What is catfishing?
Catfishing (also known as “catphishing”) refers to the act of a person – perhaps a cybercriminal – creating a fake personality and using fake pictures to con you into some sort of relationship online.
The ultimate goal being only to steal your money or your identity.
How do you become a victim of catfishing?
If you’ve spent any time on a social networking site such as Twitter or Facebook, you may have encountered someone whose story and conversation seem too good to be true.
They might hook you with romantic conversations or offers that seem beyond amazing.
And what they’re feeding you is, indeed, not true.
Catfishers befriend you by pretending to have a common interest or by pretending to need your help.
Perhaps they even offer you a job that you feel is so good, you can’t turn it down.
As part of their fraud, a cybercriminal might create a number of accounts on social media networks.
They could use stock art photos or even steal a real person’s photos to use as their own.
Once a relationship has been established, the catfish then moves in.
If they’ve convinced their targeted victim to accept a “job,” the victim may hand over his or her financial information, such as a bank account number or a Social Security Number.
They may also use sympathy to garner private data or money.
Some catfish claim they’re in trouble and need financial assistance, and because the victim feels they have a true relationship with the catfish, they provide money or other things.
One well-publicized case of catfishing involved a mother and daughter who took thousands of dollars from victims when they claimed they were soldiers in Afghanistan.
The said they needed financial assistance.
Methods used in this form of exploitation vary from criminal to criminal and victim to victim.
How to protect against catfishing
When using social media sites or dating sites, trust your instincts.
If someone is willing to jump right into an online relationship, approach with caution.
Look for inconsistencies in stories presented by those you meet online.
Often, when pressed for information or specifics, catfish create excuses or respond with another lie.
For instance, when asked to meet through an Internet video program like Skype, or to talk on the phone or through text message, a catfish might be reluctant.
One option might be to use Google’s image search features.
With Google, users can upload an image or a link to a picture to search for similar photographs.
That might help you determine whether the person you’ve met online is using the same photo for multiple identities and accounts, or perhaps stole the photo from someone else.
Another red flag is the number of followers or friends the person has on a network like Facebook or Twitter.
Do they have a large number of interactions?
Do their friends appear to know them, and do they seem to live in the same area?
Do they interact with public posts, or do they appear to never post?
And in the end, think twice before giving any sensitive information to anyone, no matter how much you think you know them.
Once you’ve given someone money, your username or password, a bank account number, a Social Security Number, or any other information, you risk being the victim of theft.