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What Is Catfishing? Warning Signs & Protection Tips

Catfishing is the creation of a false online identity to deceive someone for: scams, identity theft, or emotional manipulation. Catfishing can be very convincing and the consequences can affect victims both financially and emotionally. Learn more about catfishing, how to spot it, and how to avoid it—or use Clario’s Antispy to reel in catfishing and other scams.

Table of contents

What does catfish mean?

To catfish means creating a false identity or persona to deceive someone online. A catfish ploy can involve fake names, pictures, and personal information. The term is commonly associated with online dating platforms and social media, where individuals may create fake profiles to lure a romantic partner or manipulate others for various reasons.


Common reasons for catfishing are:

  • Emotional manipulation: Some people are drawn to manipulating others. This could entail lying to others or enjoying the power of playing with someone’s emotions and controlling their lives.
  • Escapism or fantasy: For some, catfishing is an opportunity to be someone else. This could stem from dissatisfaction in their own lives or fulfilling a fantasy or curiosity.
  • Attention/validation seeking: Some individuals use catfishing as a means to receive positive attention, admiration, and validation from others.
  • Revenge: Catfishing can be a vehicle to get revenge on someone by manipulating, embarrassing, or emotionally harming them.
  • Financial scams: Some catfishing ploys use stories and manipulation to exploit a victim’s sympathies and generosity for financial gain.

The term “catfishing” originated from the documentary “Catfish” (2010), which profiled a filmmaker's online friendship with who he thought was an 8-year-old girl and her family. It turned out that the person he was communicating with was actually a 40-year-old woman.


In the documentary, the woman’s behavior was likened to an old myth about codfish shipping. The myth goes that, in the past, in order to keep cod active and fresh, catfish were added to their tanks. By masquerading as an 8-year-old girl, the woman was like a catfish that kept the filmmaker stimulated and active—inspiring his imagination and resourcefulness.


The film illuminated this increasingly prevalent online behavior, and the term “catfishing” caught on.

Signs of catfishing

Like other social engineering ploys, catfishing can be very deceptive. A savvy catfisher will conduct research about their victims and go to elaborate lengths to create realistic personas. Though they can be convincing, you can spot a catfisher—if you know what to look for.


Here are some common signs of catfishing to look out for:

Now, let’s delve deeper into these signs of catfishing:

A new or recently created profile on social media

A relatively new social media profile may have been created for the sole purpose of catfishing. Especially, if their other accounts are also new or non-existent. Considering most people have had social media accounts for years, a new profile is a definite cause for suspicion.

They don't have many followers or friends

A profile with a limited number of followers or friends could be an indicator that it’s being used for catfishing on social media. After all, social media is generally used to connect and engage with others. If someone uses social media to exclusively communicate with you—and no one else—it’s a definite red flag.

Little or no online presence

Today, it’s common for people to have multiple social media accounts—a limited online presence could suggest you’re dealing with a catfisher. Of course, some people genuinely choose to have a limited presence, so you’ll have to use your intuition and judge in relation to the other signs listed.

Using only professional pictures

A profile that consists solely of professional pictures and no personal ones suggests that it’s fake. A catfishing scam requires the assailant to mask their true identity and create an enticing persona to lure their victims.  

Using stolen or fake pictures

Some people catfish to escape themselves and become someone else. Stolen or fake pictures help them achieve that. A profile picture is the “face” of a social media account. Catfishers will use online stock photos, pictures of models, or stolen photos from other accounts in order to create their catfishing persona.

The person seems too good to be true

Catfishing, by definition, is the ability to assume online identities and create stories to attract others. Like sugar daddy scammers, catfishers want to create positive feelings in their victims to perpetuate their deceit. If someone online seems too good to be true, you should question their motivations.

Your relationship moves along quicker than normal

Catfishing plays with your heart—so that you don’t use your head. In any context, a relationship that rapidly escalated to the heights of passion should be met with caution. But that’s doubly true when dealing with an online love interest that you’ve never met in person.

Avoiding video calls

Catfishing online relies on a carefully-crafted fake persona—and the whole charade can end with a video call. That’s why a catfisher will do everything they can to avoid a video call with you. Besides a flat-out refusal, they could make excuses, like claiming they are busy or that their device’s camera is broken.

Love bombing

Some catfishers will attempt to sweep you off your feet with grand romantic gestures or words. Though it may be tempting to give in, remember that they prey on your emotions. Tugging at your heartstrings is one of the most effective means to manipulate you.

The person asks for money or financial help

Some catfishing scams involve elaborate stories and scenarios that all end in the same way: asking you for money. These plots also play on your emotions. They might revolve around stories of sick family members with hospital bills, asking for money to buy a plane ticket to finally meet or even a smishing ploy. Never give anyone you don’t know or trust money online.

Avoiding physical meetups

A catfisher will appear extremely attentive to you online, but they will avoid a physical meetup. Catfishing on the internet is based on a fantasy that’s perpetuated via messages and fake photos/profiles. Meeting in person will shatter the illusion. A catfisher will come up with lies and excuses to avoid a face-to-face at all costs.

Asking you for deeply personal information

Some catfishing schemes are out to get personal information for other scams or to further manipulate you emotionally. Either way, revealing private information to a stranger online is never wise. Your digital identity can be used for cyberstalking and unlocking online accounts or devices. Keep personal information to yourself.  

Poor English or bad grammar

Though not everyone is a grammar whiz, you should be suspicious of strange language— especially if someone claims to be a native speaker. Sometimes a catfisher will be based abroad and attempt to scam a victim in a country or language other than their own.

Something feels off

Sometimes your instincts are the best defense mechanism. If someone you’re talking to online seems to be checking all the right boxes, yet something still feels “off,” you’re probably right. Some catfishers are extremely good at deceiving others and they may not exhibit any signs of catfishing. In these cases, go with your gut reaction if something doesn’t sit well with you.

What to do if you are getting catfished?

If you’re getting catfished, it’s crucial to act quickly to prevent or stop any damage. This involves: ending communication, protecting your personal information, and reporting the event to the proper authorities and your contacts—who may also be at risk. In some cases, psychological help may be advised.


Here’s what to do if you are getting catfished:

  • Stop all communication: Any further communication could lead to more harm—including psychological. It’s best not to try to resolve the situation; just make a clean break.
  • Protect your personal information: Change your passwords, use two-factor authentication, and check your online bank accounts and email addresses. Refer back to your correspondence with the catfisher for any and all personal information you might have revealed.
  • Report the catfishing: Depending on the severity of your case, reporting the catfishing—either to the online platform or local authorities—could help stop the catfisher from harming others.
  • Inform friends and family: A catfisher may strike others on your contact list or family members and friends that you had mentioned to them. Catfishers feed on the information of their victims, and if you’ve revealed any private details about others, they may also be at risk.

Preventing catfishing altogether is better than recovering from an incident. A dedicated cybersecurity tool, like Clario’s Anti-Spy, can help avoid catfishing and other types of scams.


Clario’s AntiSpy features a suite of powerful security tools that work in synergy to protect all your devices and data from spying. It features data breach detection tools, antivirus scans for malware, and safe browsing to block ads and trackers. Clario AntiSpy works on mobile (iOS, Android) and desktop (Windows, Mac).


Ensure safe browsing for you and your family by using Clario’s protection:

  1. Download Clario AntiSpy and choose a subscription to create an account
  2. On the dashboard, click Safe browsing and Install the Clario Chrome extension
A screenshot of the Clario AntiSpy tool showing a drop down menu including the Clario Safe browsing extension for Chrome browser

3. Add your Clario Secure Browsing extension to Chrome

A screenshot of the Chrome Browser Extensions page showing the Add to Chrome button for Clario Secure Browsing extension

4. Enjoy four pillars of safe browsing: web security, anti-malware protection, ad blocker, and anti-tracking capabilities.

Examples of catfishing

Catfishing is widespread—to the extent that it inspired a long-running MTV reality show focused on depicting such incidents. Beyond the TV screen, plenty of real-life instances of catfishing have captivated the public’s fascination. Here are some notorious examples:

  • Manti Te’o: The former NFL football player became embroiled in a high-profile catfishing incident that involved his online girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, tragically dying of leukemia. He publicly mourned the loss, only to learn from reporters that Kekua never existed and that he was catfished by an individual named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo.
  • Casey Donovan: Australian singer and winner of Australian Idol was caught in a catfishing ploy where she believed she was in a six-year online relationship with a man named Campbell. She eventually discovered that Campell was actually a woman named Olga.
  • Thomas Montgomery and Mary Shieler: Montgomery, a 47-year-old married man pretending to be an 18-year-old, ended up in a love triangle with Mary, a middle-aged woman pretending to be an 18-year-old, and Montogemery’s 22-year-old coworker, Brian. Out of jealousy, Montgomery killed Brian, revealing the whole web of deception.
  • Lydia Adelmalik: The identities of actors Lincoln Lewis and Danny Mac were used by catfisher Adelmalik for four years, resulting in the suicide of one victim. The victim, who had attended school with Lewis, was familiar with aspects of his life, which Adelmalik later exploited. Abdelmalek was found guilty of stalking 6 people.

Advice to avoid catfishing

With proper precautions, you can avoid catfishing altogether. Here’s how:

  • Be cautious: Trust your instincts. If someone seems too good to be true, they probably are.
  • Keep personal information private: Including your address, financial details, or intimate photos/videos.
  • Verify: Research the person’s profiles and online presence.
  • Learn catfishing tactics: Understand the signs of catfishing to avoid threats.


It can be difficult to find out if someone is catfishing you—and by the time you discover them, the damage may already be done. That’s why it’s better to avoid it altogether by learning the telltale signs of catfishing and using a dedicated cybersecurity tool that detects security breaches, like Clario’s AntiSpy.  


Our dedicated online security app is designed to protect your calls, messages, location, contact list, photos and videos, and more from unauthorized access. The iOS and Android version will scan and monitor your online accounts for data breaches, plus they feature anti-spy protection to reduce threats. Try Clario’s AntiSpy now for iOS, Android, Mac, and Windows devices.

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