7 signs you're suffering from a catfishing scam

Emilie Burke

The Internet has made it possible to meet the love of your life. In fact, it’s more common than you think, with 1 in 5 relationships now beginning with an online encounter. Unfortunately, the Internet has also made it possible to meet someone who can ruin your life in the worst ways possible.


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We’re talking about catfishing, the process of creating a fake online identity to build an oftentimes romantic relationship and con someone out of money.


Think you know enough about catfishing online to not be a victim? That might be true. But if your children are on the Internet, they could very easily become a victim of catfishing.


If you YouTube catfishing, you’ll find a lot of cases that involve conning someone out of money. But predators can catfish teens with the intent to harm or abduct them.


In today’s world of technology, teenagers often connect online. Unfortunately, this reality leaves our teens open to possible scams. “Catfishing” is one such scam where a person creates a fake online identity in order to deceive someone into a relationship. A ‘catfish’ uses someone else’s photo (it might be someone else they know or it could be an image they found on the Internet) and invents a false name and personal information to create a fake website or social media profile. Young people are so used to having online relationships that they don’t always notice red flags and don’t think to question someone’s true identity. If someone says they are a 13-year-old girl in their neighborhood, teens tend to believe it, even though it could be a 40-year-old man in the next city.


According to FBI data, almost 20,000 people reported being victims of catfishing. If the victim is an adult, the catfish is usually trying to scam the person out of money. If the victim is a teen, the catfish usually has more dangerous intentions. For example,


1.Many child predators use this type of scam to gain a child’s trust and either lure them to a location for sex or convince the child to send them sexually explicit photos or videos.


2.Bullies use catfishing to further humiliate a victim. Many people might remember the shocking case of Megan Meier who took her own life after being cyberbullied by an adult neighbor posing as a fictitious boy.


3.This past week, an Alaska teenager was arrested for killing her best friend after a man posing online as a millionaire offered her money for murder.


Signs You’re Being Catfished

1. Their only photos are professional.


After getting catfished six years ago, film and television producer Bernard Parham worked on the MTV reality show Catfish during seasons two to five. Beyond his personal experience, he learned the many tactics that catfishers use. An easy giveaway? Professional photos.


“Any profile with professional-grade photos, like headshots or comp cards, should raise your suspicion,” explained Parham. “Regular folks tend to use candids taken by their friends and family on their profiles.”


Leary adds that most people on social media upload multiple photos of themselves and their day-to-day activities. Be wary of those who have very few photos of themselves.


“It’s a lot less likely that someone’s catfishing you if, in addition to selfies, they also upload their succulent garden, pics of their cat napping, or the beach they just visited,” she explained.


2. They haven’t changed profile photos in a long time (or ever).


A reality of those who catfish online: They only have access to so many photos of the person they’re claiming to be. Because of that, photos need to be used sparingly — especially so that they’ll still have some material to share with you directly that you won’t have seen posted to their accounts. So, if the person you’re talking to has only ever posted one profile photo, or if they haven’t changed profile photos in years, that could be a red flag.


3. And speaking of photos: They’ve never sent you a casual selfie.


Because catfish, again, have access to a limited number of photos of “themselves,” they’ll have to be strategic about what photos they send you and when. If you’ve never received a truly in-the-moment selfie from this person, or a photo of them at, say, a recent event you’ve spent time talking about, the reason could be that they can’t send you these photos. If instead they send you only post-quality pics, it’s possible that’s because their photos have all previously been posted by someone else.


4. They’re reluctant to meet in real life or even video chat.


In eighth grade, Mike Funk began interacting with a boy named Brendan, who apparently lived and skateboarded in the same neighborhood, but Funk never seemed to see him around. The reason: He was catfished by someone he knew in real life.


“We had a snow day, and I tried to get Brendan to hang out with me, but he refused my invitation, despite being off school and supposedly living where I knew a giant snowball fight was taking place,” he said.


Parham also suggests pushing for a video call if you’re unable to arrange an in-person meeting, especially if the other person lives far away. If they won’t even video chat, that’s another red flag, and they’re probably not the person they’ve been representing themselves as on dating sites or a Facebook profile.


“Catfish will happily waste copious amounts of your time with excuses and fabrications,” Parham added. “It's better to nip it in the bud than be taken for a ride.”


5. They do make plans with you, but repeatedly cancel.


While some catfish will refuse the bait to meet you point blank, others will enthusiastically make plans with you — only to cancel time and again. A cornerstone of catfishing is the art of making excuses, and they’ve likely got a long list at the ready for why, so sorry, they actually can’t meet you tonight, or why they’re no longer free for that phone call.


And just to note on the plan-making front: Although you may be eager to finally see this person IRL, always arrange to meet in a public space, especially for your first time meeting an online connection.


6. They ask you for money.


Another clear-cut sign you’re being catfished? Your contact will ask you for money. If they ask for a loan — or a flat-out gift — that is a warning sign. Never send money to someone you’ve never met, no matter how small the amount.


7. They’re sharing strong feelings for you, and quickly.


If the person you’ve just met online is telling you they love you or engaging in other over-the-top behavior, this can also be a sign you’re being catfished. Attention like this can feel good, and that’s why predators make such huge declarations: to lure people into their webs. It’s a version of love bombing, and it’s not rooted in anything genuine.


The Top Catfishing Apps Used by Scammers




Now that you know what to look for, you need to know where to look. If you’re worried about your teen becoming a catfishing victim, it’s important that you know where the scammers and predators lurk.



People love to share pics on Instagram. And if you like someone’s pic, it’s easy to send them a friend request or a message to say hello. If your teen is on Instagram, they could become a target.



Any app with a focus on connecting people for sex or relationships is ripe with catfish con artists. Needless to say, catfishing on Tinder is a problem.


Open Chat Apps

Teens use all kinds of chat apps to meet new people, but many of these can easily be classified as catfishing apps. Parents should be especially concerned about apps where teens are encouraged to engage with strangers with similar interests. These strangers might not be who they say they are.


How to Protect Your Kids From Being Catfished


Catfishing taps into a person’s desire to feel wanted and be loved. By letting your teen know about the dangers of catfishing and explaining that people on the Internet aren’t necessarily who they say they are, you’ll build a good foundation for your kids to stay safe.


But sometimes, explaining how to tell if someone is cheating on you isn't enough. Some teens act on their instincts, which can lead them in the wrong direction. If you think your child might be vulnerable to cat fishing, consider using a parental control app like SpyX.



SpyX lets you see exactly who your teen is chatting with, what they’re saying, what pictures they’re sharing, and more — all on the world’s most popular chat apps (including many that are popular with people into catfishing on social media). And it lets you do just that without them knowing.

Parental Control

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