Catfishing: The Internet Scam That Could Potentially Ruin Your Life
The internet has revolutionised the way in which we communicate with one another. It has also brought with it a whole new range of issues regarding privacy, identity theft and impersonations. Long gone the days when we would have to pick up a telephone, travel in the car or even write a letter to keep in touch with friends, family or loved ones.
Today, you can chat instantly with someone thousands of miles away using chat services such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. Furthermore, the internet has also made it incredibly easy to find out personal details about other people – many of us today parade our lives on social media and if someone decided to take the initiative to trawl through a person’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts, for example, they would probably find a surprising amount of information.
This level of exposure coupled with quick and easy communication methods has led to a rise in online scams. One particular form of scam that has been given a great deal of attention in recent years is Catfishing. You may not have heard of this term before, but it is a real problem and you may have fallen prey to a Catfishing scam without even realising. At its most basic level, Catfishing can be defined as:
“A type of deceptive activity whereby a person creates a false online identity for nefarious purposes”
Basically, a person may create a false online identity for their own gain and to deceive another person(s). The following paragraphs describe a little more about Catfishing and what it entails.
What reasons would someone have for Catfishing?
There are many reasons someone may want to Catfish – not all of them are for illicit or nefarious purposes. Some of the common reasons are listed below:
– Loneliness: A person may simply want companionship and to form a relationship
– Curiosity: A person may create a catfishing persona to simply see how it works
– Revenge: A person may want to take revenge on a cheating partner for example
– Financial Gain: A person may use their Catfishing persona to solicit funds
– Detective work: A detective agency or law firm could use a Catfishing persona to help an investigation
The most common form of Catfishing involves romance. Some people may create a fake persona as they have no confidence in their own appearance or personality – they may use their Catfish persona to strike up a relationship with someone they feel would not accept them for who they are. Alternatively, a person may create a catfishing persona to try and catch out their partner if they feel they are unfaithful. Some people may even create a fake persona as a form of escapism as they are not satisfied with their own life. During investigations, a catfishing persona could be created to try and catch out a suspect or lead them into an action that will incriminate them.
As you can see, the reasons are many and varied but the main point is that this is a real phenomenon that could affect your life for the worse. Knowledge is power therefore understanding Catfishing is a key to avoiding falling prey to a scam.
How A Catfish Operates
When catfishing, a person will either create a completely fabricated persona from scratch or use another person’s details and identity. This might sound like a difficult task, but you may be shocked at how easy someone can steal an identity or create a person from thin air.
Create a fabricated persona from scratch
To do this, a person can literally pull details from anywhere and use various social media outlets to create a fake identity. They could fabricate fake Facebook and Twitter accounts and populate them with random friends and photos. They could even use random photos gathered from the internet for profile pictures etc – all they have to do is search on Google. They could even go to the lengths of buying a spare phone and using it to create a fake number and make calls that cannot be traced. The detail someone could add is only limited by their imagination and determination.
Use another person’s identity
To use someone else’s identity a person may choose someone at random on Facebook (or any social media platform) and note down different aspects of their life that can easily be found. Even by looking through someone’s profile you can quickly pick up a huge amount of information about their lives such as birthdays, addresses, relatives and interests – enough info to impersonate that person effectively. You could use their photos on fake accounts, and use the information you have found out about their lives to create a convincing double.
Examples of known Catfishing scams
There have been several well-publicised incidents of Catfishing which have been covered by the media. The following are examples of Catfishing incidents:
Football player Manti Te’o
The linebacker Manti Te’o who played for the college team Notre Dame fell prey to a harsh Catfishing scam in 2012. He was in contact with a girl called Lennay Kekua and became deeply attached to her – the two talked regularly online and via the phone – Manti had no reason to believe Lennay was anyone else other than who she stated. During 2012, Manti Te’o reported that his online girlfriend had actually died of leukaemia – it later transpired that Lennay was a fictional woman created by one of Manti’s friends and she was completely fabricated.
Nev Schulman and MTV’s Catfish
A catalyst for the discovery of Catfishing was due to Nev Schulman. This gentleman also fell prey to a Catfish scam when he grew close to a woman he met online. After months of intimate texts and phone calls, he eventually discovered that he was not in love with young Megan, but a middle-aged mother who thrived on the attention. After this, Schulman went on to create the popular MTV show Catfish which helped other victims discover the true identity of their imposters.
Hopefully, this has given you a greater insight into Catfishing – you should now be clear on what the term means, how it is performed and the implications it can have.
Writer’s Bio: Lewis Murawski is the marketing and business development manager at Diem Legal and Managing Director of Kahootz Media. Need professional help with digital marketing? You can connect with Lewis directly on LinkedIn