All you need to know about catfishing
In a 1913 essay called “The Catfish”, Henry Nevinson describes a fishing practice of ancient England. In the era predating refrigeration and iceboxes, fishermen struggled to bring fresh, healthy codfish, to the market. The codfish were, by nature, lethargic creatures, which made them flabby and limp in their tank, and unappetizing. On introducing its mortal enemy, the catfish, into the tank, the cods were kept on their figurative toes, thereby healthy and appetizing.
In Nevinson’s words, “…the catfish is the demon of the deep and keeps things lively.”
Today, catfish are the demons of the depths of the internet and keep things dangerous. Recently, a catfishing scam made headlines in which a grieving family implored parents to monitor their children’s online activity after a former Virginia state trooper catfished a 15-year-old girl online. He then traveled to Southern California, where he allegedly killed the girl’s mother and grandparents. Catfishing is the deliberate portrayal of oneself as someone else, usually for romantic purposes or sexual favors, and sometimes for financial gains.
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The definition and origin of the term “catfishing”
Fraud.net describes catfishing as “a form of social engineering where fraudsters and criminals create fake online identities to lure people into emotional or romantic relationships for personal or financial gain.”
Identity deception is not a new concept – it has been used for good reasons and bad, throughout history. In the Book of Genesis, Jacob impersonates Esau to trick his blind father into blessing him. In Greek mythology, as recorded in Homer's Iliad, Patroclus impersonates Achilles to scare the Trojans away.
Identity deception has taken on a sinister meaning in the age of digital interconnectivity and has been renamed “catfish”, after an American 2010 documentary that describes the deception of Nev Shulman by a 40-year-old housewife, posting as a teenage girl.
Today catfishing is common in social media sites, especially those focused on romantic relationship building, such as dating sites. A false identity is used to befriend/communicate with a potential romantic/sexual partner, wherein the victim falls for the false persona and react is ways they would not if they knew the real person. These reactions range from sharing sensitive information to performing sexual acts. Catfishing is also used for financial fraud.
Apart from connecting through regular digital channels like emails, social networking sites and apps, catfish also misuse a few apps to lure and hold their victim. These apps help catfish generate content that can show them as people they are not. Some such apps are:
Fake chat: This app helps in creating jokes, memes, and stories that sound like the user has created them themselves, which is misleading and pretentious.
Fake GPS Location: This app virtually places the user in a location other than their own.
Gotta Go!: This app generates excuses and set them as alarms. These excuses sound genuine and the victim may believe them, and even sympathize with the betrayer, thereby leading them deeper into deception.
Imaginary Girlfriend and Invisible Boyfriend: This app allows one to create an imaginary for a fee. The monthly service includes 100 text messages, 10 voicemails, and a handwritten note by someone posing as an unseen boyfriend or girlfriend.
Social Dummy: This app helps create fake social posts and status updates.
The content generated by these apps look and sound convincingly original. This could trick the victim into believing the credibility of their catfish communicators.
Effects of catfishing on the victim
Trust is the bedrock of all human relationships and catfishing undermines it. Being a victim of catfishing can cause emotional and physical issues, in addition to more serious social evils.
At a physiological level, catfishing leads to feelings of being betrayed, which elevates the stress levels in our brains, which leads to changes in brain chemicals and alterations in brain activity. Such alterations may result in permanent mistrust, paranoia, and pessimism. People already prone to anxiety or depression may be more deeply impacted by the trauma of catfishing and may take time to heal.
At a social level, catfishing has been known to lead to criminal activities such as kidnap, rape, and even murders. The 2002 murder of Kacie Woody and 2007 murder of Carly Ryan are examples of the extreme effects of catfishing. The 2006 suicide of Megan Meier due to catfishing is another example of the extreme effects of this evil practice.
Ways to recognize a catfish
Here are some tell-tale signs of a catfish:
They avoid showing their face live. They usually refuse to video chat or phone chat, with excuses for why they can’t do it – a broken mike, a broken camera, they are at work, and they are shy.
They have a limited set of photos to share. Since they are impersonating someone else, they only have limited access to photos and selfies of the person they are impersonating. They would not send you any pictures besides the ones on their dating or social media pages.
Catfish do not want to meet in real life. Even if they agree to meet, they wouldn’t show up with excuses that are often realistic – got stuck in traffic, there was an emergency at work, someone died/fell sick, etc.
Too few contacts on their online/social media accounts – A catfish usually creates social media accounts specifically for their fictional persona. A fictional persona cannot have too many real-life contacts, can they?
They could have a fantastic backstory – Catfish often make up stories that appear to be beneficial to you – like soon moving into the town of the victim or getting a traveling position that would enable meeting the victim in real life and so on. If a story is too good to be true, it likely is.
Show me the money – An online person that you’ve never met in real life, asking for money is a danger, as common sense would tell you. The tale may not be over-the-top like the Nigerian prince story, but could indeed dip in pathos, but an online request for money must always set off the caution alarm.
Romance is not always rosy – A catfish could love bomb you; they may shower you with romantic messages, which while being flattering, can be a way to stop you from asking uncomfortable questions about their real life identity. A request or even pester for a relationship even without meeting could be a sign of catfishing.
How Mobicip can protect your children against catfish
Children are particularly vulnerable to online malpractices such as catfishing. As a parent/caregiver, you can bank on Mobicip to protect your child from catfish predators. Mobicip can help in the following ways:
You can monitor your child's social media conversations for inappropriate exchanges.
You can receive real-time alerts on dangerous interactions and unhealthy behavior.
You can block or limit time spent by your child on potentially catfishing-prone apps, social media, and entertainment.
You can block websites and filter inappropriate content across any browser, YouTube, or other social media.
You can get actionable insights on your family's online activity from an intuitive Parent Dashboard.
You can instantly track your child’s location and create geo-fences around school or a friend's home to be alerted when your child reaches the location.
Knowledge is power. Knowledge is protection. Be aware of catfishing and use the internet responsibly.