How To Protect Yourself From Catfishing

During this whole period of social distancing and self-isolation, I’ve found myself using dating apps a lot more. Whether it’s to meet a cutie for some cute virtual dates on Zoom, distract myself from my crippling descent into madness or simply, see what’s on the menu, it’s a big reason why my phone’s average screen use has skyrocketed to five hours a day (pls, don’t @ me).

And, I know I’m not alone. According to Tinder, the 29th of March saw more swipes than on any single day in the app’s history. Exactly over three billion swipes, to be exact.

But, with all those extra swipes comes an even bigger risk of being catfished. And, with Tinder allowing us all to match with people around the globe and search for the leading guy, gal or non binary pal for our next international rom com scheduled for 2021 and beyond, how can you be sure you aren’t being romantically bamboozled? How do I know if all those Paul Mescal looking boys on Tinder and Bumble are real and not just a figment of my imagination, or worse, that I’m not being taken advantage of and exploited?  

What are the signs of a catfish, what should I do if I suspect I’m being catfished and how do I protect myself? Dw, boo, we gotchu.

What is a catfish?

A catfish is someone who lures another person with a fictional online persona, often based on the information and appearance of another person. People who catfish may try to convince you that they’re someone you knew, a celebrity or person you’ve lost contact with, or even just a good-looking stranger, and the degree in which they try and how varies between each cases.

While, according to legal publication NSWCourts.com, the act of putting on an online disguise isn’t illegal, online catfishing conduct and obsessively searching for information about a person to create a convincing profile can be linked to stalking, which is a criminal offence.

According to NSWCourts.com, “Stalking is the crime of persistently behaving in a way towards another individual in order to harass them, cause them fear or exercise control over them.”

People who catfish often use emotional manipulation and trickery to try to make their faux persona uncomfortably convincing. And while it’s a generally awkward thing to do in the first place, in serious cases, this behaviour can potentially lead to physical, verbal or sexual assault, being outed against your will or exploited financially or in other ways. It’s a really shitty thing to do.

Quick FYI, be extremely cautious who you share your personal details with online. It doesn’t matter who they are or who they say they are, your personal information is confidential and could be used against you by catfishes–or, worse, used by them to create a persona based on you.

No matter how convincing they are or how you might feel talking to them in the moment, catfish culture sucks and people who do it could try to use that connection to exploit you.

Signs you’re being catfished

The signs of whether someone is a catfish can be either extremely obvious or so subtle that they make you second doubt yourself and your own perception of reality.

Before you swipe right, have a look at their pictures. If their photos show completely different people in each photo, are too blurry to make out or are clearly taken from the internet then they aren’t who they say they are. People may change their hairstyles, hair colour and makeup all the time and look different with and without facial hair, but if in one photo they’re a tall scruffy looking white boy and then in the next are similarly built but Asian, then they’re clearly a fake account.

From there, look at if they have any social media accounts linked to their dating profile. If they have an inactive social media profile or their profile is private with no posts or a profile picture, something could be up. FYI, even if someone’s Insta game isn’t perfect, if their profile is older than a few months, you can safely imply they aren’t catfishing you.

Another huuuge big red flag is if they’re moving too fast. If they’re already talking about what life will be like when you’re seriously dating when you haven’t even met yet, and keep avoiding the chance to meet or video chat, then that’s a giant red dress made of flags. And, they’re not worth your time, boo.

At the end of the day, remember to trust your instincts. If you’re getting an iffy vibe from someone and sense that things are too good to be true or they’re not being genuine, then unmatch and move on. Better safe than sorry, tbh.

Signs your Tinder match is legit

Ultimately, the way to not end up in this situation in the first place is to only match with people who fit the opposite description of a catfish. Specifically, they have an active social media account tied to their profile, they have something substantial and telling about them in their bios and their photos are clear, a mixture of selfies and photos taken by others and are of the same person. They aren’t rushing into things, aren’t completely unwilling to show their face or call.

From there, some dating profiles have introduced verified catfish proof systems to ensure everyone is who they say they are. According to The Verge, Tinder introduced a photo verification system in January that had users taking selfies in real time that matched with a pose demonstrated by a model, before their photos, proposed selfie and the model’s pose were all crossmatched. If they passed, they were given a verified blue tick. Hinge introduced a similar tool in 2016. 

What to do if you think you’re being catfished

So, say someone you’ve matched with fits some of the above criteria and you begin to suspect they’re catfishing you, where do you go from here? What can you do to subtly catch them out?

First of all, ask for a selfie in a specific pose. This is the safest failsafe way to prove whether the person on the other end is the same person as the one in their Tinder profile. Not only does it force catfishes to come out because they can’t find a photo of the person they’re impersonating in the exact pose but it doesn’t involve you meeting them in person which could potentially be v dangerous. FYI, if you’re limited to an app like Tinder or Hinge which doesn’t let you share photos, maybe ask if you can move to a different app like Instagram, which takes us to our next point.

Crossmatch their Instagram info with what they have on their dating profile. Obviously people add different things to their Tinder profile to their Twitter or Facebook profiles but this is a very easy and safe way to catch someone out. If they told you they studied at RMIT but their Instagram has photos of someone who’s lived their whole life in Louisiana, U.S., then you know something’s up. In the same way, if their profile says they’re an actor but their photos are actually taken from someone who’s Instagram account says they’re a lawyer, then things aren’t as they seem. Key point here: if their age, name or where they come from don’t match, then sweetie, neither are they a match for you. 

Google search their images. If you’re on your computer, try reverse-searching their photos on Google. That will show you exactly where on the internet the photo is from and where it’s been, meaning it’s a sure fire way to know if it’s taken from the internet or their private Insta.

If you still aren’t sure, you could also try a video call, another sure fire way to prove they are who they say they are on the other side of the texts. If you’re on Hinge, you can do it easily. Otherwise, we recommend Facetime or Zoom.

How to confront them 

Okay, so you have an incredible hunch and almost unparalleled evidence that they are catfishing you, but what’s the next step? How do you confront them? Well, essentially, know you don’t have to actually do so if you don’t want to.

If you suspect you are being catfished, report the profile and unmatch. Tinder and Bumble have a team of people who will check and, if they are found catfishing then their profile will be removed. Remember that no matter what they say, no explanation is going to justify this kind of behaviour and, above all, you don’t owe them anything. And, again, don’t give them your personal details.

Julian Rizzo-Smith is a writer and producer. He also claims to be a vine historian, avid connoisseur of low-fi beats, indie hip hop and Kermit memes. In a perfect world, he’d be married to Tyler the Creator, own an Arcanine and a Lapras, and don his own Sailor Scouts uniform. He tweets @GayWeebDisaster, which is also, coincidentally, how one might describe him.

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