Need help dealing with violent or distressing online content? Learn more

Catfishing

Catfishing page image

Catfishing is when someone sets up a fake online identity and uses it to trick and control others. Often, they do it to scam people out of money, blackmail them or harm them in some other way.

On this page:

What is catfishing?

Catfishing means someone is using a fake identity to trick you into believing you’re in a real online friendship or romance with them. Once you trust the catfish, they may:

  • embarrass, humiliate or upset you by sharing your secrets online or revealing to others that you fell for their trick  
  • scam you into sending them money
  • pressure or ‘groom’ you into sending nudes or getting sexual online
  • blackmail you over nude or intimate images or videos (sometimes known as ‘sextortion’)
  • steal your identity using information you shared with them.

Catfishing usually happens in several steps:

  1. The catfish creates a fake account, making up their background story and including fake photos, schools, jobs and friends. They may pretend to be someone who’s really good looking or famous, like a celebrity or sports star, so you feel excited and flattered when they show interest in you. Or they could pretend to be an ordinary person and claim they like all the same things as you, so you think they’re your ‘perfect match’. In some cases they even impersonate or hack a real person’s account and pretend to be them. 
  2. They send photos they claim are of them, but how would you really know? Usually they give an excuse for not showing themselves in a video chat, like saying their camera is ‘broken’ or they’re a soldier who has to keep their face hidden while they’re on a mission.
  3. They may flatter you by giving you lots of compliments, affection and maybe even gifts. You think they really care about you, and they make you feel good about yourself, so you want to make them happy.
  4. When you trust them, they ask you for something. They may want you to:
    • tell them your secrets 
    • share personally identifiable information, like your birthdate, home address and details about your family 
    • do them a favour
    • lend or give them money or cryptocurrency
    • buy them gift cards
    • send them gaming credits
    • receive a money transfer or an item and send it on to someone else
    • send them an intimate image or video, such as a nude
    • get sexual in a video chat, even though you can’t see them on camera.

What are the warning signs?

Knowing the warning signs to watch for can help you avoid being tricked by a catfish.

Think about the following questions.

Are the photos really them?

Do an image search of the person to see if their profile picture and any photos they share with you show up for someone with a different name. If they do, it’s likely they’re using a fake profile to catfish you.

Do they use their social media much?

A low friend count, not many posts and photos, and not being tagged by others on social media (like Facebook or Instagram), can be a sign they faked their background information and activity. Ask if they have any other social media, like Twitter, Discord or LinkedIn, so you can check those feeds too. Checking if they have any of the same friends as you may also help confirm they’re a real person. 

Does it sound too good to be true?

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Always be on your guard if someone randomly makes contact – especially if they claim to be someone famous, or they seem to be your dream partner or friend. 

Do they seem to know a lot about you or be interested in all the same things as you?

Often a catfish researches your digital footprint, which is everything about you that’s been posted or shared on your socials and elsewhere online. Knowing things such as your favourite places, bands and foods helps them fake liking the same things and people, so you believe you’ve found a perfect match.  

Are they ‘love bombing’ you?

‘Love bombing’ is a big warning sign that someone is trying an online dating or romance scam. This is when they say they like or love you almost straight away, and they constantly tell you how great you are. You enjoy the attention and romance so much that you will do almost anything for them – that can make it easy to control or scam you. 

Do they want to get sexual very fast?

Be very careful if anyone sends you unwanted nudes such as ‘dick pics’, or pressures you to share your own nudes or get sexual in a live chat with them very quickly. If things are moving very fast, it can be a sign that they’re trying to hook you into something dangerous, like sextortion or grooming for online child sexual abuse. Remember, it’s always OK to say ‘no’ to sending nudes or getting sexual online. 

Do they want you to move your conversation to another app?

Often a catfish will be very quick to ask you to move to a private channel or direct messaging or chat apps such as WhatsApp, Snapchat, Telegram, LINE, WeChat or Facebook Messenger. This can reveal your personal details, like your phone number and location, and make it harder to get help from the service where you first connected if things go wrong. 

Do they want to connect with you on all your socials?

If you become friends with them across all your accounts they can quickly find out a lot about the things you like, what you do and where you go. It may also let them see your contacts (and later they may blackmail you by threatening to share information, photos or videos with these people).

Do they encourage you to share personal information and secrets?

When they ask you questions you might think they’re just getting to know you and they’re interested in who you are. But it can be a sign they’re trying you get enough information about you to work out your passwords and steal your identity. Or they may threaten to reveal your secrets unless you do something for them.  

Is something not adding up? 

Trust your instincts. If your gut feeling tells you that something’s not quite right, slow down and think about it. For example, the way the person chats or acts may not seem to match their profile – maybe their English isn’t very good even though they go to high school.

Do they make excuses for not showing their face live?

If they claim they can’t show you what they look like in a video chat because their camera is not working, they’re usually a catfish. Often they’ll ask you to get sexual in a chat, then secretly record you so they can blackmail you for money or more intimate content (this is sometimes known as ‘sextortion’). 

How can I prevent being catfished?

Adjust your privacy settings to stay in control of what you share, who sees it and who can comment or contact you. Take a look at The eSafety Guide for how to change your privacy settings on different online platforms, social media, apps and games, including Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Discord, WhatsApp and more. 

Also check how much people can already see about you online by doing a search of your own name – find out more about how to manage your digital footprint.

If you do meet someone online, remember that it's hard to know who they really are. You can reduce the risk of falling for a catfishing scam by:

  • checking the warning signs
  • being careful not to rush into a relationship
  • limiting how much information you share about yourself.

Most people know never to share their passwords or passphrases with others, but also remember that it can be surprisingly easy to guess them.

Every bit of personal information you post online or reveal in a chat – like your full name, date of birth and home address – may be pieced together and used to access your accounts or create fake ones.

Then they could steal your money or use the accounts to commit crimes, like getting a credit card in your name or catfishing someone else using your profile.

Be careful not to share personally identifiable information without being aware you’re doing it.

For example, posting a video on your birthday that shows you with a cake that has your age written in icing can reveal your date of birth. Or a photo of a shopping spree may reveal your bank card number if it’s on the sales desk in the background.

I think I’m being catfished – what should I do?

Stop the conversation

If anyone makes you feel uncomfortable or unsafe you can always stop the conversation or put it on pause while you do an image search and check through the other warning signs. Don’t share any more personal information or money. And don’t feel pressured to move at their pace – if the person really cares about you, they will give you the time you need.

Check your accounts

Check all your online accounts for any suspicious activity or signs that someone else may be using them, and take steps to protect your personally identifiable information

Screenshot, report and block fake accounts

To have a fake account removed, take screenshots of the profile as evidence and report it through the app or online platform – you can check The eSafety Guide for information about how to report on most online platforms and services. You can use in-app functions to mute, hide or unfollow the account. After you’ve reported it, you can also block it. 

If you’re being blackmailed

Do not pay the blackmailer or give them more money or intimate content. 

  • If you're under 18, the best way to get help is to report it to the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE) at accce.gov.au.
  • If you’re 18 or older, report it to any platforms or services where the blackmailer contacted you. If your intimate image or video is shared, or if the platform doesn't help, you can report it to eSafety at eSafety.gov.au/report/forms.  

If you’re not being blackmailed

If you’re not being blackmailed but your intimate image or video has been shared or someone is threating to share it, report it to eSafety at eSafety.gov.au/report/forms. We can have the image or video removed or help stop the threats.

Get more help

Talking with Kids Helpline (for young people up to age 25) or another confidential counselling or support service may make it easier to deal with the impact.

I think someone is pretending to be me online – what should I do?

If someone creates an account or profile pretending to be you, it’s often called a ‘fake’, ‘imposter’ or ‘impersonation’ account. Another way someone may pretend to be you is by accessing your real account and taking it over. 

Often someone who pretends to you be online does it to encourage others to make fun of you, to harm your reputation or to get you into trouble. For example, they could post embarrassing videos of you and make it look like you’re saying dumb things, or they could use the profile to make mean or rude comments about other people. 

If someone takes control of your real account, it may be to steal your money or use your personally identifiable information to set up other accounts then commit crimes like fraud – for example, they could get a credit card or loan in your name.

They may also pretend to be you to catfish other people.

Find out how to prevent and deal with someone pretending to be you online.

How to use image search to catch a catfish

You can use an image search to check if a person’s profile photo is of someone else. If their photo shows up for a person with a different name, there’s a problem! You can check the photos of them and their ‘friends’ in their posts and messages too.

Doing an image search is also useful if you think someone is using your photo to catfish other people – make sure you’re not tagged with another person’s name.

If you find anything suspicious, report is to the platform or service.

Google image search 

Google image search is a way to help you find a visual match of the person you’re talking with online. You can do this by searching the person’s name in Google and then clicking on the ‘Images’ tab, which will show you the photo results. Google’s ‘About this image’ feature can provide information about where an image was first used and how other sites have used it. This can be helpful for checking if a photo has been taken out of context to create a fake identity or situation.

You could also try Google image reverse search. This lets you upload an image and may help you figure out if a photo from the internet has been used for catfishing.

TinEye reverse image search

A service like TinEye is another option you can try to check a photo of someone. TinEye allows you to do a reverse image search by uploading an image or pasting in a URL of the picture.

More information

This page offers general advice for adults experiencing catfishing. You can find tailored information for young people and for those who identify as LGBTIQ+. There is also more information available about online scamsidentity theft and how to deal with sexual extortion.

Be Connected provides an online course on romance scams, which can show you how romance scams work and how to spot a scammer.

Last updated: 15/02/2024