By Claire Stead, Online Safety Ambassador at Smoothwall
"The idea of finding your soul mate, whether it's online or not, is what people want." - Nev Schulman, Catfish.
We are all human, and as Nev Schulman states, what people ultimately want is to find a connection. Unfortunately however, there are people out there that exploit this fundamental human trait. Now commonly known as 'catfishing', since 2010, people are falling victim to online predators who have created false identities on social media, preying on their vulnerabilities.
Catfishing can happen for a number of reasons to unsuspecting people, be it out of malice, financial gain, curiosity, loneliness, or even boredom. In fact, there were a record 3,889 victims of catfishing last year, who handed over a record £39m. But when an estimated 81 million of Facebook's 1.7 billion user base are fake profiles, how do you know when someone is real or not?
From a young age we teach children not to speak to strangers, so why isn't this adopted in the online world?
It is apparent that the internet has created a place where, seemingly, anonymity is acceptable. And although social media sites ask for greater than ever before levels of transparency, people are able to curate an online version of themselves showing only what they want people to see. A catfish will bank on this short-sightedness of online users and shape their profile in order to entice a certain type of user.
Fake accounts tend to use fabricated life stories and photos of innocent victims, adding life experiences, jobs and friends to create the illusion that they are real and entice the unsuspecting victim in. Such accounts can be used to unearth personal information, financial gain and identity fraud.
So what are some of the tell-tale signs that you're being catfished?
• If you have met someone online and they never are able to meet or want to video chat, chances are they are a catfish
• If they seem too good to be true, sadly they probably are
• Be wary of people you meet online with broad interests that almost anyone could relate to
• If they ask a number of personal questions but share very little themselves
If this sounds familiar, what should you do?
It can be hard to know what to do when you are in a situation where you think you might be being catfished. If in doubt, stop talking to them right away and report the account to the provider so that they can conduct an investigation. If you don't know someone, do not share private information with them, as you never truly know who is at the other end of the screen. After all, keeping safe online needs to be taken as seriously as you would in the physical world.
Watch out for the signs and don't allow yourself to be baited.