Catfishing is a vicious act of deception that happens when someone sets up a fake identity — or pretends to be you — on social media for abusive or fraudulent purposes. Catfishers may flirt with unsuspecting victims on dating sites to scam them out of money. They could also hack into your Facebook account, pretend to be you and use your identity to con your contacts, steal their personal information, commit blackmail or prank you in embarrassing ways.
In this article, we’ll explore just how bad the problem of catfishing is, provide useful strategies to stop catfishers in their tracks, and help you understand your legal rights if you’ve been catfished.
Stats on Catfishing: How Bad Is the Problem?
A recent survey on catfishing by the lifestyle brand SugarCookies reveals how bad online impersonation has become. In fact, you may have been victimized by this fraud and not even realized it. Here’s what the results of the survey say:
- 33% of people have been catfished, and many of the victims were conned into sending the catfisher money or sexually explicit pictures.
- 43% of men have been targeted for catfishing.
- 28% of women have been targeted for catfishing.
- 6% of victims are conned out of $1,000 to $10,000.
- 25% of victims experience humiliation related to the incident.
- 13% of victims experience heartbreak due to romantic fraud.
- 9% of victims experience mental health problems.
How to Report Catfishing on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram
Given the destructive effects of catfishing, it’s important to respond as soon as you suspect that someone is trying to use your identity in a catfishing scheme. Fortunately, all of the major social media sites have catfishing policies to protect you in the event that a hacker has fraudulently taken control of your account.
Here’s how to resolve the problem if it happens on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram:
Facebook has one of the easiest catfish reporting procedures. If someone is impersonating you by using your email, name, business title or photos on Facebook, visit this page to report the impostor account. The process begins by asking you to select from the following options:
- An impostor has stolen your email address and is using it on his or her Facebook account.
- An impostor has set up a fraudulent account for your organization or business.
- An impostor is posing as you or another one of your contacts.
After making the first selection, click through the prompts and answer the questions in each step. Facebook will investigate the matter quickly and resolve it in the most appropriate fashion — perhaps by shutting down the fraudulent account and banning the offender.
Twitter also offers a straightforward way to stop catfishers, which you can learn about on their “Report violations” page. Reporting usually involves going to the fraudulent person’s Twitter page and clicking the overflow icon, which looks like three vertical dots. Select the Report option and follow the prompts to describe your problem. You can also go to the page to report an impersonation, where you’ll select from these options:
- An impostor is impersonating me or someone I know on Twitter.
- An impostor is impersonating my company, organization or brand on Twitter.
- My Twitter account was suspended for fraudulent behavior.
- I’ve been locked out of my Twitter account.
- Someone hacked my Twitter account.
- An impostor is using my email address without permission on Twitter.
On Facebook and Twitter, you can report instances of catfishing regardless of whether you’re the one being impersonated. On Instagram, you can only report catfishing if you’re the one whose identity is being stolen.
As the victim, you can report the problem via the Instagram app by selecting clicking the overflow icon and selecting Report. If you don’t have an Instagram account but someone has stolen your identity in a catfishing scheme, use Instagram’s account impersonation form to report the problem.
What Are My Legal Rights After Someone Impersonates My Online Identity?
Impersonating someone’s online presence is illegal. Depending on the facts surrounding the abuse, those found guilty of online account impersonation could be held financially or criminally liable. Following a ruling in favor of the victim in a civil case, a catfisher might need to pay financial compensation. In criminal matters, a conviction could result in jail time and other punishments. If you’ve been harmed by catfishing, it’s important to contact an attorney to discuss the details of your situation and find out your legal rights and options.
That being said, if you can’t identify the catfisher, you’re out of luck — and it can be difficult to track these scam artists down. It’s like a hit-and-run driver who escapes: There’s no one to hold accountable for the damages.
If you were able to obtain any personal details of the catfisher — like a name, address, email, phone number or other information — you and your legal counsel might want to try a people search tool like Spokeo to investigate the fraudster (the web sleuths behind MTV’s hit show Catfish even use the platform!). Spokeo is an online people search tool that allows you to pull detailed data on anyone. All you need is a few scraps of identifying information to search billions of public and nonpublic records to learn about your person of interest. In minutes, you can discover whether a new love interest has a criminal background or whether your boyfriend has children from a prior marriage. With just a tiny bit of information, Spokeo could help you pinpoint the mastermind behind your catfishing case and hold them accountable — protecting both yourself, and unsuspecting internet users from heartbreak and fraud.
Along with his fascination for emerging technologies like internet technology, blockchain, encryption and the laws and market trends that follow them, Jeremy Hillpot’s background in consumer-investor fraud litigation provides a unique perspective on a vast array of topics including website tech, investments, startups, cryptocurrencies and the law.