A catfish is someone who pretends to be someone they’re not using Facebook or other social media to create false identities, particularly to pursue deceptive online romances.
If you’ve been on social media for more than a few months, the odds are very high that you’ve been catfished or have heard the horror stories of its victims. From the above Urban Dictionary, you can determine this to mean that someone you’ve been chatting with is not who they state they are. (For the purposes of this article, we will not extend the meaning of catfish to online stalkers such as exes trying to check up on former wives, husbands, etc. or people experimenting with a more fluid profile of themselves to maintain a degree of separation from their personal and work lives.)
The reasons people catfish are many and varied but in social media venues, this con game is mostly used in romantic pursuit via a fake identity.
How To Spot A Catfisher:
1. Caginess about life details: Real name, age, location, field of employment, etc. (Citing security reasons is one thing; catfishers act as if they are with the Secret Service about this information and then try to turn the tables around by asking you for your info so that “they can trust you”.)
2. Has few photos of himself. (There’s only so many pics of a regular guy that a catfisher can rip off and pretending to be a Charlie Sheen look-a-like with CS’ pics is so 2009.)
3. The few photos that he has posted aren’t usually of him involved in real time activities with the same people. (E.g., No family pics.)
4. The identities are relatively new. “I just joined Facebook.” (Really? Where have you been in the past decade??)
5. Few, if any, interactions, with others on his timeline. “I don’t let people post to my timeline anymore since I ran into this nut who blew up my page.” (Most real people do not completely limit posts on their timelines as it defeats the purpose of being on social media – to interact with others.)
6. His webcam is always broken.
How Does A Catfisher Operate:
If somehow a catfisher gets past his target’s guard and it’s time to meet in real life and he has been using a fake picture, he will suddenly disappear off the face of the virtual earth..
But now, having gathered all of this personal information from you (your likes, tastes, aspirations, etc.), he reappears (unbeknownst to you) as a different person. His profile pic will either be very grainy, of other poor quality or of animals or other non-human representations – anything but a clear, current pic of himself. This new stranger will apply your personal knowledge in your chats and appear to be in synch with you on many subjects. Despite the age-old adage, “Opposites attract”, we are actually more attracted to those with whom we have things in common. You begin to believe that you have met someone who “gets” you.
A connection has formed.
Why Do People Fall For Catfishers:
Our Leah Palmer piece reported how a man left his girlfriend for a women who didn’t exist. A popular response in the comments underneath was, “How didn’t he know?”
But there are real reasons why we choose to see what we wantto see when it comes to meeting people online.
“If someone presents to us an intact, detailed identity, we immediately trust it,” says Short. “That’s because if we recognise just the outline of the individual – online or in the real world – we assume that that is real, with no verification. So identity equals trust, even if it’s not real. If someone looks like a person, we think they are a person.”
She explains that it got a lot to do with instinct: “It’s partially an evolutionary default. We’re social creatures, that’s just what we do: We see a pattern that looks like an individual and we think it must be a real person.”
Unconscious social cues tell us what we want to know about someone depending on what we want, says Short. So if we’re looking for a friend, colleague, or a lover, we’re predisposed to find people who fit the bill.
Even if there are details missing or there’s something suspicious – for example, someone’s webcam is always broken, or their career seems sketchy – human brains are happy to fill in the blanks.
“Just as we stereotype people in the physical world and immediately make judgments, I think the same thing is happening online,” Short says. “We look at profiles and fill in the gaps – you do the dot-to-dot and make all sorts of assumptions about who this person is.
“This is happening very, very fast and we’re not switched on to the fact that verification is very poor [online]. In the physical world, people lie but at least you know it’s them in front of you. You just don’t know that in an online relationship.”
Relatedly, in our next Bulletin, we will cover How To Handle An Online Stalker.
BNI Operatives: Situationally aware.
As always, stay safe.