Friend or Foe: How to Spot a Catfish

Twenty years ago, a catfish was simply a type of fish. Then, in 2010, the indie film ‘Catfish’ was released – a thrilling story of a young photographer who develops an online relationship with somebody who is not who he thought they were. More than a decade later, the term ‘catfish’ has stuck. In fact, many people living in this digital age will have heard of catfishing – whether it’s been on a Netflix documentary, in an online article or thrown around by teens. We’re here to break down the ins and outs of catfishing. Importantly, we’ll share some warning signs to be aware of and some top tips for protecting yourself, your family and your community.

What is catfishing?

Catfishing is when someone pretends to be someone else on the internet, usually on social media or gaming platforms. They create a fake identity, often using fake pictures and information, and their motivation is to deceive others.

Why do people Catfish?

People catfish for various reasons. Some do it for fun or to prank others, while others may have more harmful intentions, like trying to scam or manipulate people. Some catfish might be lonely or insecure and use a fake identity to feel better about themselves. So we always say: be cautious when making new online friends. Now more than ever before, with AI tools, it’s so easy to ‘fake it online’.

What can result from someone being catfished?

Being catfished can lead to emotional, psychological and sometimes even financial harm. Victims may feel betrayed, hurt, or embarrassed. In extreme cases, it can lead to cyberbullying or online harassment.

How do you spot warning signs when it comes to catfishing?

Watch out for these red flags. A catfish may:

  • use AI generated photos or not having many photos on their own profiles at all,
  • not share any or many mutual friends with you,
  • not have many or any other followers on their social media accounts,
  • offer over-complimentary or to-good-to-be-true promises,
  • provide inconsistent or vague information about themselves,
  • tell elaborate stories or make outrageous claims,
  • refuse to video chat, and/or
  • take the conversation to a personal level quickly,
  • ask for money to ‘help them’.

Why do people fall for a catfish?

People may fall for catfishers and con artists because they trust others online, or want to believe in the friendship or relationship. Catfish are often good at manipulating emotions, making their victims feel positively or playing to their victims’ sense of empathy and making them feel sorry for the catfish.

What can we do if we think someone is catfishing us?

  1. Stop communicating with them.
  2. Don’t share personal information or money.
  3. Tell a trusted adult or friend about your suspicions.
  4. Block and report the suspicious account on the platform.
  5. Report to the Office of the eSafety Commissioner at

What advice can you give someone who is a catfish or who feels like they can’t be themselves online?

Building real connections is more meaningful than pretending to be someone else.

If you are going through something yourself and crave the connection, seek help from your support crew such as friends, families or a trusted adult in you community. Free, anonymous professional services such as Kids Help Line and Beyond Blue can provide support too.

Always remember: being fake online can cause harm to others.

Author: Trent Ray | Co-founder and Lead Educator, Cyber Safety Project