How to Spot a Catfish. 3 Telltale Signs Someone’s Photos Aren’t Real

What is a catfish?

The term “catfish” is slang referring to someone who creates a false online identity or persona in order to deceive or scam others, often for romantic or financial reasons. The term originated from the 2010 documentary film Catfish, which followed a man who discovered the woman he had fallen in love with online was not who she claimed to be. According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of catfish is “someone who sets up a false personal profile on a social networking site for fraudulent or deceptive purposes.”

In the context of online dating, romance scams, and social media, a catfish is someone who uses someone else’s photos and pretends to be someone else to create a fake identity, usually to pursue online romantic relationships. Catfish fabricate their appearance, lifestyle, interests, accomplishments, friends, family, age, etc. to seem more attractive or interesting. Their main motivation is often to manipulate people into emotional or financial relationships. Essentially, a catfish is an internet imposter spinning lies and false information to hook victims into online relationships or scams.

Common motivations

Catfishing refers to when someone creates a fake online dating profile or social media account to deceive others. Why do people catfish? There are several common motivations behind this behavior:

Low self-esteem – People with low self-confidence may create an idealized version of themselves online to feel validated. Catfishing allows them to escape their own self-perception and inhabit the identity of someone more desirable or interesting (Source).

Lack of self-identity – Some catfish assume fake personas because they struggle to establish a sense of self. Crafting another identity online allows them to experiment and find a personality they feel comfortable in (Source).

Narcissism – Catfish tend to exhibit higher levels of narcissism and over-inflated egos. Creating an impressive online profile satisfies their need for validation and attention from others (Source).

Escapism – For some, catfishing provides an escape from real life problems, trauma, or mental health issues. Assuming another identity allows them to leave their struggles behind.

Overall, catfishing stems from a desire to fill a void within oneself or cope with emotional distress. It provides a perceived sense of control and allows catfish to inhabit an idealized persona that boosts their self-worth.

Warning signs

Some potential red flags that may indicate you are being catfished include:

  • They avoid phone or video calls, or always have excuses why their camera doesn’t work (Source)
  • Their online persona doesn’t match details they’ve shared in conversation, like their job or where they live (Source)
  • They have relatively few social media connections, friends, or followers
  • Parts of their story don’t add up or seem inconsistent
  • They are reluctant to meet in person and always have an excuse
  • They get defensive or avoidant when asked normal probing questions
  • They seem too perfect, sharing only positive aspects of their life
  • They ask inappropriate personal questions very early on
  • They urgently want to leave the dating app to communicate directly

Trust your instincts if something feels off or suspicious about the person’s behavior or story. Many small inconsistencies can be red flags you are dealing with a catfish.

Image reverse search

One of the best ways to check if a photo is stolen is by doing a reverse image search using Google Images or other services. This allows you to take the profile picture or any photos shared by the person and search to see if they appear elsewhere online.

To do a reverse image search in Google Images, go to, click the camera icon, then either paste the image URL or upload the photo directly. Google will then search to see if it can find matches to that image anywhere on the web.

According to SocialCatfish, reverse image searches are helpful for finding the original source of a profile picture and seeing if it’s associated with another name or profile. This can reveal when someone is using fake or stolen photos.

Other reverse image search engines like also allow searching photos to uncover catfishes using stolen images. These services can complement Google’s reverse image capabilities.

If the photo appears elsewhere attached to a different name or profile, that’s a red flag the person may be using stock photos or stolen images and could be a catfish.


One of the best ways to spot a potential catfish is to look for inconsistencies in the details they provide. This could include contradictions in information they’ve shared over time, such as their job, location, age, interests, or details about family and friends. Catfish often struggle to keep all their lies straight.

For example, according to one analysis on Quora, someone claiming to be from California but using photos with European architecture in the background is a red flag [1]. Or they might claim to be a doctor but show a limited understanding of the field when asked follow-up questions.

Pay attention if small details about their life seem to change frequently. Real people tend to have a relatively consistent personal narrative over time. Drastic shifts in jobs, locations, or relationship status can indicate someone struggling to keep their story believable.

It’s also telling if the photos they send don’t match the person described. For example, photos that appear to be from different people or heavily edited and filteredraise suspicions. Or photos that don’t match someone who claims to be a professional athlete or model.

Look for a pattern of evasiveness around answering questions or providing additional proof of identity. Most people have no problem clarifying uncertainties, while catfish will dodge and distract.

Social media

Looking up a person’s social media profiles can provide valuable clues about whether they are legitimate or potentially catfishing you. Social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter allow you to search for users by name and location. Spend time browsing through photos, posts, friends lists, and biographical info on any profiles you find to look for red flags. Some suspicious signs include:

  • Very few friends, posts, or followers
  • Friends lists filled with strangers or bots
  • Profile seems too perfectly curated, with no candid photos
  • Location, job, education don’t match up with other details
  • Photos are inconsistent, heavily filtered, or taken from modeling accounts

You can also do reverse image searches on any profile pictures to see if they are taken from somewhere else online. Check that captions and stories match up with the photos shown. Look for multiple social media accounts with similar names that could indicate an imposter. Spend time vetting any matches across platforms to confirm they are presenting an authentic persona online before trusting them.


Video chat

One of the best ways to avoid getting catfished is to insist on video chatting early on in an online relationship to confirm the other person’s identity. According to a Quora post, refusing to video chat can be a major red flag that the person may be a catfish or scammer. A post on also recommends looking out for people who make excuses to avoid video chatting as a warning sign of catfishing.

Insist on seeing the person live on video chat before getting invested in the relationship. This allows you to confirm their identity and appearance. According to a Reddit thread in the Catfish subreddit, refusing video chat is one of the clearest signs someone may be catfishing you. Don’t let things progress too far until you video chat and verify who you are really talking to.

Background checks

One way to verify if someone is legitimate is to conduct an online background check. There are services such as Social Catfish that offer background checks and allow you to search public records to confirm details about a person’s identity, location, marriage status, criminal history, and more. While background checks used to be available mainly to employers or government agencies, many services now offer personal background checks to verify information about people you meet online.

Conducting a comprehensive background check can uncover inconsistencies, red flags, or dealbreakers. It allows you to confirm details independently rather than relying solely on what someone shares. However, background checks also have limitations, so they should be used as one tool rather than the sole factor in determining if someone is legitimate.

Trust your instincts

One of the most important signs that you are being catfished is if your gut is telling you something seems off. Many victims recall having an uneasy feeling early on in the relationship. According to Reddit users on r/catfish, always trust your intuition if something feels wrong. The catfisher may seem too good to be true, sharing stories about an amazing career or lavish lifestyle that raise suspicion. Listen to your common sense if parts of their story don’t add up or if their behavior seems inconsistent. According to Teen Vogue, don’t be afraid to trust your intuition – if something feels like a catfish, it very well may be. Insider recommends listening to your gut as well, noting that many people tend to ignore the warning signs. When in doubt, your instincts are often correct.

What to do

If you discover you are being catfished, here are some steps you can take:

Confront the catfish. Politely message them that you know they are not who they say they are and ask them to come clean. Give them a chance to explain themselves before taking further action. If they admit to catfishing, ask them to delete all of your photos and conversations.

Report the catfish. You can report them on the platform you met them (e.g. Facebook, Instagram, dating apps, etc.) so the platform can investigate and suspend the account. You can also file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at to report fraud and cybercrimes.

Collect evidence. Take screenshots of their profile and your conversations in case you need to provide proof later on. Images can help support your case when reporting the catfish.

Cut off contact completely. Block their accounts on all platforms you’re connected, and do not respond to any attempts by them to contact you. Deleting their number and messages will help you move on.

Seek support. Confide in a trusted friend or family member for emotional support. You may also find counseling helpful to process the betrayal you feel and regain trust in others.

Be vigilant going forward. Learn from this experience and keep your guard up when meeting people online. Conduct video chats and reverse image searches to confirm someone is who they claim to be.

Forgive yourself. Catfishing victims are often targeted for their vulnerabilities. Remember that their deception is not your fault.

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