the FBI’s Houston Division. She reiterates that people have lost millions of dollars online to people they have never met. She equates the hunt for online victims to be similar to casting a “fishing line.”
“Behind the veil of romance, it’s a criminal enterprise like any other,” Beining indicates on the FBI’s romance scams stories page, “And once a victim becomes a victim, in that they send money, they will often be placed on what’s called a ‘sucker list.’” According to her, this means that “names and identities are shared with other criminals” to target them in the future.
She describes the horror of romance scams in this transcript:
In 2017, the Department of Justice announced that seven men (primarily from Nigeria, one from South Africa) plead guilty to stealing millions of dollars through online theft. The reality that seven people alone could collect such a hefty sum is only one story out of many more.
The FBI’s 2016 data about dating scams suggests that romance scams of this type cost consumers more money than other crimes and fraud on the internet. The FBI cites $230 million for 2016, as money lost from total scams, but (once again) the real number is likely more inflated.
Catfish victims often deal with it quietly with their therapists, heal their broken hearts, and don’t realize they should contact the government for catfish scams involving money. Others don’t report as they know few people ever get their money back when the fraud was primarily overseas. The Consumer Reports Online Dating Survey reported that 46% of 114,000 people who were hesitant to online date, said they were concerned about online fraud and scams.
46% of 114k people who were hesitant to date online, said they were concerned about online scams. Click To Tweet
What would you think if you discovered that you got tricked by multiple catfish pretending to be one person who you thought you were in love? Foreign and 419 scammers do just that. One person may talk to you on the phone, while another corresponds with you online, etc.
Worse, catfish schemes have become both an online pastime for catfishing teams and a tried and true way to get money from their connections. Catfishing groups comprise of scammers who create numerous profiles of good-looking people, using stolen photographs.
They create several profiles and then link them together, (i.e., become Facebook friends or follow one another on Instagram). After doing this, they will promote the other person’s characters in the form of real-life emotional charades. While it is sometimes done only to deceive, it can also be for a small group of criminals to pull the wool over someone’s eyes and get their cash!
With cash as a goal, a group of people overseas will assemble and create their catfishing network. Looking at a user’s friends’ list, you might not think anything is amiss. They seem well loved and legitimate, with real-life friends! Sadly, their friend’s list may also contain fellow victims!
Favorite Catfish Careers
If a catfish was going to write in a yearbook what they were most likely to become when they grew up, their fake career choices be: soldier, oil rig worker, government employee living overseas, independent contractor, independently wealthy (inheritance), overseas doctor working doing charity, a wealthy business person, someone who owns their own company, a world traveler. What do these “jobs” have in common? Think like a catfish. They want to explain why they text or message but can’t call you, live remotely, or can’t access cash.
This thinking helps when (surprise-surprise) they suddenly need to borrow money! They practice these fake story-lines with each victim until their rouse is perfect! If it sounds legitimate, it’s because they’ve based their persona on real-life people perhaps with some Hollywood cinematic flair thrown in!
Small Amounts of Cash
They don’t want 3 million in cash to start. Perhaps they only ask for $30 to help them hail a taxi when they lost their wallet. The point is that they want to see if you’re willing to share your hard-earned cash with a stranger you’ve never met. If you are don’t worry, they’ll bump up the request for a higher amount soon enough!
No More Supermodels
Don’t get us wrong a lazy catfish will still lure victims through stolen supermodel pictures on Tinder. However, new and improved catfish will use ‘attractive enough’ images. They might take photos from regular, semi-attractive people. These images will fly under the radar as they may not seem like a catfish’s first choice and don’t look professional or stolen from a magazine.
The risks range from a broken heart (which sure doesn’t feel basic) or facing financial ruin.
Broken Heart: Many who are catfished report feeling as if they were in love with a ghost. This ghost-love phenomenon makes sense the person they fell in love with was as fictional as a character in a book or a movie!
The Aftermath: After being catfished, victims may feel violated and embarrassed. Many reported feeling used and distrustful, which can lead to (new or worsened) anxiety and depression. If you or someone you know ponders about suicide after being devastated by a catfish, contact 911 or the Suicide Hotline at (800) 273-8255.
Lost Money: Getting your bank account ravaged by a catfish who scammed you is the worst feeling in the world. Knowing that your hard-earned money was naively given away is hard to explain to people who haven’t experienced it. It can put your living situation at risk and lead to debt.
Scammed: What if you never wired or sent money to your catfish, but they still financially ruined you.
Catfishers harvest personal information about (name, SSN, address, banking info, etc.), which they then sell the data to hackers on the dark web.
Sextortion: Revenge porn is the name for catfish (and others) who willingly post intimate images publicly without another’s consent. In cases of sextortion, catfish or hackers threaten to expose the same sort of private images or details unless you pay them. They may even post the private video you sent them on YouTube and threaten to share the link.
Your catfish might be someone you know trying to get even with you (an ex, enemy, jealous person, someone you met online) or a cruel individual trying to make money by tricking you into baring your soul (and body), then blackmailing you unless you pay them. In 2017, in a unique spin, an Illinois lawmaker resigned after using private photographs of a former girlfriend to create fake catfishing profiles and lure men on Instagram!
As you familiarize yourself with the signs that catfish are communicating with you, they will be easier to spot. If you are online dating anyone with 2 or more of the following qualities, they are very likely a catfish. If you become aware of any of the following red flags, ask questions, and look for complicated or avoidant answers. Your catfish may start a fight to try and blame their behavior on you and use a technique called “gaslighting“.
You Don’t Consider Yourself a Model, but They Look like One
They are smitten with you, and you feel flattered but wait, could this mean they’re a catfish? Sadly, although someone with model looks might recognize you for all the fantastic things you are if a user’s photos appear too good to be true, they probably are.
Won’t Video Chat or Meet in Person
Sure, maybe your local online connection does have a hectic work schedule, so they can’t meet this week or next. However, most successful people or those with internet access have some way to video chat or try and arrange to meet in person promptly.
If someone online is telling you that they love you, then it makes sense they would at least video chat. If they promise to meet but then claim that one issue after another prevents them, this is one of the most common catfish methods.
They Live or Travel Overseas
Love can happen anywhere, and connections can travel the distance of time and space. While long-distance relationships are a reality of modern life, beware if an individual claim they are abroad and have other characteristics of a catfish.
They Want to Be in a Committed Relationship Without Having Met You
What sets catfish apart is their devotion and will be more available than the average person. It’s especially true for catfish who are after money. They will want to speed up the rate at which you decided to be close and committed all without meeting. Catfish are found all over dating sites and social media platforms, including Tinder, Facebook, and Match.com.
They are under the gun to get your money, and their writing style will reflect that. Catfishers want your connection to move faster than a healthy relationship would and be “exclusive.” They will say whatever it takes and use very romantic and flowery language.
Try and notice any differences in how they speak, even if it’s by writing or text alone. While cultural differences and different geographic locations might explain this if they claim to have been born in the United States, look for signs that they might be a catfish who has never even been to the U.S.
If they’re pushing for more than you’re comfortable sharing, they may try to extort money from you. If you tell them all your secrets and they act like a trusted confidant, you may be at risk.
Married? They might suck you into an online affair. Catfish scammers blackmail you with inappropriate pictures you shared or threaten to expose your information unless you send money.
According to statistics, it happens a lot. If you use the internet, dating sites, apps, messaging, email, or social media don’t assume it won’t happen to you! The good part is that there are steps you can take, today, that will guarantee that you avoid being a victim:
It’s impossible to prevent everyone on the planet from falling to online catfish scams. However, we know that it doesn’t have to happen to you and you can educate yourself.
Silence and technology are how catfish survive. They swim about the world wide web, acting as opportunists who don’t value truth or integrity. They may justify what they do, but regardless of appearances or motivation, their trickery and deceit are real. Just when you think you’d never fall for a catfish, it can get confusing by what seems like a great online interest.
While many people fall for catfish scams after using dating apps, the temptation to connect is real. Connections can happen anywhere on the web. Worse, it can be challenging to distinguish catfish from real online users.
It does not mean that every online connection is a scam. Most people have friendships with others who they haven’t met in person. Online relationships can be close and rewarding and close in much the same way that in-person relationships are. BEWARE if someone’s words are continually opposite to their actions or they keep changing their story.
There have been cases where Social Catfish users got catfished and have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars by sending cash in boxes to someone overseas. Imagine that! How did a college-educated person end up in that situation? They believed it was a loan to a legitimate businessperson they had a close and unforgettable bond.
Social Catfish has also helped users who dated someone online for 2+ years and then found out they were fake. Some of them experienced constant confusion and stress and had to seek therapy or medication.
Has our 2019 guide on catfish scams been helpful to you? Share our guide with friends and loved ones and keep them safe online!