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"Catfishing". It has nothing to do with going down to the river with your fishing pole. It has everything to do with your safety when you use the Internet. The important thing to know is, a "catfish" is an internet predator who is posing as someone other than themselves. A "catfish" is intentionally deceptive when creating a profile on social media like on Facebook or on many popular dating sites. This deception can be very intricate and usually involves the use of fake photos, fake biographies and sometimes erecting a fake supporting network as well.

This kind of deception is often used when the goal is to make a romantic connection. A "catfish" may be trying to engage in social media in order to build relationships because they are bored, lonely, or seeking to commit a crime.

"Catfish" build relationships of confidence and trust in the online world of social media. They appear to be just like everyone else. Having tricked you into believing that they are your friend, they will deceive you for their own purposes. They paint an online identity that's empathetic, sympathetic and like-minded. It is subtle manipulation and that's why a user often does not attempt to verify the information being used by a "catfish".

In a case this office recently prosecuted a man from Ardsley trolled the internet dating sites targeting established professional women. He misrepresented himself online as everything from an advisor to the President of the United States to being a multi-millionaire. Over a 3 year period he unfortunately convinced his victims to loan him close to $200,000 dollars with the lie that his assets had been "frozen" by the court due to a custody battle. The money he claimed was needed for living expenses. He was arrested and later pleaded guilty to grand larceny. He went to jail and was required to pay full restitution.

These are some of the signs you should look out for:

  • A stranger who has constructed on social media a profile of an attractive person who starts contacting you online via e-mail with a romantic intent.
  • This person avoids personal contact and use of any two-way visual contact like Skype, or may find an excuse not to use the phone.
  • When you decide to break contact, the "catfish" tries to prevent it and says he/she will meet you. However, excuses always delay the personal contact. The promise is used to keep you online.
  • The "catfish" will not give you a verifiable physical address.

"Catfish" are not one size fits all but these are generally their methods. Online as in the real world, if it's too good to be true, it probably is so a little skepticism may protect you in the end.