The act of fabricating social media profiles and online personas in order to build relationships with strangers is known as “catfishing.” The term was popularised by the documentary Catfish, which told the story of a man who learned he had been lied to by a woman he met online and developed feelings for.

Catfishers often fabricate entire personas and life stories to deceive their targets. Their motivations can range from harmless fun to more malicious intentions like romance scams. Catfishing has become increasingly common, so it’s important to know how to spot the signs that someone may not be who they claim to be online.

1. Their Profile Seems “Too Good to Be True”

Catfishers tend to create idealised versions of themselves online. They’ll choose attractive profile pictures and brag about accomplishments, wealth, travels, and an exciting lifestyle. If someone’s profile checks every box for your perfect match, it could be a red flag. Ask yourself if it seems realistic that this person is that successful, talented, and attractive. Some embellishment is common, but be wary if everything seems suspiciously perfect.

2. They Avoid Video Chatting or Meeting in Person

One of the main ways catfishers avoid getting caught is by avoiding face-to-face interactions. They’ll make excuses for why they can’t video chat or meet up. Common excuses are not having a webcam, having an insecure internet connection, or being too busy with work or family commitments. If someone refuses to verify their identity, it could mean they have something to hide.

3. Details About Their Life Are Vague or Inconsistent

Pay attention if someone is cagey about specific details or gives contradictory information about themselves. For instance, their career and background might change suddenly. They could claim to live in your area but not know common landmarks. If you notice inconsistencies in their stories, it could confirm your suspicions.

4. Reverse Image Searches Come Up With Different People

This is one of the best ways to technically catch a catfisher. Take profile pictures they’ve sent you and do a reverse image search through Google. If the pictures come up matching other names, it’s proof the person is stealing photos. Even do searches for unique phrases they’ve used in messages to see if they come from other sources.

5. You Can’t Find Any Online Presence Outside of Your Interactions

Most people leave at least some virtual trail through social media accounts, professional profiles, mentions in news articles or blogs, and so on. But catfishers limit their online presence to reduce the risk of slipping up. Search for the person’s name, username, email address, and phone number. If you can’t confirm their identity outside of your personal interactions, be wary.

6. They Only Communicate Through One Platform or Avoid Phone/Video Calls

Catfishers try to keep things limited to messaging apps where they exert more control. They’ll avoid talking on the phone or video chatting, where it’s harder to hide. One tipoff is if someone makes excuses for why they can only use one particular messaging platform when communicating.

7. They Ask for Money or Financial Favours

One of the biggest motivations for catfishing is financial fraud. Romance scammers build relationships before asking for money for emergencies, travel to meet you, or other fabricated needs. Never send money, financial, or personal information to someone you haven’t met in person. Other clueless catfishers may ask for favors like online shopping with your credit card.


The most important sign of a potential catfisher is gut instinct. If something feels off and you have doubts, listen to your intuition. Being armed with awareness of common catfishing techniques can help protect you from manipulation. Approach online friendships intelligently, look for red flags, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. With vigilance, you can hopefully avoid the heartbreak and risks of catfishing.