An awful story came to my attention recently. In the past, at times some of my images have been used by people to create fake profiles on various social media accounts. This practice has always been really disturbing to me because of how dangerous it could be for a person to meet with someone who lies about who they are. 

Recently, I came across someone online who was quite upset with me. He wrote an aggressive message and said I was a "fake", meaning my profile wasn't real. I told him I wasn't fake and that could prove it. When I asked him why he thought I was, he told me my pics had been used to lure him into sharing his pics as well as intimate details of his life. He then went on to meet someone who wasn't me. This person he had been talking to was pretending to be me. This is a situation known as “Catfishing”. definition of this type of Catfish is: 
“A person who assumes a false identity or personality on the Internet, especially on social media websites, as to deceive, manipulate, or swindle.”

This made me wonder how the fishes I grew up catching as a kid growing up in Idaho had gotten such a bad name. I did some research and found the answer. In 2010 a documentary called "Catfish" came out. In this film, Nev Schulman finally meets the woman he's had a long-term online relationship with. When he meets her he discovers she’s not the young and single woman he thought. Instead, she is in her forties and married. The woman’s husband Vince Pierce tells this story which inspired the name of the film and the term:

“They used to tank cod from Alaska all the way to China. They’d keep them in vats in the ship. By the time the codfish reached China, the flesh was mush and tasteless. So this guy came up with the idea that if you put these cods in these big vats, put some catfish in with them and the catfish will keep the cod agile. And there are those people who are catfish in life. And they keep you on your toes. They keep you guessing, they keep you thinking, they keep you fresh. And I thank god for the catfish because we would be droll, boring and dull if we didn't have somebody nipping at our fin.”

I don't share the same enthusiasm for online catfish that Mr. Pierce seems to but I do agree that we should be on our toes and very cautious so we aren't harmed by these individuals. 

I decided to meet with the man who had written to me about his bad situation where my pics were used to lure him. I felt bad that when he saw my photos on social media sites he had this kind of horrible feeling, a flashback to this man who had deceived him using my images. I wanted him to have a new association with me, a real one and I also wanted to take this situation and turn it into something bigger. I decided to use this meeting as an opportunity to address a major problem several of my friends and possibly you have faced while on social media and on apps. 

So I invited this guy that I had never met to go for FroYo because who doesn’t love some FroYo. Before we came face to face I started thinking maybe this guy is a catfish who uses this story about catfishes to catfish people. It cracked me up to think how complex that would all be but you never know. When he finally arrived and was the man from the pictures I was relieved. He shared more details of the story and laughed about it, I shared some ways and ideas I thought could help him and all of us avoid this type of deception in the future. We also brainstormed together for a bit. I was glad I could see things from his perspective so I could better understand his displaced anger aimed at me. This catfish guy lying and using my pictures really affected him but by the end of the FroYo, a few rounds of connect four, and a good conversation, he now had a positive association with me. 

I want to share with you some ways to protect yourself from being deceived by online scam artists with fake profiles. 

Preventive measures to avoid being catfished: 

One of the best ways to prove that a person you are talking to is real is by using SnapChat or an Instagram video. They can record a little message using your name and you can see their face to verify.  At the very least you can have them write your name on a piece of paper and have them take a picture holding it. Always take measures to prove who you’re talking to before meeting.

*Don’t ever give away your personal information. If you wouldn’t say it to a stranger don’t type it on a device. Remember these are people on the other end of every conversation you’re having. People who have intentions and motives, they could be good intentions such as making a new friend or to ask you on a date but they could also be trying to manipulate you and steal info, pics, and even money. Which leads me to...

*Never give people you meet online money. This should go without saying but there are some good con artists that will try to appeal to your kindness and will try to take advantage of you. So don’t do it. 

Red Flags to be aware of:

*If someone gets upset or is reluctant to verify who they are, they might have something to hide this is the BIGGEST RED FLAG.

*If all their pics appear to be modeling or professional ones they may have stolen them off a website. 

*If they aren’t willing to send you to their other social media accounts like Facebook or Instagram. 

*They don’t have a lot of friends or engagement on their social media. 

*There aren’t other people tagged or in photos or with them on social media. This one is more of a yellow flag because some people don't post much with other people or tag.

*If they try to get too serious before you have even met they could be a catfish or they could be crazy, proceed with extreme caution. 

When meeting for the first time-

I always suggest going for coffee, ice cream or Froyo. These are meetings that can be very short if they need to be and don’t tie you into a long dinner or some other obligation. NEVER GO ON A HIKE! I love hiking, absolutely love it but NEVER hike with someone you don’t know. I’ve had friends say this was something they did the first time they met someone from online and I always scold them like a big brother. This is very dangerous, even if the person isn’t a catfish you don’t want to be alone on a mountain or in the woods with a stranger.

Always meet in a public place where you are safe and I’m not above recommending pepper spray to my readers and friends because I love you all and want you safe and secure. 

The internet and apps have made dating easier than ever before. Meeting people online can be very efficient because we lead such busy lives. You can quickly find out a lot of information about a person online by viewing their profile, asking questions, by talking about qualities you possess and want, and you can do all this without spending a fortune on lots of dates. Best of all, you can do it in your gym shorts or pajamas. 

With these advancements, there are added risks but when you are aware of the red flags, verify the person, meet in public and remain in control of the situation you are able to enjoy the benefits of dating and making friends this way. I hope that this article has been helpful in arming you with ways to avoid being duped by these catfish. If you have any tips to add, please leave them in the comments. 

Stay safe and avoid the catfishes, you know- the fake kind.