The term catfish has been thrown around quite a bit in the past year. The term is spawned from the 2010 documentary of the same name. That movie followed a group of filmmakers as they researched the profile of a model that one of them was dating online. The woman in question was far from what she led others to believe. That movie turned into a TV series on MTV not long after. The term "catfish" also became front-page news in early 2013 with the story of Manti Te'o and the girlfriend he never met.
An online catfish is a person who uses social media to seek out an online romance while using a fraudulent identity. This identity fraud is very similar to phishing, which is done to reel in online victims in order to steal their identities or personal information. If you've been communicating with someone online, there are a few basic ways to find out if they are really who they say they are.
The first thing to look out for is if you're the one who was contacted first. Yes, if you're on a dating site it's nice to think that a model is interesting in chatting with you. Sadly, chances are this model, who is just looking for a friend, is actually a middle-aged man who has several online personas.
If you are contacted by someone out of your league, the best approach is to save their profile picture and research its origin through services like Google's "search by image" feature. This is a great way to do a reverse search on where it came from and if it has been edited for example, if a watermark has been cropped out of the photo.
If you are being pursued by someone on a dating site, you have full permission to Facebook-stalk him or her. If he or she doesn't have a Facebook page, red flags should go up. People who are savvy with online communication should already have an understanding of social media. Once you find your new fan's Facebook profile, check the friends list. If you find a low number of friends and spam-like posts on the wall, there is a good chance it's a fake account set up to ensnare hopeless romantics online.
A catfish will also find ways to avoid actually meeting you in person. A huge red flag arises when you actually have set up a meeting time but someone cancels the meeting due to a family emergency or illness. While you may feel empathy if a stranger trusts you enough to share that personal information with you, there's a good chance it's done to manipulate you further.
Video chat is extremely easy to set up. You should request a video chat by something simple like Facetime or Skype, so you can see each other if someone is nervous to meet. If the chat is refused or a "family member" appears on the chat instead, you should cancel all communication.
An online catfish is not a new phenomenon; it's just recently received a name. There are predators on the internet looking to take advantage of you; whether they're looking for unhealthy emotional dependence or to use your identity and information for illegal purposes, it's best to stay aware of the dangers and monitor your online activities. Predators may try to break your heart or your wallet, and by following a few simple tips, you may protect yourself.