I Thought I Met My Soulmate Online – But It Was All a Lie

What is Catfishing?

Catfishing refers to the creation of a fictitious online persona or fake identity, typically on social networking platforms, with malicious intent (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catfishing). The term was popularized by 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.

Catfishing typically involves using someone else’s photos and biographical information to create a false identity on social media sites, dating apps, or other online platforms (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/catfish). The “catfish” maintains this fake persona to deceive people, either as a hoax or for more nefarious reasons. They may fabricate entire profiles, life histories, friends, jobs, and more. The goal is often to lure victims into emotional or romantic relationships under false pretenses.

In short, catfishing refers to pretending to be someone else online by using fake names, photos, details, etc. to create false identities, deceive people, and potentially manipulate or exploit victims.

Potential Motivations Behind Catfishing

There are various reasons why someone may engage in catfishing. Some of the most common motivations include:

Romantic Deception

romantic deception is a common motivation for catfishing online.

Catfish often create fake online identities in order to pursue romantic relationships under false pretenses. They may feel insecure about their real appearance or personality, or simply enjoy the excitement of living a fake online romance. According to one study, over 50% of catfishing cases involve seeking intimacy or romance (source).

Financial Fraud

Some catfish use their fake identities to defraud people out of money. They may ask for loans, donations, or gifts from their victims. A catfish may build an elaborate story around a fake identity to gain sympathy and manipulate their targets into sending money (source).

Personal Amusement

In some cases, catfishing is simply done for entertainment or as a prank. The catfish may enjoy creating elaborate fake personas and fooling people online. They find amusement in maintaining the deception and making people believe their lies. For bored teenagers, catfishing can seem like a harmless game at first.

The Emotional Impact of Being Catfished

Being catfished can take a significant emotional toll on victims. Some of the common emotional impacts include:

Feelings of betrayal

feelings of betrayal are common emotional impacts of being catfished.

Finding out someone is not who they claimed to be can lead to profound feelings of betrayal. Victims put their trust in the catfish, sharing personal details and developing an emotional bond. Realizing it was all based on lies can be devastating and make the victim feel backstabbed.

Damage to self-esteem and trust

Catfishing often leaves the victim feeling gullible and insecure. They may start doubting their judgment and ability to trust others. It can damage self-confidence and make the victim reticent about future relationships. According to one source, “Being lied to and deceived can cause you to question your own judgments and blame yourself” (https://bulliesout.com/need-support/catfishing/).

The experience of being manipulated can also lead to anxiety, paranoia, and constant suspicion when meeting new people. Victims may develop trust issues that impact their willingness to open up.

Is Catfishing Illegal?

Catfishing itself is generally not considered illegal in the United States, though laws vary by state. However, certain actions associated with catfishing may constitute criminal charges depending on the circumstances, such as:

online impersonation laws may apply to malicious catfishing activities.
Online Impersonation

Some states like California have laws against online impersonation, where someone poses as another person online without their consent in order to harm them or gain something of value (see https://www.findlaw.com/criminal/criminal-charges/is-online-impersonation-illegal-.html).


If the catfish gains money, gifts, or other benefits through their deception, they may be charged with fraud or theft by deception (see https://www.patrickjmclain.com/blog/2023/may/is-catfishing-a-crime/).

Harassment or Stalking

If the catfish’s actions become threatening or stalking in nature, charges may apply depending on the state’s laws.

While catfishing itself is often not a criminal offense, victims should be aware of relevant laws in their state. Consulting with a lawyer can help determine if any criminal or civil charges could apply in their specific situation.

Reporting Catfishing to Authorities

If you believe you have been the victim of a catfishing scam and want to pursue legal action, contacting the police is often the first step. You can file a report with your local police department’s fraud division either in person or over the phone. Be prepared to provide details about how you were catfished, including any monetary losses or compromised personal information. The police can investigate based on the information you provide and may be able to identify and locate the catfish.

Another option is to file an online complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at www.ic3.gov. IC3 reviews and refers cybercrime complaints to law enforcement agencies equipped to investigate further. When submitting your complaint, be sure to include specifics like how you met the catfish, what platforms you communicated on, any photos/information shared, and the details of any financial transactions made under false pretenses. Providing thorough documentation and records will help authorities in their investigation and potential prosecution.

While legal action against catfishing can be challenging, reporting fraudulent activities and violations of your privacy to the proper authorities is an important step. It creates an official record and paper trail of the incidents, and helps stop scammers from victimizing others (see https://thelawdictionary.org/article/how-to-report-a-scammer-to-the-police/). With persistence and evidence, you may be able to achieve some justice.

Notifying the Catfish’s Online Platforms

reporting fake profiles on social media and dating sites can help curb catfishing.

Catfish will often create fake profiles and accounts on social media sites and dating apps. You can report these inauthentic accounts directly to the platforms:

Social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter allow you to report fake accounts by going to the profile, clicking on options or settings, and selecting “Report” or “Report Account”. You’ll then be able to choose options like “pretending to be someone else” or “fake account”. The Definitive List to Reporting Fake Social Media Accounts outlines detailed steps for reporting fakes on major platforms.

Dating apps and websites like Tinder, Bumble, and Match also have options to report users. Look for sections like “Report Profile” or “Report User” where you can flag inappropriate, misleading, or fake profiles. Provide details on why you believe the account is fake in your report. How to Report Fake Accounts on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter and TikTok has step-by-step instructions.

Notifying these platforms can help get fake accounts deleted and prevent the catfish from easily creating more. Make sure to save any evidence of their profile and your interactions in case it’s needed for your report.

Confronting the Catfish Directly

One direct approach is to message the catfish and confront them about their deception. Let them know you are aware they have been posing as someone else and request they delete any personal photos or information they may have gathered from you (source). Be firm yet polite in your messaging, and avoid responding if they attempt to justify their actions.

When confronting a catfish directly, it’s best to keep the interaction brief. Stick to the key points of calling out their catfishing behavior, insisting they delete your personal information, and ceasing further communication (source). Engaging in lengthy back-and-forths or arguments tends to be unproductive and gives the catfish opportunities to gaslight or manipulate further.

Seeking Support and Closure

Being catfished can be an emotionally traumatic experience. It is important to seek support from friends, family, or professionals to help process the emotions and find closure.

Talking through the experience with trusted friends can provide much-needed perspective and reassurance. Support groups, either in-person or online, allow you to connect with others who have gone through similar betrayals. According to the reddit user in this thread, sharing stories and advice can help validate your feelings and realize you are not alone.

Seeing a counselor or therapist can also be very beneficial for working through feelings like grief, anger, confusion, and shame. A professional can help you process being deceived, regain self-esteem, identify unhealthy patterns, and develop coping strategies. As the Quora user suggests in this post, counseling provides a judgement-free space to unpack the emotional impact in a healthy way.

Recovering from the trauma of catfishing takes time and active effort. But surrounding yourself with empathy and support can help you find understanding, resilience and closure.

Learning from the Experience

Being catfished can be a traumatic experience, but you can try to find meaning and growth in it. Looking back on what happened, there are often valuable lessons that can help you avoid being catfished again in the future. Being more cautious about sharing personal details online is one key takeaway. According to PCMag, catfish often gather personal information through casual conversation so they can create a more believable fake identity. It’s best to be very selective about what you share over the internet, and avoid giving out details like your address, workplace, daily routine, etc. to people you don’t know well.

You should also look out for red flags when getting to know someone online. The FTC advises being alert to things like inconsistencies in details about their life, frequent excuses for why they can’t meet in person or video chat, and defensiveness when asked for more proof of identity. If you notice any suspicious behavior, take things slowly and request verification before deepening the relationship.

While being catfished can make you feel foolish or naive, blaming yourself is not productive. Catfish can be master manipulators taking advantage of people’s trust and desire for connection. Remember that you are not alone, and professionals recommend finding a support system to talk through what happened so you can find closure.

Moving Forward

After discovering you’ve been catfished, it is important to focus on self-care and personal growth. This experience can be emotionally damaging, so be kind to yourself and take time to heal. Consider seeking professional counseling to process the emotions of betrayal, anger, sadness or humiliation you may be feeling.

Stay busy with activities and people who bring you happiness. Spend time on hobbies, connect with friends, and engage in self-care. Finding activities that boost your self-esteem can help restore your trust in yourself after it was violated.

When you feel ready to date again, proceed with caution. Take things slowly and do not ignore red flags. Do your own research on potential partners using image searches and background checks. Video chat before meeting in person. Share your location with friends when going on first dates.

Stay alert but try to keep an open mind. Not everyone online is deceptive. There are sincere people looking to make real connections. With time, defensive walls can come down. Focus on listening to your intuition and finding trustworthy partners.

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