Catfishing in 2023. Here to Stay or Fading Away?

What is Catfishing?

Catfishing refers to the act of creating a fake online identity or persona, typically for deceptive purposes. The term originated from the 2010 documentary film Catfish, which followed a man who discovered the woman he fell in love with online was not who she claimed to be [1]. The people who create these fictional identities are called “catfish.”

According to Wikipedia, catfishing involves using social media platforms to create false identities, often with the intent to defraud or mislead [1]. Catfish will use someone else’s photos and biographical information to build an elaborate fake persona online. They engage in online relationships under this false pretense. Their motivations range from seeking attention to committing financial fraud.

In summary, “catfishing” refers to the practice of assuming a fake identity online, usually to pursue deceptive relationships with other internet users.

History of Catfishing

The term “catfishing” was first coined in the 2010 documentary film Catfish, which followed photographer Nev Schulman as he discovered the woman he fell in love with online had actually constructed a false identity using someone else’s photos and videos. The woman who deceived Schulman was the inspiration for the term “catfishing”, as her husband explained that when cod were shipped long distances, fishermen put catfish in the tanks to keep the cod active. Similarly, the woman created a fictional identity to keep Schulman interested and engaged.

After the documentary premiered at Sundance and aired on MTV in 2010, “catfishing” entered mainstream use to describe luring someone into a relationship using a fake online persona. Some early high-profile cases of catfishing include former Notre Dame football star Manti Te’o, who believed he was in a relationship with a woman that did not actually exist. The show Catfish premiered on MTV in 2012 and increased public awareness of this type of deception.

Motivations Behind Catfishing

Catfishing often stems from loneliness or lack of fulfillment. According to Cybersmile, “The most common reason people will catfish others is a lack of confidence. If people aren’t happy with themselves, they feel that by being someone more ‘interesting’ or ‘attractive,’ they will gain the friendship/relationship they desire.”

Boredom can also motivate catfishing. Some people may create fake profiles just to pass time and live vicariously through a more exciting, fictional identity. According to an article by USA Today, catfishers might be motivated by “boredom, revenge or a desire for companionship, power or attention.”

Additionally, revenge is a driver of catfishing in some cases. People who have been rejected or hurt by others, especially past romantic partners, sometimes catfish to get back at the person who wronged them. Overall, catfishing stems from a desire for connection and fulfillment that the person feels unable to obtain truthfully as themselves.

How Common is Catfishing Today?

Catfishing remains a prevalent issue in the digital age. According to recent statistics, an estimated 20,000 people are catfished per year in the United States alone ( Additionally, a 2020 survey found that 41% of U.S. adults who use the internet have been victims of catfishing at some point (

The COVID-19 pandemic seems to have exacerbated the problem, with more people turning to online relationships during lockdowns and isolation. Perpetrators have taken advantage of loneliness and vulnerability. Furthermore, 18% of internet users between the ages of 16-24 reported experiencing catfishing in 2021 (

While the exact prevalence is difficult to pinpoint, it’s clear catfishing remains common today, especially among younger demographics. The anonymity and deception afforded by modern technology make catfishing an ongoing concern. However, awareness and preventative measures can help curb the troubling trend.

Impact of Dating Apps

The rise of dating apps like Tinder, Bumble, and Hinge have undoubtedly made it easier for people to connect online. However, these apps have also enabled more opportunities for catfishing. With dating apps, catfishers can easily create fake profiles using photos of attractive people they find online. They can then match with and message unsuspecting users without ever having to reveal their true identity.

Features like swiping and instant messaging on dating apps allow catfishers to cast a wide net and interact with many users quickly. And since dating app profiles typically contain very little verified personal information, it’s easy for catfishers to avoid getting caught in a lie early on. Apps also make it possible for catfishers to regularly engage someone in conversation without ever having to meet in person, sometimes carrying on the charade for months or years.

According to a Cyber Safe Girl article, an estimated 1 in 7 dating app accounts are fake. With so many users and loose identity verification, dating apps have unfortunately created a hotbed for manipulative catfishing behavior to thrive.

Catfishing Stories in Pop Culture

Catfishing has become so prevalent in recent years that it has inspired numerous TV shows, movies, books, and news stories. Some of the most well-known catfishing stories in pop culture include:

The 2010 documentary Catfish brought the concept of catfishing into the mainstream by chronicling photographer Nev Schulman’s online relationship with a woman who turned out to be using someone else’s identity. The film launched an MTV reality show called Catfish: The TV Show in 2012, which investigates suspicious online relationships.

The 2013 documentary Talhotblond depicted the twisted love triangle between Thomas Montgomery, his co-worker Jessi, and the fake online identity “talhotblond” created by Montgomery’s wife. The deceit led to murder.

Manti Te’o, a football player at Notre Dame, was the victim of an elaborate catfishing scheme in 2012 when he believed he was dating a woman named Lennay Kekua online. After her reported death, it was revealed she never existed.

The 2018 Netflix documentary The Tinder Swindler exposed scam artist Shimon Hayut who used Tinder to con various women out of millions of dollars by posing as a wealthy diamond mogul.

The 2021 film Catfish starring Max Joseph highlighted the dangers of catfishing by following a fictional story of an online romance gone wrong when identities were falsely portrayed.

Psychological Effects

Being catfished can have severe psychological effects on victims. It can damage their self-esteem and confidence, leaving them feeling betrayed, used, and emotionally violated ( The humiliation and shame associated with being duped can lead to feelings of low self-worth. Victims may develop trust issues after a catfishing incident, making it hard for them to form intimate connections in the future.

Getting catfished can also lead to symptoms of anxiety, depression, and loneliness. The loss of what victims thought was a real relationship can be devastating. Victims may blame themselves or feel like they should have known better. This self-blame can exacerbate mental health issues caused by the deception.

As for the catfishers themselves, their actions may stem from underlying mental health problems. According to research, catfishing can be a manifestation of loneliness, low self-esteem, or other psychological issues ( The anonymity and distance provided online may make it easier for struggling individuals to create fake personas. Though inexcusable, their behavior may come from an unhealthy need for connection and validation.

In severe cases, catfishing may verge into predatory behavior and emotional abuse. Skilled manipulators can keep up the ruse for years, causing extensive damage to victims. Seeking counseling and support is important for both catfish victims and perpetrators to process the trauma and change harmful patterns.

How to Spot a Catfish

There are several red flags that can indicate someone may be catfishing you. According to Wikihow, some signs to watch out for include:

– They are hesitant or refuse to video chat. Catfishers will avoid live video because it will reveal they are not who they claim to be.[1]

– Their profile seems too perfect. An overly romantic, exciting or successful life can indicate a fabricated identity.

– They make excuses for why they can’t meet up. Common excuses involve living overseas, traveling for work, or family obligations.

– They ask for financial help. Scamming money or gifts is a motivation for some catfishers.

– They avoid answering personal questions. Being evasive or inconsistent about details of their life is a red flag.

– Their photos seem inconsistent or professionally done. Catfishers often use fake, stolen or heavily edited photos.

– Their social media activity is limited. Scammers often have few real friends, posts or online history.

– Details about their life change or contradict. It’s hard to keep lies straight for long.

– You are unable to verify details like their job, college, etc. A lot of facts don’t check out with a fake identity.

Trusting your instincts is important if something feels off about an online relationship. Asking questions and doing some digging can often uncover the truth about a potential catfish.


How to Avoid Being Catfished

There are several precautions people can take to avoid falling victim to catfishing:

Be suspicious of anyone you meet online and don’t be too quick to trust them. Take time to really get to know the person before sharing personal information or forming an emotional connection. According to Seers, you should be wary of profiles that seem “too good to be true.”

Do your own research on the person to verify details about their identity and life. Conduct reverse image searches on their photos and look up their name, phone number, email, and social media profiles. Check that details are consistent across platforms.

Ask questions and look for inconsistencies or evasive answers in their responses. According to Malwarebytes, take the relationship slowly and avoid sharing financial information or sending money to someone you haven’t met in person.

Insist on video chatting before meeting in real life. This allows you to confirm their appearance and mannerisms. Be suspicious if they constantly decline or avoid video chatting for seemingly dubious reasons.

Trust your instincts. If something seems odd or too good to be true, it may be best to cut off contact rather than risking being manipulated.

The Future of Catfishing

Will technology curb catfishing? As online dating and social media continue to grow in popularity, so too does the prevalence of catfishing. According to one source, “The future of catfishing on social media is both intriguing and uncertain” (Source). However, advances in AI and machine learning may help mitigate catfishing risks in the future.

Some dating apps are already using AI to detect potentially fake profiles by analyzing profile information, images, and messaging patterns. As this technology improves, it could become much harder for catfishers to create convincing fake profiles. Apps may also implement identity verification measures, requiring users to submit government IDs or take live photos doing specified poses.

While technology may curb simplistic catfishing attempts, more determined catfishers are likely to find ways around safeguards. Catfishing will probably never disappear entirely, but ongoing trends in AI, identity verification, and user awareness could reduce its prevalence and impact in the future.

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