In internet jargon, a catfish is a user who assumes a false identity for purposes of deception. A catfish might use their fake identity to start a relationship with someone, or it may be used for more nefarious purposes, like cyberbullying, identity theft, financial fraud, or violent crime. 

History of catfishing

The term “catfishing” was first popularized by the 2010 Catfish documentary, in which executive producer Nev Shulman meets and develops a romantic relationship via Facebook with someone who he believes is a 19-year-old woman named Megan. In reality, Megan was actually a 40-year-old housewife named Angela who had been operating the fake Facebook account the entire time. The film was later adapted into a subsequent series for MTV.

The phenomenon of catfishing existed long before the documentary coined the term. Since the dawn of the internet, people have assumed false identities in online spaces including social media platforms, chat rooms, and bulletin boards, as well as classifieds sites like Craigslist. In some cases, law enforcement officials also use catfishing as a way to catch cybercriminals.

The awareness of catfishing aligned with the evolution of internet literacy and education. Most users today are more aware of catfishing red flags and are therefore more guarded against potential catfishing situations. However, many catfishing tactics have become more sophisticated with the rise of deepfakes, augmented reality and virtual reality.

Why do people catfish?

In most cases, the motivation for catfishing is related to low self-esteem. It’s easy for someone who doesn’t feel comfortable in their own skin to assume a new identity as a way to gain more perceived confidence. In some cases, however, the deceit is motivated by criminal intent. Scamming, stalking, and more violent crimes are more easily perpetrated when the criminal is able to create a fictional identity and get their victims to let their guard down.

How to spot a catfish

There are a few red flags that can point toward someone acting as a catfish. Individually, these behaviors are not immediately indicative of a catfish, but if an online persona exhibits multiple of these characteristics, it may be a warning that they are a catfish. Behaviors to be aware of include:

  • Refusal to video chat
  • Refusal to meet in person
  • Limited or no “friends” or visible online relationships
  • Request for money
Kaiti Norton
Kaiti Norton is a Nashville-based Content Writer for TechnologyAdvice, a full-service B2B media company. She is passionate about helping brands build genuine connections with their customers through relatable, research-based content. When she's not writing about technology, she's sharing her musings about fashion, cats, books, and skincare on her blog.

Top Articles

List of Windows Operating System Versions & History [In Order]

The Windows operating system (Windows OS) refers to a family of operating systems developed by Microsoft Corporation. We look at the history of Windows...

How to Create a Website Shortcut on Your Desktop

Website Shortcut on Your Desktop reviewed by Web Webster   This Webopedia guide will show you how to create a website shortcut on your desktop using...

What are the Five Generations of Computers? (1st to 5th)

Reviewed by Web Webster Each generation of computer has brought significant advances in speed and power to computing tasks. Learn about each of the...

Hotmail [Outlook] Email Accounts

Launched in 1996, Hotmail was one of the first public webmail services that could be accessed from any web browser. At its...

What Is Training Data?

Training data is used to increase the accuracy of machine learning algorithms with...


Governance, risk, and compliance (GRC) refers to a company’s strategy for managing the...

Roll Your Own Crypto...

Cryptocurrency has quickly become a digital...