These days, it’s very common to meet people online before you ever see them face-to-face. From dating apps to virtual workplaces, a ton of first-time interactions happen virtually. In fact, it’s been considered the most common form of dating since 2019. The year following that finding, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, which only skyrocketed the number of people meeting online — for any personal or professional reason.
Now in 2023, about 2 out of 5 couples meet online.
It’s not just about the romantic world; although the term was popularized from a 2011 documentary of the same name. Everything from friendships to job interviews occur virtually these days, especially with the abundance of communication platforms out there (WhatsApp, Discord, WeChat…) and that means that everyone connecting online needs to be careful about catfish.
What Is a Catfish?
Imagine someone messages you on Facebook one day, asking to be friends. You take a look at their profile and see that this woman, Cat, has a couple hundred friends, several pictures over the years, a link to her knitting shop on Etsy, and a steady stream of posts since she joined the site. You decide to accept their friend request and start a conversation.
Little did you know, Miss Cat Fish from Canada is really a hacker named Cy Bertheft based down in Florida. Oh no!
By gaining your trust, this fake persona could convince you to send money, give them presents or trick you into giving up personal information because you think it’s a nice lady trying to sell her crochet. Catfishing simply means that someone is using fake photos, names, numbers, and/or backstories. The motivations for doing so vary from boredom to malice to anything you could imagine.
Catfishing has become increasingly common in the digital age, as it has become easier for people to hide their true identity behind a screen. The effects can be devastating, as victims can suffer from psychological trauma, financial loss and even physical harm. It is important for people to be aware of the risks associated with catfishing and take steps to protect themselves from becoming victims.
How to Protect Yourself From Getting Catfished
Knowledge and attention to detail are the best ways to avoid getting catfished!
NEVER send money or private information to someone that you’ve only spoken to online, without verifying their validity through a trusted source first. Your boss, for example, might ask you in person to send over an invoice to someone they know. That would be a lot less risky than if someone you only know from TikTok wants your home address. Again, always verify through legitimate, secure sources.
With the invention of deepfakes and sophisticated apps that can manipulate photos and seem to send legitimate-looking videos on platforms like Snapchat, it’s never safe to assume you know who someone really is behind the screen. ALWAYS go through trusted, verified, and encrypted channels when sending private information to someone online.
Catfishing is, perhaps, a natural consequence of giving insecure or malicious people anonymity. The real danger lies in how these fake profiles can manipulate hapless victims to their own ends.
Typically, this falls into the category of a social engineering attack and should be handled with caution. Don’t engage with people you don’t know! Verify their identity before sending any personal information or money. Report odd behavior to your superiors, IT providers or even the authorities if the situation gets serious.
As always, education is the best prevention! Reading this blog is a great first step to better security awareness.