Nowadays, catfishing is a term widely used on the social media. In general, people are aware of the existence of this kind of phenomenon, however the question that often arises is to what extent social media users understand the term of ‘catfishing’ and have the necessary knowledge to identify the signs of a potential digital abuse.
An Oxford academic publication defines ‘catfishing’ as a deceptive activity in which a person creates a fictional character or has a fake identity, usually targeting a specific victim. Catfishing is a form of cyberbullying where the target is harmed through manipulative tactics such as luring into relationships. “Catfishers” frequently target those who have stated a desire for a romantic relationship, whether in person or online. Catfishing becomes cyberbullying when these weaknesses are exploited.
The term is used under the umbrella of online impersonation, and it is mostly associated with online dating. It became more popular between 2010 and 2013, through a reality television series aired by MTV named “Catfish: The Show”, in which the participants were assessing their cases related to lies on online dating and how they fell prey for internet scams. At the same time, around 2013, the term gained popularity through the case involving Manti Te’o, football star of Notre Dame University. The football star was exchanging Twitter messages with ‘Lennay Kekua’, until he was told that she dies. The story has been described as inspirational, until it came out as a hoax, as the girl never existed in the first place.
Social media is considered to be the easiest generator of fake profiles. Reports have stated that one out of ten profiles on a certain social media and dating sites are fake. At the same time, as recently as 2013, Twitter has admitted that 5% of all accounts are fake, which reported to a such large-scale social media platform represents millions of fake accounts, while Facebook, the world’s most popular social network with over one billion Monthly Active Users, has stated in its 2015 report that the platform has identified over fifty million duplicate accounts. The FBI has even issued formal warnings throughout the pandemic about the possibility of running into catfish or other types of romance scammers online, claiming that between 2019 and 2020, alone, there was a 22% increase in reports about these scams.
The fake profiles created through ‘catfishing’ are harmful not only for the person who interacts with the profile, as in cases of cyberharassment or cyberbullying, but also for the people whose pictures are used. Usually, people create fake profiles and catfish for reasons such as: insecurity, mental illness, revenge, harassment.
In order to protect the cyber rights of each individual and to facilitate a safer use of the digital space, it is necessary to lead the attention towards several signs that indicate that you might be a victim of catfishing:
- The profile that connected with you does not have a reasonable number of friends and followers on social media. Usually, catfishing profiles are made to target a specific person, which is why they might not invest time into gaining popularity for their account.
- The person refuses to call/video call. Most of the times, catfishers will invent excuses such as being insecure of how they look, travelling or having family visits, in order to avoid having a video chat.
- The person does not change their profile picture very often or at all. The same profile photo may be used by a catfisher for several years because they only have access to a limited number of fake images of the person whose appearance they are stealing or use AI platforms to create them.
- The person avoids or refuses meeting up. Regardless of how open the suggested meeting place is, a catfisher who lives nearby will be simpler to recognize if they decline to meet up.
- The person does not have coherent narratives. As catfishers have to build a fake identity, it is easy to get tangled into the narrative of a story they are presenting.
- The person might ask for money. Your suspicions are likely valid if the alleged catfisher requests cash or a gift. Even if you’ve already developed a romantic or professional relationship with them, it’s best to decline their request, as they may lead to sextortion .
Written by Ana Gheorghita, CRO Legal Assistant
 Chandler, D.; Rod, M. (2016): ‘A Dictionary of Social Media’. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-180309-3.
 Reichart Smith, L. and Smith, K.D., (2017) ‘Follow Me, What’s the Harm? Considerations of Catfishing and Utilizing Fake Online Personas on Social Media’, Journal of Legal Aspects of Sport.
Hartney, T.W. (2018). ‘Likeness Used as Bait in Catfishing: Can Hidden Victims of Catfishing Reel in Relief?, Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology. Available at: https://scholarship.law.umn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1441&context=mjlst
 Colleen M. Knoch, To Catch a Catfish: A Statutory Solution for Victims of Online Impersonation.(2016) http://lawreview.colorado.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/12.-88.1-Koch_FinalRevised.pdf
 Corcione, A. (2022). ‘Signs you’re being catfished’. Available at. https://www.teenvogue.com/story/signs-youre-being-catfished
 Cyberglossary. ‘What is Catfishing Online: Signs and How to Tell’ Available at: https://www.fortinet.com/resources/cyberglossary/catfishing