How To Catch A Catfish Online

Online Dating

How to Catch a Catfish Online: 17 Tell-Tale Signs & What to Do

Hayley Matthews

Written by: Hayley Matthews

Hayley Matthews

Hayley has over 10 years of experience overseeing content strategy, social media engagement, and article opportunities. She has also written hundreds of informational and entertaining blog posts. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including Bustle, Cosmo, the Huffington Post, AskMen, and Entrepreneur. When she's not writing about dating news, relationship advice, or her fantasy love affair with Leonardo DiCaprio, she enjoys listening to The Beatles, watching Harry Potter reruns, and drinking IPAs.

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Edited by: Lillian Castro

Lillian Castro

Lillian Guevara-Castro brings more than 30 years of journalism experience to ensure DatingAdvice articles have been edited for overall clarity, accuracy, and reader engagement. She has worked at The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, The Gwinnett Daily News, and The Gainesville Sun covering lifestyle topics.

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I used to go catfishing with my grandpa all the time when I was little. We’d go to the river nearby, put our lines in the water, catch as many as we could, and come home and fry ’em up for dinner. These are some of my fondest memories.

Now, however, catfishing has a whole ‘nother meaning, and it’s not a good one. In the online world, catfishing is when someone lies about who they are to lure people into a romantic relationship. People catfish either as a cruel joke, to get revenge on an ex, con others out of money, or for many other reasons. There’s even a TV show about it.

According to Scientific American, 54% of online daters have seen others who they believe provided false information and 28% have felt uncomfortable or harassed online. To avoid adding to these statistics, we’ve compiled a list of tips for spotting and doing away with a catfish.

Signs You’re Being Catfished (#1-13)

Before you learn what to do to stop being catfished, you need to know if you’re being catfished in the first place. If an online match does any of the following things, your spidey senses should be tingling.

1. Their Profile Has Little Information

The whole point of online dating is to get to know people and for them to get to know you so you can find a compatible date or partner. When you come across a profile that’s very bare, you should be somewhat wary of that person. A lot of catfish will do the minimum to attract a potential victim, and once they have you messaging with them, they’ll try to talk you into believing they are who they say they are.

2. They Have Few Photos or None At All

In a profile, photos are equally as important as the text. Watch out for online daters who only post one photo or photos that are blurry, or are take from the side, or show them wearing a hat, or those kinds of things.

Screenshot of an Elite Singles profile

A profile with no photo or only a couple is a red flag.

Another point to keep in mind is that it’s very easy to take photos from the internet or a stock photo depository. Do the person’s photos look too staged? Are they in front of a white background? These are some questions to ask yourself when you’re browsing. Take advantage of sites like TinEye to see if an online match’s photos have appeared anywhere else.

3. You’re Sent Cookie-Cutter Messages

It’s pretty easy to determine if a message is unique or copy and pasted. Look for specific details about yourself that they pulled from your profile and used in their message to you, including your name, location, and interests. An example of a cookie-cutter message might be something like “Hi, you seem like a nice person! How are you doing today?”

4. They Make a Lot of Grammar & Spelling Mistakes

Grammar and spelling mistakes are bound to happen to all of us, but when someone’s dating profile and messages are riddled with them, it’s a bad sign. Maybe English isn’t their first language — that’s fine. However, a majority of catfish are from other countries, including Nigeria, Russia, and China, so don’t feel bad if their improper grammar makes you take a step back.

There’s a reason messages with these issues are four times as likely to be marked as fraud, according to the Wall Street Journal. The past has shown that people with bad intentions often have poor grammar and spelling skills.

5. They Won’t Do Phone or Skype Calls

In online dating, things usually progress from messaging to emailing to texting and calling. If they’ll only communicate with you online, there might be something going on here. This is usually where the excuses start coming in. They’re having internet troubles, they’re stuck at work and can’t talk right now, their phone died, or whatever the case may be.

6. They Won’t Meet You In Real Life

A bonafide, face-to-face date should be every online dater’s goal, right? A catfish just wants to drag you along or get something from you, so they’ll do whatever they can to make that happen without meeting in person.

When they keep kicking that can down the road, you should probably move on. The longer you stick around, the easier it is to get stuck in their web of lies and the harder it will be to cut ties.

7. You Can’t Find Them on Social or Anywhere Else Online

Most of us have a digital footprint, whether it’s large or small. We’ve left a comment on an article, have a Facebook or other social account, posted a video somewhere — these things don’t really disappear, even if you delete them. It’s smart to do some research on someone you could potentially date, be in a relationship with, or marry, but if you can’t seem to confirm their name anywhere else, that’s a little unusual.

8. They Never Talk About Their Friends or What They’re Doing

It could start off with them always asking you the questions, which is nice at first, but anytime you try to ask them, they redirect the conversation back to you. They know all about your friends, hobbies, job, family, and pets, but you know very little about them.

Or, if you learn a lot about them, they seem to eerily mirror what you’re saying and what you’re doing in life. They’re trying to appeal to your emotional side by showing you how much you have in common.

9. The Relationship is Progressing Very Quickly

Love at first sight can happen, even online, but it’s quite rare. While having someone profess all of these wonderful things to you feels great, keep your wits about you if it’s happening soon after knowing them. Catfish know a lot of online daters are eager to find their perfect match and may be in a vulnerable state, so they want to take advantage of that.

10. They Ask for Money

Why would a genuine person go online and ask a total stranger for money? Isn’t that what friends, family, acquaintances, and banks are for? This is the biggest sign to look out for. You should never, ever send someone cash, a check, or a credit card or give them your financial information — no matter what sort of dire situation they tell you they’re in.

This kind of scam could also come in the form of asking you to sign something over to them or adding them to an account. Don’t fall for it! I wouldn’t dream of asking someone for money until we really knew and trusted each other, and I bet you wouldn’t either. It’s very odd if you come across someone who has the balls to do this.

11. You Have a Bad Feeling in Your Stomach

A majority of the time when we’re talking about instincts, we’re talking about women, but men have them, too. Has someone ever said something that immediately gave you a knot in your stomach (and not the good kind)? Have you ever gotten this feeling about a situation that made you want to get out of there as quickly as possible? That’s your body telling you something is wrong, and you’ll do good to listen to it.

If you’re doubting yourself, tell your confidantes about the situation and see how they feel about it. They could have the same opinion as you.

12. Their Stories Don’t Add Up

One day their favorite food is spaghetti, but the next time you talk about it, they say it’s burgers.

One day they live in the heart of a certain city, but then all of a sudden it changes to a small suburb outside the city.

One day they say they have three sisters, but then it turns into two sisters and a brother. You get the point.

These may seem like small details, but they add up to one big lie. If they can’t keep their facts straight, like Miss Scarlett from “Clue,” alarm bells should be going on in your head.

13. They Just Seem Too Perfect

As they say, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. I’m not trying to be cynical here, but how often have you met someone who’s your ideal in every way (from appearance to personality)? What about your friends, family members, or co-workers? Have they had any luck? Just remember to not get fully sucked into the daydream of it all. Come down from the clouds every now and then and take a look at things from an unbiased perspective.

What to Do If You Think You’re Being Catfished (#14-17)

Now that you know what to look for in a catfish, let’s walk you through the steps you can take to safely get out of the situation and prevent anyone else from potentially becoming bait.

14. Block Them

Practically every dating site and social network allows its users to block those who are harassing others or who pose as some kind of threat. Usually, this is a red button or link that appears on the person’s profile.

When you feel that your safety is at risk, as well as the safety of everyone else on the site, click the button or link. Once you do this, that person won’t be able to contact you or see your profile or photos anymore.

15. Double-Check Your Privacy Settings

When you sign up for a dating site, usually the privacy settings are automatically set, but there are probably other options you can choose. Go to your settings and make sure no one can see your last name, email, specific location, phone number, or anything else that you don’t want them to see. Sometimes you can even hide your profile or set it to Private Mode if you don’t want anyone to know you’re online. You might also want to make sure you’re using a site that won’t give or sell your information to third parties.

16. Report Them to the Dating Site & the FBI

Just like pretty much every dating site will allow you to block members, they’ll also allow you to report them. You’ll typically find this feature on the person’s profile but also the site’s Help or Customer Service page.

Something else we’d recommend is alerting the authorities about this person or persons. You can file a complaint with the Federal Bureau of Investigation Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). You don’t want this catfish to target anyone else, and the FBI can help make sure that doesn’t happen.

17. Be Extra Cautious in the Future

If in the past you’ve been a little loose with what you tell people online, try not to worry too much about it. You now know what odd behaviors to pay extra attention to, so you won’t make the same mistakes again. Spotting a phony will be like second nature, and if there are any safety precautions we missed, let us know in the comments!

With These Tips, You Won’t Fall for a Catfish’s Bait!

I miss the days when getting catfished just meant you had a fruitful day at the river with your grandpa. But with these tips, we can take the word back and, most importantly, keep ourselves safe and our private information, well, private.

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