Catfishing refers to the deceptive act of creating a false identity on a social networking service, usually to pursue deceptive online romances.

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Catfishing refers to the deceptive act of creating a false identity on a social networking service, usually to pursue deceptive online romances. The term catfishing was inspired by the 2010 documentary 'Catfish', which explores a man's journey to uncover the real identity of a woman he met online.

While the term may sound harmless, the implications of catfishing are far-reaching and can cause significant emotional, financial, and even physical harm to the victims. This glossary article aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of catfishing, its origins, techniques, impacts, and prevention strategies.

Origins of catfishing

The term catfishing originated from the 2010 documentary 'Catfish'. The film follows a man named Nev Schulman who begins an online relationship with a woman named Megan. As the relationship progresses, Nev becomes suspicious of Megan's identity and decides to investigate. The investigation leads to the shocking revelation that Megan was, in fact, a fabricated identity created by a woman named Angela.

The term 'catfish' was coined by Nev's brother Ariel, who compared Angela's deception to the practice of transporting cod from Alaska to China. To keep the cod active and ensure their quality, catfish were added to the tanks. Ariel likened Angela to the catfish, keeping the lives of others exciting with her deception.

Popularity and usage

The term catfishing gained popularity after the release of the documentary and its subsequent spin-off series, 'Catfish: The TV Show', on MTV. The show, hosted by Nev and his friend Max Joseph, helps people who have started online relationships to confirm the identities of their online partners.

Today, the term is widely used in popular culture and has been integrated into the cybersecurity lexicon. It is used to describe the act of using a fake online profile to deceive others, typically in the context of online dating.

Techniques used in catfishing

Catfishers employ a variety of techniques to deceive their victims. These techniques often involve creating a compelling and attractive online persona that is completely fabricated. The catfisher may use stolen photos, often from an unsuspecting third party's social media profile, to create a believable identity.

They may also weave intricate stories about their life, job, interests, and experiences to make their fake persona more appealing. These stories are often designed to elicit sympathy and build a sense of intimacy and trust with the victim.

Fake profiles

Creating a fake profile is the first step in catfishing. Catfishers often use attractive photos stolen from other social media profiles to lure potential victims. They may also use software to alter the photos or combine features from multiple photos to create a unique, yet non-existent person.

Along with the photos, catfishers create a detailed and attractive personal profile. They may claim to have impressive jobs, interesting hobbies, or tragic personal histories. These profiles are designed to be as appealing and sympathetic as possible to draw in victims.

Building trust and intimacy

Once the fake profile is set up, the catfisher begins to build a relationship with their victim. They often start by sending friend requests or messages to potential victims on social media or dating platforms. Once the initial contact is made, they invest time and effort into building a relationship.

They may send frequent messages, share personal stories, and express strong emotions to build a sense of intimacy and trust. They often prey on the victim's emotions and manipulate them into believing that they have a close, personal relationship.

Impacts of catfishing

The impacts of catfishing can be devastating and far-reaching. Victims often suffer significant emotional trauma when they discover that the person they have developed deep feelings for does not exist. This can lead to feelings of betrayal, humiliation, and a loss of trust in others.

Financial loss is another common consequence of catfishing. Many catfishers manipulate their victims into sending them money, often under the guise of a personal crisis or to fund a supposed visit to meet the victim in person. In some cases, the financial losses can amount to thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars.

Emotional impact

The emotional impact of catfishing can be profound. Victims often experience a range of emotions, including shock, betrayal, humiliation, and grief. They may also suffer from depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

These emotional impacts can have serious consequences on the victim's mental health and well-being. They may struggle to trust others and form relationships in the future. In severe cases, the emotional trauma can lead to self-harm or even suicide.

Financial impact

Many catfishers manipulate their victims into sending them money. They may claim to need the money for a personal crisis, such as a medical emergency, or to fund a trip to meet the victim in person. In some cases, the catfisher may even convince the victim to engage in financial transactions or investments on their behalf.

The financial losses from catfishing can be significant. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Americans lost more than $200 million to romance scams, including catfishing, in 2019. This represents a nearly 40% increase from the previous year.

Preventing catfishing

While it may seem daunting, there are several strategies that individuals can employ to protect themselves from catfishing. These include being skeptical of online relationships, conducting independent research, and never sending money to someone you have not met in person.

It's also important to report suspected catfishing to the platform where it occurred and to local law enforcement. This can help protect others from falling victim to the same scam.

Online vigilance

One of the most effective ways to prevent catfishing is to be vigilant online. This includes being skeptical of online relationships, especially with individuals who seem too good to be true. It's also important to be wary of individuals who express strong emotions early in the relationship or who avoid meeting in person.

Another key aspect of online vigilance is protecting your personal information. Never share sensitive information, such as your address, financial details, or social security number, with someone you have not met in person.

Independent research

Conducting independent research is another effective strategy for preventing catfishing. This can include reverse image searches to check if the person's profile picture appears elsewhere on the internet. You can also search for details about their job, hobbies, or personal history to see if they match up with what they have told you.

It's also a good idea to check their social media profiles for signs of authenticity. Real profiles usually have a long history of posts and interactions with other users. Fake profiles, on the other hand, often have few posts and little interaction with others.


Catfishing is a serious issue in the digital age, with significant emotional and financial impacts on the victims. By understanding the techniques used by catfishers and employing strategies to protect ourselves, we can reduce the risk of falling victim to this deceptive practice.

As the digital landscape continues to evolve, it's crucial to stay informed about the latest cybersecurity threats and to take proactive steps to protect ourselves and our online communities.

This post has been updated on 17-11-2023 by Sofie Meyer.

Author Sofie Meyer

About the author

Sofie Meyer is a copywriter and phishing aficionado here at Moxso. She has a master´s degree in Danish and a great interest in cybercrime, which resulted in a master thesis project on phishing.

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