Catfishing can be motivated by the urge for revenge, low self-esteem, boredom, psychosis, and fraud, while its consequences range from heartbreak to financial losses. Here are five ways you can protect yourself from online catfishing.
1. Prioritize in-person engagement
Perhaps one of the most typical characteristics of catfishing is that scammers do not like anything other than texting. You may get a lot of excuses as to why they do not prefer other forms of communication. Two of the excuses are usually shyness and poor internet connection. However, before you fall for that, try to insist on the following:
Insist on video calls. To ensure you communicate with a genuine person, insist that you see them on a video call. They are probably luring you into a bad deal if they don't agree to this. However, if they agree, check the photos and videos they use online against what you see and confirm if it's the same person. They are most likely catfishing you if there are major inconsistencies in physical appearance.
Meet-ups are a very straightforward way to confirm someone's real identity. However, things can easily go south, so be sure to meet at a safe and public place. Confirm their offline identity against their online identity and ask them questions to check for inconsistencies.
2. Do a background check
It may seem obvious, but the reason why some people still get duped online is because they do not do background checks. Here are some quick background check techniques:
- Use reverse search websites like Google Reverse Image Search to check if the images posted are stolen or authentic.
- Use people search sites to get more information about the person you are talking to and confirm if they are really who they say they are. Such sites also keep information about people’s criminal backgrounds and other records, so if you conduct a background check on a person, you will know if they had/have any legal issues.
You can also try googling the people who are trying to interact with you to see if they are mentioned in any articles about catfishing or other fraudulent activities.
3. Be extra careful
It is always better to be safe than sorry. Consider the possible damages a catfishing attempt can cause: emotional trauma, loss of money, sextortion, and even reputation damage. The stakes are so high; therefore, always act strategically when dealing with a stranger.
Don’t trust until you are sure
Be strict about getting to know someone first before sharing too much. Approach every online conversation with caution. Do not be quick to do as the stranger says. Take your time to think about what you are about to do. You can seek guidance from friends and family or testimonials from people who have been through a similar situation before.
Don’t fall for fake accounts
Do not be quick to accept social media requests from so-called “celebrity accounts”. Slow down before engaging with them. Instead, check for their verification mark, which is pretty standard for public figures on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and TikTok. They are most likely using a stolen identity if they don’t have a blue tick, and you may be dealing with a fraudster. If you receive messages from “Justin Bieber” who doesn’t have a blue tick, you are 100% getting scammed.
Don’t trust strangers
Treat every stranger on social media with suspicion. If a stranger initiates a conversation, remember that they can pose a risk to you and the data you may share with them. Therefore, act with utmost caution.
As a rule of thumb, never share personal information with strangers. If a stranger is acting too suspiciously and you don’t feel like trusting them, ask for their phone number. If they send it, head to PhoneHistory to compare the details with the ones provided on social media. If there are too many mismatches, don’t engage in further conversation with the person. Just block them. If they keep bothering you from other accounts, report these accounts to the platform you are on.
4. Manage your social media settings
Making your profile private can help safeguard your information from a scammer. In that case, no one can download your profile picture to trick other users. Also, this would make it difficult for fraudsters to target you online.
Make sure only people you know have the privilege to engage with you easily online. Making your account private is especially necessary if you are facing too many scammers. They may have their own group chats where they send profiles of people to scam, and that is why more than one scammer is sending you messages.
If you suspect someone of malice, stop texting them, report them to the platform's admins, and block them. Even though using someone else's profile pictures isn't illegal, if they do that to harass and bully you intentionally, you can file a lawsuit.
5. Trust your intuition
If "Mark Zuckerberg" sent you a friend request on Facebook and ironically started asking you for money, you'd be stupid to think it is really him. What is surprising is that many people are falling for this. Do not ignore your inner voice when you tenaciously suspect a person of pretending someone else.
Here are some common red flags you should pay attention to:
- A person dreads face-to-face meetings, video calls, or just regular phone calls;
- They have few friends or followers, very few (mostly recent) posts;
- No interaction with family or friends. For example, no birthday wishes;
- Professing love for you quickly;
- No mutual friends;
- New account;
- Asking for money;
- Stolen photos and videos.
Social media has been a great tool for keeping in touch with friends and family, socializing, and meeting new people. However, catfishing has become a worrying trend on all platforms. The ease of creating an account and customizing a profile makes it easier for people to create false personas and use them maliciously against other users.
Due to the severe consequences of catfishing, it is essential to be vigilant and protect yourself against any attempts. The easiest way to do this is to never trust online strangers and avoid sharing confidential details. Also, don't engage with people who won't agree to a face-to-face meeting or video call.