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Help, I have been Catfished!

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Cybertrace Team

July 4, 2022 · 7 min read

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Being catfished is truly one of the worst feelings, whether it’s via social media or a dating app. Realising that you fell for a fake version of someone, trusted them and ended up with a broken heart and/or an empty wallet is genuinely awful. But what motivates catfishers to inflict harm on their victims? How do they pull off their deception? And, most importantly, what can you do to reclaim your dignity and agency? This article will take you through the history of catfishing, looking at the motivations of perpetrators and its impacts on victims. Most importantly, though, it’ll help you identify the danger signs and give you an excellent resource: Cybertrace’s online dating investigations. With our experienced investigators by your side, turn the tables on catfishers. Contact us today to find out how we can help you expose these liars and crooks.

So What is Catfishing?

According to the eSafety Commissioner, catfishing describes the creation of a fake online identity in order to deceive another person. This  is usually achieved via a dating app or social media, but occasionally via communication platforms such as WhatsApp. Perpetrators do it for a variety of reasons, and the impact on victims is substantial. While the practice has been around for a long time, the term was coined by the eponymous 2010 documentary Catfish. It was further popularized by the MTV series by the same name, which premiered in 2012. Of course, its arrival also coincided with the rise of social media and, in particular, dating apps. Since the advent of Facebook, Instagram and Tinder, the world of friendship and dating has undergone massive changes over the past decade. While this has enabled more potential connections than ever at one’s fingertips, it also opened the doors to con artists. Unfortunately, with plenty of fish in the sea, the risk of getting catfished increases substantially!

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What are the Impacts of Getting Catfished?

The biggest impact of catfishing is on victims’ mental health. Having others betray your trust, especially when you were emotionally invested in them, feels dreadful. People who have been catfished find it hard to trust again, which can impact their other relationships. In addition, they may also feel regret and embarrassment for falling for and getting attached to a fake person. This can lead to self-doubt and a loss of confidence in one’s own intuition and discernment. For some victims, it may even be worse. For one, the catfisher may have swindled them out of their money through a despicable process known as romance baiting. In other cases, the perpetrator may have convinced the victim to send nudes or explicit images. The sense of betrayal here is even deeper, as is the fear of sextortion or revenge porn. For some victims, more serious anxiety disorders or depression can ensue.

Why do People Catfish?

Reasons for catfishing vary substantially, from the devious to the mundane. First of all, there are the scammers who seek to steal victims’ money. Drawing on the heart strings of their targets, they ask for cash to cover for some “emergency”. Alternatively, perpetrators will try to lure matches or friends into lucrative-sounding but ultimately fake investment schemes via romance baiting. Other catfishers are motivated by revenge or the belief that their victims deserve to be treated contemptuously. They may be a bitter ex, a jealous colleague or a celebrity-obsessed “fan”. Other offenders don’t know their victims but enjoy trolling others under the cover of anonymity, sometimes even out of boredom. Finally, culprits might catfish on dating apps because they feel insecure about themselves or are fearful to openly explore their sexual preferences. It is no excuse – being catfished is awful for victims – but catfishing isn’t always done in order to cause harm.

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How do Catfishers Operate?

While catfishers angle for various reasons, their modus operandi is very similar. At first, it usually involves creating a social media/dating app profile that simply seems too good to be true. Not only is the catfisher typically very handsome, but they also have an exciting and meaningful job, a heartbreaking backstory, do charitable work and are frequently off on thrilling adventures around the world. They may use their own photos and a fake name on profiles or, more commonly, simply steal those of others. Next, if you friend/match with them, you suddenly have a surprising number of things in common! Their interests just so happen to mirror your own, which can feel exciting and reassuring. But really, you are just getting catfished!

To seal the deal, catfishers often engage in a process known as lovebombing: showering their victim with affection. Bypassing their rational defences and gaining their trust, the catfished thus fall for an imaginary person they have never met. Once they have hooked their prey, catfishers will continue feeding them love bait to stoke their infatuation. At the same time, they are mysteriously never able to video-chat or meet in person. Something – unexpected work trips, sick relatives, communication malfunction – always gets in the way!

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Warning Signs

This last point brings us to the most important red flags to watch out for. If a match can’t or won’t video-chat, snapchat or meet with you in person, chances are you are being catfished. Catfishers don’t want their house of cards to come tumbling down, so they will come up with any excuse. They might not be able to video-call because their webcam is broken or they suddenly have bad mobile service. Alternatively, they might set up an in-person meeting but then bail at the last minute. Other potential signs are no (or only recently created) accounts on other socials, very few friends/followers and/or only professional-looking photos. Requests for money, nude photos or explicit videos are huge red flags, especially if you have never met in person. While not wanting to dampen anyone’s enthusiasm for online relationships, it certainly pays to ask questions and do frequent reverse image searches!

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What Can You do if You Have Been Catfished?

First off, make sure you get the support of real-life friends and family who you know will have your back. Rebuilding your trust and confidence takes time, so be kind to yourself and avail yourself of whatever help you need. Additionally, report the catfisher to social media/dating app platforms and, if fraud or revenge porn are involved, the police. This will hopefully stop others being catfished. If you want to go further and unmask the perpetrator, contact Cybertrace today to discuss how we can help.

Our investigators gather in-depth information across multiple platforms, conduct extensive background checks and trace messages back to their original sources. As a leader in the field of social media and online dating investigations, Cybertrace uses a combination of technical investigative techniques to uncover the truth. This includes comparing published content and writing styles of individuals to reveal the identity behind fake or anonymous profiles. Cybertrace has also developed its own highly specialised tools with the capability to deploy through various social media platforms to extract user information, such as an IP address. No other investigators use these devices and the social engineering our investigators deploy to trap trolls, cheaters, harassers, and scammers. As our Google Reviews attest, our clients value the outcomes we provide. Get in touch with us today to discuss your case.

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