Teenagers use the Internet daily, which means they are more vulnerable to threats. A child’s instinct isn’t usually sharp enough to identify dangers online. And “Catfishing” is one such danger, wreaking havoc on unsuspecting victims.
What Is Catfishing?
Blank will likely be the look received when you ask most people to define catfishing. That’s because while it occurs quite often, many are still unaware.
The term “catfishing” came from a 2010 documentary about online fraud. It refers to the process of pretending to be someone else online. So you can consider anyone who does that a catfisher.
And it affects both parents and teens. Parents may experience financial loss, and children can develop mental illnesses. Plus, the problem is a huge one. Facebook estimates 5% of active accounts are fake profiles. That’s roughly over 145.6 million people considering it has 2.912 billion monthly active users.
But Facebook isn’t the only one with fake accounts. Other online platforms struggle with the same issue. Fake identities provide offenders with near-endless possibilities to trick the innocent.
Also worth noting is whenever people ask questions like what is a catfish person? The term refers to catfishers – a person pretending to be someone else online.
Who Can Catfish?
Anyone with access to online messaging and social media platforms can catfish. Catfishing is so easy to do, and even children can take part. Platform restrictions are easy to outsmart or bypass by just about anyone. People can pretend to be whoever online.
Where Are People Catfishing?
Catfishing is often associated with dating apps like Tinder and Grindr. The practice increases on these platforms because their purpose is to find love. However, catfishing is also very common on social media like Facebook and TikTok. Catfishers even seek victims in places, such as WhatsApp, Telegram, and WeChat.
People can catfish wherever there’s the capability to communicate with others online.
Why Are People Catfishing?
The reason people catfish isn’t fully understood. Sometimes intentions are innocent; other times, it’s malicious. Either way, catfishing generally comes with severe consequences for victims.
Some offenders catfish due to a lack of confidence. These people may feel being someone else will help remove their insecurities. Online predators catfish to gain something at the expense of the victim.
Overall, people catfish to lure others to accomplish something they want. It could be money, cyberbullying, sexual interactions, or illegal favors.
Catfishing For Monetary Reasons
More than 20,000 people reported being a victim of fraud related to romance or confidence in the USA. Additionally, confidence/romance frauds came second in monetary loss. Reported losses amounted to $600,249,821. This is all according to the FBI’s Internet Crime Report.
Catfishing For Cyberbullying
Teenagers usually catfish for cyberbullying purposes. They often do it to make fun of classmates or even friends. For example, making somebody believe in a romance and leak the conversations.
Catfishing To Engage in Sexual Interactions
Some people catfish to engage in sexual interactions not possible in healthier ways. For example, child predators use catfishing to identify and exploit children. They hide behind fake profile pictures and lovely messages to lure kids and get them to meet in person. This can lead to sexual abuse, kidnapping, and other dangerous situations.
Catfishing For Illegal Favors
People who participate in illegal activities look for fast and easy processes. Naturally, catfishing is a favorite tactic for many. Offenders can sweet-talk innocent teens into committing mutually beneficial crimes. These crimes may involve drugs, robberies, arms, and more.
What Is the Psychology Behind Catfishing?
The psychology behind catfishing entails a series of emotional experiences and traumas. One study found the motivation that fuels catfishers are emotional and psychological struggles. And all that might make you wonder if catfishing is a mental disorder?
But it’s not – partly because not enough research exists about the phenomenon. Although in the same study, 41% of participants attributed their behavior to loneliness. And one-third catfished because of low self-esteem.
What Are the Signs of Catfishing?
There are several ways to identify catfishers online. These people usually follow a similar pattern. Look for the following signs to identify and report catfisher accounts.
1. Catfishers Avoid Face-To-Face Communication
The whole essence of catfishing is hiding a real identity. So catfishers avoid any interaction that can expose their real faces and personalities. If the person is reluctant to meet in person, your teen child might be dealing with a catfisher.
2. Catfishers Avoid Having Voice or Video Calls
Voice and video calls can easily expose the catfisher. So they avoid these things and might lie about the reasons. For example, the culprit may use excuses like being sick, busy or having issues with the camera.
3. Catfishing Accounts Rarely Change
Catfishers can’t risk discovery by being overly active on online platforms. Constantly uploading fake pictures, videos and posts are risky. So the person will typically avoid those things to prevent mistakes.
4. The Profile Picture Is Fake
Catfishers usually use pictures of models, artists, and good-looking people. They may even create a collage of photos that includes some local residents. The aim is to convince the target and evade suspicion completely.
5. Catfishers Don’t Have Many Followers and Friends
Catfishing accounts typically have very few followers. That’s because the offender doesn’t want others to suspect their intentions. They don’t befriend many people on social media to avoid recognition or investigation.
6. The Person Is Asking for Money
Catfishers can convince teens and other targets to send money through lying. For example, the person can fake assault to ask for monetary assistance. Playing the victim for pity and reward is common.
8. They Ask for Inappropriate Images
Predators look to engage in sexual interactions. They know how to earn trust and build relationships with teens fast. Once the relationship reaches an acceptable level of comfort, sexualization begins. The catfisher may request nude pictures through sexting, for example.
9. Catfishers Are Vague About Their Past and Present
One common characteristic among catfishers is sharing very little information. The person usually keeps their past and present private to avoid discovery. This keeps others from asking challenging questions.
10. Catfishers build Relationships Very Fast
These people move fast while ensuring the victim remains unsuspicious. It’s hard to believe a friend or someone you may know through others would betray you. Catfishers count on that to deceive people.
Examples Of Catfishing
Many people start dating life in their teen years. Around that time, they are malleable and easy to manipulate. For example, a predator could pretend to be a good-looking and sweet person. Then, make the victim fall in love and take advantage.
Other catfishers use friendship instead of romance. The goal, in this case, is usually extortion. Similarly, people employ catfishing to steal money from unsuspecting people. One example is what happened to nurse student Kaytlin Cupp. A Catfisher used her photos to lure victims into donating to an illegitimate charity.
Also, there’s Riley Basford, a 15-year-old who committed suicide. He was a catfish victim and blackmailed for $3,500 over personal photos. There are many more similar stories like these.
What Should A Teen Know to Avoid Being Catfished?
Besides knowing what is catfishing and explaining its signs, parents should provide children with safety tips. Some things your child should know include:
Never Start Relationships Online
Online communications remain the standard among teens. From text messages to social platforms and more, most prefer communicating online. But unfortunately, this raises the likelihood of being a victim. So encourage your teen to have more controlled in-person encounters.
Don’t Share Private Information
Let your child know the dangers of sharing information online. The moment private details get on the web, things can escalate. Cyberbullying and blackmailing are some examples of what may occur.
Don’t Send Any Pictures
Sharing personal or inappropriate pictures online is risky, even if sent to a friend. Teach your child to respect their privacy. Remind them that whatever gets online remains indefinitely, even if deleted.
Don’t Communicate with Someone Who Seems Off
Catfishers usually give off-vibes. For example, the person may rarely share information and never answer calls. Unfortunately, these are red flags that victims ignore. Teach your teen how to recognize such things.
What Can Parents Do to Ensure Their Child’s Safety Online?
Now that you comprehensively know the answer, if anyone ever asks, what is catfishing? It’s time for some tips to keep your children safe.
To help your teen stay safe, you can:
- Limit screen time and online presence to reduce risk.
- Occasionally search for your child’s name to see what pictures and sites turn up in search results. This can help you spot problems early.
- Change phone and social media accounts privacy settings. Doing so will provide some protection against some threats.
- Thoroughly explain how to be safe online. Talk to your kids about the dangers and ways to recognize catfishers.
- Install parental controls. MMGuardian can monitor text messages and certain popular social media communications. It can also send Safety Alerts to parents if texts indicate one of several risk categories. These include sexual grooming (predators), cyberbullying, drugs, violence, etc.
Online platforms have made it easy to carry out catfishing. Anyone can bypass most security features on these places. Predators use catfishing to attack teens (e.g., cyberbullying, sexual extortion, etc.). The good news is you can train your children to identify possible catfishers.
Plus, the police or anti-fraud center can respond to catfishing. Even if it isn’t illegal in your area, charges may still apply. Impersonation of another is a crime in many countries. Also, while catfishing is often associated with cybercrime, it isn’t one unless a crime occurs. For example, if defrauding another person or committing identity theft.
So technically, catfishing is illegal. It just depends on where you live and the intent. Catfishers can go to jail or prison for catfishing if caught.