MTV’s show Catfish highlights a fascinating phenomenon. As we live our lives in the age of social media, online dating and Craigslist treasure-hunting, the danger of judging books by their covers – or people by their online identities – becomes more and more real. Catfishing is a bizarre hobby that takes a lot of work, and its effect strikes an uncomfortable note for normal people. Why would people lie in such an elaborate way—cultivating an entirely different personality—just for amusement? Are catfish sociopaths? Pathological liars? Con-artists? Victims are always shocked to learn they’ve been played after months or even years of regular communication with a catfish. The effect of such calculated deception is so upsetting, MTV actually sends therapists to meet with all parties after production, according to Vulture. If you’re worried about an online relationship of your own, here are a few tips on how MTV catches catfish on the show.
[Spoiler alert: MTV’s Catfish uses Spokeo to research]
Private Investigators Conduct Background Checks
Before co-hosts Nev and Max get to do any research, MTV reports that private investigators do background checks, and a psychologist is involved to do some testing. However, when Nev and Max get involved, they begin their research from scratch. MTV has not reported on whether their investigators always uncover enough information to nail down catfish from the start. In fact, it’s somewhat the opposite. The producers have noted that in the interest of a better actual story on the show, they allow the freedom of not knowing what Max and Nev might uncover to play a role in the story development. In other words, they don’t always know what Max and Nev might find, and that is part of the organic drama that plays out on the show.
Search anybody by name, e-mail address, phone number, username or even friends in your address book and instantly find lots of info.
Nev and Max Do Old-Fashioned Online Research
Some viewers of MTV’s Catfish may find it odd that the victims haven’t done the work themselves to research their paramours. But as Nev and Max explain, it’s not unusual or concerning to the show’s younger demographic who’ve most of their lives making friends in online environments like Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat, to automatically trust strangers. As such, it doesn’t always occur to them that someone could be lying about their identity, and they don’t think to research online friends or dates even in simple ways like Google image searches. So Nev and Max start with the basics of online research to help people uncover identities.
Watch: Nev and Max Share Research Tools
Catfish Uses Spokeo
Google doesn’t always uncover everything they need, and Catfish’s co-host Max admits it took the team some time to find another good tool to catch frauds. They tried a few options then realized Spokeo could help them learn someone’s real identity using a phone number, address, or name. MTV mentions it in a blog about their researching tool set.
“We found a bunch of different telephone lookup sites at first, and a bunch of them were not legit,” Max explains. “It took us awhile to find Spokeo.”
In a Reddit AMA, Nev named Spokeo as the best tool for busting online liars:
With Spokeo in place and a brand new set of fish in the sea, the crew of Catfish is off and running. The show is now heading into its sixth season, and the team is still uncovering surprising online fraud.