There are millions of people online looking for love and romance, and inevitably there are individuals who use the anonymity of the internet to pretend to be someone they're not in order to lure these people into a romantic online relationship. These people are known as Catfishers. The term catfish comes from a combination of a story about cod fishing and an online dating scam that was brought to the public's attention in 2010.
The earliest version of the Catfish story dates back to a book that writer Henry W. Nevinson wrote in 1913. The book tells a story about fishing boats in the North Sea that used to have tanks where the fisherman would keep all the cod they had caught to store them in until they could bring them to market. Unfortunately the fish were inactive in the holds and arrived at market slack, flabby and limp which wasn't a very lucrative business for cod fishermen. According to the story, a genius fisherman figured out a way to keep the fish active. He put a catfish in each tank which stimulated the cod and found by doing this his cod came to market firm and wholesome and he got a good price for them.
The original Catfish story rose to fame in 2010 through a true documentary film about a 28-year old man that fell in love with a beautiful young woman he met through Facebook. He had started an online relationship with her and spoke to her many times over the phone. Ultimately what happens in the documentary is that after many unsuccessful attempts by him to meet face to face, he finally decided to go to the home of the woman to surprise her. Only he was the one surprised. His beautiful girlfriend turned out to actually be a middle-aged wife and mother who looked nothing like the pictures he had believed were her. While trying to understand why she would lie about who she was and lead him on like that, the victim spent some time speaking with the woman and her husband. By way of a metaphorical explanation, the woman's husband told the story of the cod, but his version said the cod was shipped from Alaska all the way to China. He explained how if you put the cod in a large vat with some catfish, the catfish will keep the cod agile. He explained there are people who are actually like catfish in real life. They keep you on your toes, guessing and keeping you fresh. And without the catfish, we as humans would all be boring and dull. Thus, the term “Catfish” was associated with the person who lied in the relationship and still sticks today.
Today, Catfish is described as "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". By creating fake profiles on social networking sites, these predators trick people into thinking that they are someone else entirely and this online scam is getting more and more popular.
The reasons people do this are complex. Some people get a certain pleasure out of knowing they have managed to fool someone and it gives them a sense of power. Some individuals catfish because they are bored or lonely, while others may do it out of revenge. Maybe to get back at a person who they feel has wronged them? Or maybe they have a secret crush on an individual and they don't feel they are good enough in real life to act on it? Whatever the reason, there are some telltale signs you can watch for to help you determine if you are being catfished:
- A random, good looking person starts talking to you online in some capacity
- Their pictures online always look perfect, even photoshopped
- The relationship seems to move to a romantic nature quickly
- They have no Facebook profile, or their Facebook is new or has a low friend count
- They never want to talk on the phone or will only talk to you late at night
- The person will not use Skype, video chat or facetime
- They avoid meeting face-to-face due to busy-ness or tragedy
- When they finally do agree to meet, the visit usually doesn't pan out due to some emergency or other excuse
- They won't give you their physical address
- The personal details they give you are vague or don't add up
- They play on your sympathy and tell you they are in some kind of trouble, i.e. money problems, abusive boyfriend, etc.
- They have a job that has them travel a lot but it's never near where you live
- S/he sounds too good to be true
- Your friends are skeptical
- You get the gut feeling that something just doesn't seem right
If you feel like you are the victim of a catfisher, don't act before you really know the truth. You don't want to end a good relationship if you don't have to, but you also don't want to ignore the signs. First, get verification that the person is really who they say they are. If you don't know a way to verify this information secretly on your own, you can hire a private investigator at ICS. We can help you avoid being the victim of a catfish scam and find out if the person you are communicating with really is who they say they are.
If you discover the person is a catfisher, immediately block them from all of your social accounts and cell phone. As soon as possible, report the scam to the appropriate law enforcement agency and the website where the scam took place (i.e., Facebook, dating site, etc.).
In the future, make sure you're careful about accepting invites and messages from people you don't know. Never give out personal information or send them money, and keep your guard up until you can verify their true identity.