What Is Catfishing? Its Evolution, Signs, and Motives

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what is catfishing

Falling in love is exciting, but it can also be overwhelming. Our natural lie detectors may not be at their best when we start feeling that high after meeting someone new who has us fantasizing about a future together. 

Instead of rational thinking, the butterflies and goofy giggles take over. While that feeling can be intoxicating, it can also leave us vulnerable to some unwanted situations.  

Let’s say you meet and fall for a person online. You’ve never met them in real life, but your online conversations feel easy and comfortable. 

You would think you’ve struck online dating gold, but is it too good to be true? 

Because… apart from their photos, you don’t really know whether their identity is false or not. Is the connection real? Are you being catfished?

We’re going ahead of ourselves; what is catfishing? What are the red flags in a catfishing relationship? 

Let’s answer all these questions and others about false identities in the cyber world.

What is catfishing?

With easy access to the internet, the world has gotten smaller. Some dating apps even give users the option to “go global” when searching for new mates—our dating options are no longer limited to where we live. 

While that can be exciting and give access to new people, cultures, and views, it also creates the perfect conditions for catfishing. And, no, this type of fishing doesn’t require the usual hunting tools and bait. 

Catfishing is the act of falsifying one’s identity online. This is done by taking photos from the internet and using them as your own on a dating site or social media. It’s usually done to have (false) romantic relationships in which the perpetrator gains something – money or maybe even revenge. 

Catfishing is the act of falsifying one’s identity online

The evolution of catfishing

How did it all begin? Catfishing has been around for over a decade now. You may know someone who’s been catfished, or you could have even been catfished yourself. 

If neither has happened to you, then you’ve certainly seen at least one show documenting crafty catfishing tactics or the catfish victims’ naivety. 

Well, you might also be oblivious to everything catfishing-related. If that is the case, then here’s a bit of catfishing history. 

How did catfishing start?

Well, as long as there’s been the internet, there’s been catfishing. 

The anonymity of the internet has lent itself to a catfishing culture. Of course, for every terrible catfishing story you hear, there’s probably another fairy tale internet love story -started with some romantic emojis or a sassy GIF. 

The term “catfishing” started in 2010 with the popular documentary about a man, Nev Schulman, who’d been catfished. He thought he’d been speaking with a 19-year-old from the midwest, but he’d actually been chatting with a 40-year-old housewife. He then went on to host the popular MTV series Catfish which documented various catfishing incidents being revealed. 

Since then, we’ve seen some very public catfishing scandals. Manti Te’o’s very public, fake, dead girlfriend hoax blew up in 2012, changing the course of his professional football career. Just recently, Netflix released an episode on the whole cringe-worthy catastrophe on Untold

At the time of the incident, however, the term “catfishing” was basically unknown and rarely used. 

Back then, catfishing was this mysterious and elusive thing—not a scam to be on the lookout for when getting to know new people online. 

How has catfishing progressed?

On the positive side of things, most of us are now aware of catfishing. Theoretically, that means that we can now be on the lookout for signs of catfishing (we’ll get into some later) when we meet new people and start new relationships online. 

However, as people get more comfortable doing everything from paying bills to starting romances online, catfishing will also become more sophisticated. 

We’re all getting better at this thing called technology. So, it makes sense that those people who are using the internet for malicious purposes are also getting savvier. 

Catfishing today is still pretty similar to when it started. There are just many more platforms from which it can happen. 

You may notice certain apps that urge users to get verified or other secure identity strategies to protect their users from catfishing scams. This will likely become more and more normalized as time goes on. 

What does catfishing mean in the world of online dating?

Man wearing a mask holding sunflowers
Man wearing a mask holding sunflowers.

Online dating apps are prime places for catfishing. However, that doesn’t mean you should be discouraged from using dating apps altogether. 

Finding someone who is single and not on any dating apps is like finding a unicorn nowadays. Dating apps have become a way of life and one of the main ways to meet romantic partners. 

Understanding what catfishing means and being aware of it when forming relationships online is the first step. You can proceed with caution. There will be certain signs that should set off your “catfishing alerts.” 

When dating online, have fun and be open to meeting new people. But, keep in mind some signs of catfishing to avoid a potentially traumatic situation.

6 Signs of Catfishing 

While catfishing is most prevalent on dating sites, it can also happen on social media accounts or other platforms. Normally, catfishing involves a romantic relationship, but it can also be done through friendships. 

So, even if you’re not single and out there in the online dating world, it’s still important to be aware of the signs of fishy online behavior. After all, you don’t want to fall prey to catfishing.

What are some common signs of catfishing?

Things move quickly 

Have you just started talking to someone online and they’ve already declared you to be their perfect match? Get suspicious. 

Someone who is catfishing you will want to move the romance and intensity of the relationship along quickly. While you may be searching for connections on these online dating apps, keep an eye out for fraudulent feelings. 

Woman staying up late chatting with a guy she hardly knew
Woman staying up late chatting with a guy she hardly knew.

There’s drama

Remember our football star, Mani Te’o? His online girlfriend first almost died in a car crash, then came back from life support after hearing his voice on the phone, and was later diagnosed with leukemia. 

Also, she came back from the dead: a death that she had to fake because she’d gotten into “some trouble.”

Sounds like some crazy, elaborate popcorn-popping drama, right? It was. 

The documentary was riveting. But, that’s pretty typical in the world of catfishing. Not necessarily that sequence of events exactly, but something similar. 

Catfishing will likely involve elaborate stories and dramatic excuses or incidents. Someone who is catfishing will likely create some sort of traumatic background or scenario to try to gain your trust and empathy. 

So, if it seems too dramatic, get out of that chat. 

You never video chat or meet up

Dating apps do now give their users the option to expand their options to other geographical areas. While it may be cool to chat with someone across the world, distance is also a prime factor in catfishing. 

The person catfishing needs an excuse to not meet up, right? What’s a better excuse than being thousands of miles away? 

OK, no problem. The witty online dater knows that distance relationships can work with some video chatting. If the person you’re chatting with doesn’t want to video chat, showing their face clearly on the screen, then that’s a reason to get suspicious about the interaction. 

If you’re open to an online romance where an in-person meeting may not be feasible for a little while, then at least get verification via live video chat. Someone who is catfishing will always have a “bad connection,” “broken screen,” or “be busy.” 

Too many excuses to stay invisible should raise some red flags. 

They ask for something

This isn’t always the case. As a former binger of the series Catfish, I can tell you that sometimes people are just looking for some sort of connection. 

Maybe they don’t feel like they fit in in their day-to-day lives or they feel more comfortable in an anonymous online forum. Whatever the reason, sometimes there is a genuine, pull-at-the-heart strings story to catfishing. 

And then other times it’s a total scam where they are asking you for money. If they’re asking you for money with an elaborate, dramatic backstory, then that’s a big red flag. 

Generally, anyone asking you to send money or do some sort of favor that costs you via the internet, without ever having met, is likely catfishing. 

Asking money

Inconsistent social media presence

Did his or her social media account appear just last year? Or within the last few months? Are there no other traces of them before that one account?

Yes, a new social media account can be a sign of someone rebranding themselves. But, it can also be a sign of catfishing. 

Other things to look out for on social media are inconsistent posts or few friends. 

Alright, I can be sporadic on social media too. I occasionally post my beach sunsets and then go silent for a month, claiming a social media cleanse. If you have the same toxic social media relationship, then you may relate to that narrative.

 But, we aren’t catfishing, of course. So, how can we fish out a catfish based on social media presence?

Inconsistent social media presence, combined with some of our other signs, should set off catfishing sirens. 

Something feels off

Maybe you’re new to the online dating world. Or maybe you’ve been on and off online dating on every app since they started many years ago. Either way, you probably have some gut instincts. 

If something feels strange, then it probably is. Are their stories not lining up? Does it feel like this person is rushing things along in a manipulative manner? 

Some catfishing is elaborate and impressive, but there are ways to see what’s happening. There’s no better time to trust your instincts—and a bit of paranoia. 

You may not want to be skeptical of every new person you meet online, because let’s face it, that would be exhausting. But if you notice one or more of the former signs mentioned, then stay on high alert. If this person refuses to be seen and is asking for money, get out of the situation immediately. 

Why would someone catfish?

Oftentimes, when watching these tantalizing documentaries or series about catfishing, you empathize with the person doing the catfishing: someone who is clearly lost and just looking for human connection. But most of them make the perfect villains and are easy to dislike. 

But, there are many reasons why someone would resort to catfishing. We know every time of the year could be a catfishing season, so what exactly would motivate someone to do some catfishing? 

Why would someone catfish

Low self-esteem

Creating a fake identity online by using someone else’s photos, sounds to me like a scam for money, or a plea for some sort of attention by someone insecure in their own skin. 

Low self-esteem, and even anxiety and depression, are things that may lead someone to do some catfishing. 

Essentially, catfishing is creating an alternative reality, one in which you’re the puppet master. It’s a manipulative game for sure, but some people who are catfishing are just looking for attention, connection, or maybe even love that they feel like they can’t receive in their real life. 

Exploring their sexual identity

This one seems to come up often in catfishing. People who are unsure of or want to explore their sexual identity may feel compelled to do so in a secretive manner, hence, creating an online persona to pursue new romantic relationships. 

While there may be no malicious intent behind their actions, only curiosity to explore a new sexual identity, catfishing does damage other people. It is a traumatic experience to go through. 

However, the anonymity of the internet, dating apps, and digital areas have made it an easy way to pretend to be someone you aren’t quite ready to be in your daily life. 

Revenge or money scams

Sounds sinister, doesn’t it? But there have been catfishing cases where the main motivator was revenge. 

I’ve read stories of catfishing where someone is catfishing an ex or someone who, in their opinion, betrayed them gravely for years. I know, quite the long game when it comes to getting revenge, but it happens. 

Someone may also be catfishing solely for money. They could be a con artist just looking for their next payday. 

Wrapping up: catfishing is here to stay

Unfortunately, with all the benefits that the internet has brought to our present lives, it’s also brought catfishing. 

As long as the internet exists, there will also be people creating fake online accounts. So, catfishing isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. 

That doesn’t mean you should steer clear of dating apps or social media. You just need to be aware of fishy behavior. 

Be open to creating romantic relationships, but keep an eye out for some common catfishing tactics. 

When in doubt, ask to meet in person and in public. If they start making excuses, then it’s time to move on to the next person. 

So, while I’m hoping you find true love on those dating apps, keep an eye out for obvious and hidden red flags so you don’t fall victim to a catfishing scam. 

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AUTHOR

Sarah is a writer at Flingorlove.com. While she enjoys writing on a variety of topics, her favorite is dating and relationships. She’s curious about dating trends and how they continuously evolve. When dating gets hard, she likes to find humor and reason in the situations that she affronts. Through a combination of personal experience and research, Sarah loves connecting with readers through her pieces on their shared dating experiences.