The news is filled with stories about people, famous and otherwise, getting caught in online dating scams. The phenomenon is so common that it now has a name: Catfishing. The term catfishing comes from the 2010 movie Catfish about a man who was lured into a relationship by a scammer who was using a fake social networking profile.
Catfishing is a kind of social engineering. It’s similar to messages that claim that your computer has a virus, that you’ve won a lottery, or that you can earn money for little or no effort on your part. All of these scams are designed to “hook” you with fear, vanity, and too-good-to-be-true offers. The cybercriminal in a catfishing scam might post fake pictures or send encouraging messages to entice you into a relationship, but the goal is the same as in other scams: The scammer wants to steal your personal information, your money, or both.
3 ways to help avoid catfishing
- Always remember that people on the other end of online conversations might not be who they say they are. Treat all emails and social networking messages with caution when they come from someone you don’t know.
- Never share your passwords, even with someone you trust. If you think your accounts have been compromised, change your passwords as soon as possible.
- If you suspect that someone is catfishing you, report them.
For more general tips and advice on how to avoid scams, download our free 12-page booklet, Online Fraud: Your Guide to Prevention, Detection, and Recovery (PDF file, 2.33 MB), and browse our other resources on how to protect yourself online.