Are You Being Catfished? 5 Red Flags to Watch Out For

What is catfishing?

Catfishing refers to the act of creating a fake online identity, typically on social media platforms, in order to trick or deceive someone. The term was first coined in the 2010 documentary Catfish, which followed a man who carried on an online relationship with a woman who was not who she claimed to be. According to Wikipedia, “Catfishing refers to the creation of a fictitious online persona or fake identity (typically on social networking platforms), commonly with malicious intent.”

The motivations behind catfishing can vary, but often involve establishing a romantic relationship under false pretenses. Catfish will use someone else’s photos and fabricate life details to create an attractive persona online. This allows them to connect deeply with another person without having to reveal their true identity. According to Teen Vogue, “The catfished meaning is the act of creating a false identity in order to lure people into relationships, whether romantic, platonic, or even just based on mutual interests.”

While the term originated in relation to online dating, catfishing can occur in many online spaces where people connect without meeting face-to-face. The prevalence of social media has made it increasingly easy for catfish to find photos and information to create fake identities.

Common signs you may be getting catfished

One of the most obvious signs you may be getting catfished is if the person refuses or makes excuses to not video chat with you. According to Teen Vogue, catfishers will avoid live video because it makes their scam harder to pull off. If they keep saying their camera is broken or they don’t have the technology to video chat, it could be a red flag.

Another sign is if their stories don’t add up or they get caught in small lies. As Insider reports, inconsistencies in details about their life, family, or work may indicate they are fabricating an identity. Pay attention if they mix up facts or seem to avoid answering simple questions about their background or daily routine.

You should also be suspicious if they refuse to meet in person, give excuses why they can’t, or frequently cancel planned meetups. While not meeting right away is normal, if it goes on for months with no plans to meet that could be a warning sign according to Teen Vogue.

Reverse image search profile pictures

One of the best ways to check if someone is using fake or stolen photos is to reverse image search their profile pictures. You can do this quickly and easily using Google’s reverse image search.

To reverse image search on Google, go to and either paste the link to the image you want to search or upload the image file directly. Google will then search the web for matching images and show you any other places that same photo appears.

If the photo shows up on many other sites or profiles belonging to different people, that’s a red flag that the image may be stolen. According to a guide on SocialCatfish, reverse image searching profile pics is one of the best ways to uncover catfishing attempts and fake accounts.

You can also drag and drop any image directly into the Google Images search bar to start a reverse image lookup. This allows you to easily check any photo you come across to see if it’s associated with multiple online identities.

While not definitive proof on its own, reverse image searching gives you an efficient way to detect possibly stolen or misleading photos. It’s an important initial check to uncover whether you may be getting catfished. If the reverse search turns up multiple matches, proceed with further verification steps.

Ask questions and look for inconsistencies

One of the best ways to spot a catfish is to ask a lot of questions about their life and see if their stories add up over time. Ask for specifics about where they went to school, where they work, names of family members, etc. according to this source. If they are vague, inconsistent, or refuse to give details, it could be a red flag. Keep a record of their responses and look for contradictions. An honest person’s story will remain consistent, while a catfish may fail to remember lies they’ve told before. Push for details like addresses, names, and dates that you can verify later. Ask open-ended follow up questions if they do share specifics to go deeper. A catfish will not be able to keep up lies indefinitely when probed for details repeatedly over time.

Do a social media background check

One of the best ways to verify someone’s identity is to do a social media background check across multiple platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. Look for matching usernames, profile photos, biographical info, posts, and other details across their various social media accounts. This can help confirm that the person portrays themselves consistently across their digital footprint, and that accounts weren’t created recently or just for catfishing purposes. According to, reverse image searching profile pictures can also uncover other accounts that may belong to the same person. Matching social media accounts with consistent personal details make it much more likely the person is who they claim to be online.

Research phone numbers and emails

One way to uncover potential red flags is to research any phone numbers or email addresses the person has given you. Look up the phone number’s area code and see if it matches the location they claim to be from. You can use free online services like Social Catfish to perform a reverse phone lookup.

Similarly, pay attention to the domain on any email addresses they use. If the domain doesn’t match their supposed name or location, that could be a warning sign. Do a reverse email lookup to uncover details about the owner of the email address. Be wary if the information doesn’t line up with what they’ve told you about themselves.

Consider running a background check

If you want to be absolutely sure the person is who they claim to be, consider using a professional background checking service. Paid services have access to more records and resources to uncover catfish scams. For example, Social Catfish offers various levels of background checks to verify identity, criminal records, marital status, and more. Other services like Brightswipe provide criminal record checks and social media screening. While not free, professional background checks can give you peace of mind about who you’re really talking to online.

Paid services can sometimes uncover catfish scams that you can’t find yourself through free searches. They have access to databases and legal records that a regular person doesn’t. If you have serious concerns or have become emotionally or financially invested in the person, it may be worth investing in a professional background check for confirmation. While not foolproof, they provide an extra layer of protection against being manipulated or catfished.

Protect your personal information

When getting to know someone online, it’s important not to give out any sensitive personal information until you fully trust them. Financial information like bank account numbers, social security numbers, credit card details should never be freely given, even to romantic prospects who seem legitimate. Be wary of requests for loans, investments, or transferring funds, as these are common tactics of romance scammers.

Beyond finances, avoid sharing details that could allow someone to steal your identity, like scanned identity documents or account passwords. Be cautious when asked for your full name, address, phone number, place of work, and other personally identifiable details. Do not send compromising photos of yourself. Catfishers may threaten to blackmail victims with sensitive details in order to continue their ruse.

Get to know someone very well before agreeing to meet in person, especially if it requires traveling or staying alone with them. When first meeting someone, do so in a public place and avoid giving your home address. Limit sharing details about family members or close friends. Essentially, treat personal information as confidential until you can confirm someone is who they claim to be. As the saying goes, trust needs to be earned.

While getting close to someone online can feel exciting, avoid the temptation to rush into sharing personal details, financial connections, or physical intimacy. Take precautions until you have thoroughly vetted their identity. With patience and caution, you can avoid relinquishing sensitive information to a potential catfisher.

Know the motivations behind catfishing

People catfish for a variety of reasons, some more nefarious than others. According to USA Today (, some of the top motivations for catfishing include:

Romance scams – Catfishers may pretend to be interested romantically to manipulate their victim into sending money or sharing personal information that can be used for identity theft.

Fake friendships – Some catfishers impersonate people online to form fake friendships and collect information to use against the victim. They may use this info for bullying or blackmail.

Stealing identities – Catfishers may steal someone’s identity by using their photos and info to create fake accounts. This can allow them to scam others while pretending to be someone else.

Living out fantasies – People may catfish to live out an idealized or fantasy version of themselves they feel unable to fulfill in real life. This allows them to experiment with different personalities.

Revenge – Catfishing may be used to get revenge on someone by spreading lies or manipulating their friends/family while posing as them online.

Understanding why someone might catfish can help determine if you are potentially being victimized and take steps to protect yourself.

What to do if you discover you are being catfished

If you determine you are being catfished, it’s important to take action to confront the catfisher, report fake accounts, and move forward safely. Here are some tips:

Confront the catfisher. Be direct and explain that you know they have been lying about their identity. Demand they come clean, then cease all communication. Don’t let them manipulate you or cause further harm.

Report fake accounts and photos. Social media sites and dating apps don’t allow fake profiles. Report them to get them taken down. Provide evidence like reverse image search results. This helps prevent the catfisher from victimizing others.

Talk to local authorities. Catfishing may cross legal lines like fraud or identity theft. Talk to your local police to file a report. They may investigate and pursue legal action, according to the Federal Trade Commission (

Seek support from loved ones. Don’t feel embarrassed—catfishers are skilled manipulators. Talk to trusted friends or family who can provide emotional support and reassurance it wasn’t your fault.

Take steps to move on safely. Reset passwords and opt out of location tracking on apps. Remove the catfisher from all social media and block their accounts. Focus on self-care and prioritize your mental health and wellbeing.

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