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.
If you’re a fan of MTV’s hit show Catfish — or have been catfished yourself —this is something you know all too well. Catfishing, or the art of presenting yourself as someone you’re not online (typically to engage in romantic relationships), takes an incredible amount of deception, and can be hugely impactful for those who fall victim to it.
So how does the team behind the show Catfish uncover the true identity of their digital targets? It can start with a simple phone number search to begin to piece together who they really are. Here’s how they do it.
[Spoiler alert: MTV’s “Catfish” uses Spokeo to research.]
How To Do a Catfish Phone Number Search
The typical catfish will kindle romance through an attractive social media profile on Facebook or Twitter, give their victim outpourings of compliments and flattery, and show an uncanny knack for sharing similar interests. At some point they may request money, yet their physical location somehow remains a mystery. If they are a professional or experienced scammer, they may conceal their identity by creating a fake media profile that seems to check out against their given name and email address.
However, as soon as you have a phone number, you can perform a reverse phone lookup or background check to establish the person’s true identity. Here is how it works:
- Using a reverse phone number lookup tool like Spokeo, type in the phone number given to you by the suspected catfish and hit “Search Now.”
- Select “view report” to uncover all available information associated with that phone number, including names, current/past addresses and more. This will help you verify if the person you are connecting with online is accurately representing themselves or if they are a catfish.
When you look up a phone number using a catfish search tool, the tables turn, and it is an instant checkmate for the scammer.
How The Experts Find a Catfish
The basic premise of MTV’s “Catfish” is to help victims find out the truth about the online identities of those that they’ve met on the Internet. Co-hosts Nev and Max begin their research from scratch, and producers of the show have no knowledge of what their investigations will uncover. In the interest of a better storyline, not knowing what Max and Nev find out is part of the organic drama that plays out on the show.
Some viewers of MTV’s “Catfish” may find it odd that the victims haven’t searched for a number themselves to look up the true identity of their online paramours if it is as easy as the steps outlined above. But as Nev and Max explain, many of the show’s younger demographic have spent most of their lives making friends on Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat. This gives them a tendency to trust strangers at face value and balk at the idea of checking a cell phone number, performing a reverse cellphone lookup, or simply questioning the images they search on Google or social media.
So Nev and Max start with the basics of online research to help people uncover identities — reverse phone lookup, reverse image search, and standard background checks — using simple online search tools.
A search with Spokeo will reveal who a phone number is registered to, and possibly the address of the phone’s owner. It may also shine a light on other social media accounts, phone numbers, email addresses and online profiles that person manages. Worst case scenario, the background check will expose a criminal record, and it’s never too early to find that out.
Catfish Uses Spokeo
Experienced scammers know how to cover their tracks when it comes to a basic online search. Google doesn’t always uncover a catfish, so co-host Max admits it took the team some time to find another good tool to catch frauds. They tried a few free tools then realized Spokeo People Finder could help them learn someone’s real identity using a phone number, email address, or name.
MTV mentions it in a blog about their researching toolset:
“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 response to a user question during a Reddit AMA, Nev named the Spokeo program as the best tool for busting online liars:
“Hi, Nev! Just curious… What’s the single best resource to use to find out whether you’re not getting catfished? I mean, other than the obvious webcams?”
“A reverse phone search — if you have their phone number, you can put it in the Spokeo.com website and you might have to pay a small fee, but it’s worth it, considering that it will usually give you who the phone is registered to and sometimes even an address.”
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. Now that you know more about MTV’s “Catfish,” are you curious about whether you or a friend are getting catfished? Try Spokeo to see for yourself.