Jump to content


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Two people obscuring their faces with festive masks during a Carnival celebration.
Similarly to a traditional Carnival celebration involving attendees masking their faces, the Internet allows catfishers to mask their true identities.

Catfishing refers to the creation of a fictitious online persona, or fake identity (typically on social networking platforms), with the intent of deception,[1] usually to mislead a victim into an online romantic relationship or to commit financial fraud.[2] Perpetrators, usually referred to as catfish, generally use fake photos and lie about their personal lives to present themselves as more attractive for financial gain, personal satisfaction, evasion of legal consequences, or to troll.[citation needed] Public awareness surrounding catfishing has increased in recent years, partially attributed an increase in the occurrence of the practice combined with a number of high-profile instances.[3][4][5][6]


The term was introduced with the release of the 2010 American documentary film Catfish, following executive producer Nev Schulman, himself a victim of catfishing. Schulman had developed an online friendship with a 40-year-old housewife mainly presenting herself as an 18-year-old girl from the Midwestern United States. In the documentary, the woman's husband compares her behavior to that of a catfish being shipped with live cod.[citation needed]

This urban legend originated from Essays in Rebellion (1913) by Henry Nevinson and The Catfish (1913) by Charles Marriott[7] and refers to the practice of placing a catfish in a tank full of cod for the purposes of shipping. The impostor, or catfish, is said to prevent the cod from becoming pale and lethargic, ensuring the delivery of a high-quality product.[8][9][10] Catfish: The TV Show, airing on MTV since 2012, follows Schulman as he helps others investigate possible catfish situations.[11]

The term spiked in popularity in 2013 after University of Notre Dame football star Manti Te'o was publicly catfished.[7][9] The 2013 court case Zimmerman v. Board of Trustees of Ball State University saw the first legal use of the term catfishing, with the judge using the Urban Dictionary definition.[12]

Catfish was added to the eleventh edition of the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary in 2014.[13] An associate editor at Merriam-Webster noted that the word was "such a sensation from the moment that it came on the scene," attributing its popularity to both Schulman's documentary and the Manti Te'o story.[14]

Practice and sociology[edit]

Catfishing is often employed on dating websites, social media, and email[15] by perpetrators to disassociate from their real-life identities and shield themselves from moral obligations or responsibilities. Motivations for catfishing are typically malevolent and may include sexual, financial, or social gain.[16] The practice is often attributed to the online disinhibition effect.[17] Typically, the catfish uses someone else's photos and personal details to make themselves appear genuine, while the individual whose identity is being exploited is unaware that their information is being used.[18]

In certain cases, catfishing is used as a means for individuals to explore and express their gender and sexual identity, particularly in online environments conducive to anonymity. Commonly, perpetrators will portray themselves as the opposite gender on social media and dating apps to interact with unsuspecting individuals.[19]

Perpetrators of catfishing are often seeking financial gain. In 2015, three girls managed to steal $3,300 from the Islamic State after being approached by a recruitment officer to join the terrorist organization. After receiving money for supposed travel to Syria, the girls deleted their account and kept the money for personal travel.[20]

Catfishing has also been used as a tactic to stop criminal activity. In 2004, Dateline NBC produced the segment To Catch a Predator, documenting undercover officers using fake online profiles to lure potential sexual predators into spaces where meetings with supposed minors had been arranged.[citation needed]

Catfishing can also be used as a tactic to cyberbully or attack individuals online while working under a false identity, making the harassment difficult to trace.[21]


While catfishing can take many forms, some common behaviors and characteristics have been defined:

  • Refuses or repeatedly postpones meeting in person, often at the last minute with increasingly elaborate, contradictory, or impossible excuses (e.g. attending a concert that doesn't exist, or are quarantined with a non contiguous disease).
  • Follow requests and/or messages from unknown persons, sometimes impersonating a celebrity, often marked by low follower count and lack of account verification.[citation needed]
  • Inconsistencies with names, pictures, or information appearing on profiles that ostensibly belong to the same individual.[15]
  • Photo backgrounds are inconsistent with their supposed locations.
  • Love bombing.[15]
  • Refusal to video chat or talk on the phone.[22]
  • When using peer-to-peer chat or video chat, their IP address does not match the city or state of their supposed location.
  • Requesting money, usually justified with a backstory and/or promise of repayment.[23]
  • Isolation of victim from real-life social circles and/or insisting the relationship remain a secret.[23]


Catfishing can lead to serious potential dangers. In some cases, catfish have lured victims into threatening in-person meetings, such as in the 2002 murder of Kacie Woody and the 2007 murder of Carly Ryan. Sexual predators utilize catfishing to gain the trust of minors and/or other vulnerable people to acquire sensitive information and illicit photographs.[24] Catfishing has also been linked to a number of suicides, such as the 2006 suicide of Megan Meier.[25]

Notable instances[edit]

Alicia Kozakiewicz[edit]

Sometime between 2000 and 2001, 13-year-old Alicia Kozakiewicz began communicating online with someone she knew as a girl named "Christine," but whom she later learned was a 31-year-old man. Kozakiewicz continued the friendship despite the revelation, and that man later introduced her to 38-year-old Scot Tyree of Herndon, Virginia in a Yahoo! Messenger chat room.[26] On January 1, 2002, she and Tyree planned to meet near Kozakiewicz's Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania home. After coercing Kozakiewicz into his vehicle, Tyree drove her to his home where he shackled her and held her captive, livestreaming her rape and torture from his basement dungeon. A Florida viewer submitted an anonymous tip to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) after recognizing Kozakiewicz from news stories and a National Center for Missing & Exploited Children flyer. After tracing Tyree's IP address, the FBI stormed the house and freed Kozakiewicz on January 4 at 4:10 PM. Kozakiewicz has gone on to become a motivational speaker, an internet safety and missing persons advocate, and founder of The Alicia Project.[27][28]

Kacie Woody[edit]

In 2002, 13-year-old Kacie Woody (screen name: modelbehavior63) of Holland, Arkansas began an online friendship with a supposed 17-year-old boy, Dave Fagen (screen name: jazzman_df) from California, who was actually 47-year-old David Fuller from La Mesa. Fuller travelled to Arkansas and abducted Woody from her home on December 3. Investigation by Arkansas law enforcement and the FBI led to the discovery of the bodies of Woody and Fuller in a rented minivan inside a Guardsmart Storage facility in Conway. Fuller had sedated Woody with chloroform, bound, raped, and shot her in the head before shooting himself upon the arrival of law enforcement.[29] Woody's friends and family subsequently founded the Kacie Woody Foundation to educate parents and children about internet safety. Her case appeared on the Investigation Discovery television shows Web of Lies and Man With a Van.[30]

Suicide of Megan Meier[edit]

The suicide of 13-year-old Megan Meier in October 2006 is attributed to catfishing and cyberbullying committed by Lori Drew, the mother of Meier's classmate and neighbor. After claims that Meier was spreading false rumors about her daughter, Drew created a fake Myspace account under the alias of a 16-year-old boy named Josh Evans and befriended Meier, claiming to have recently moved to the nearby city of O'Fallon, Missouri. On October 16, Drew began sending hateful messages to Meier over Myspace and AOL Instant Messenger, the last of which reading "the world would be a better place without you." The same day, Meier was found dead in her closet, having hanged herself with a belt. After failed attempts to revive her, Meier was pronounced dead on October 17. In 2008, Drew was indicted and convicted of violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, but the conviction was later vacated by a federal judge on a post-trial verdict. In 2009, Drew was acquitted of cyberbullying in United States v. Drew. Tina Meier, Megan's mother, founded the Megan Meier Foundation, an organization intended to fight cyberbullying.[31][32]

Carly Ryan[edit]

In 2006, 14-year-old Carly Ryan of South Australia began an online relationship with a supposed American-Australian teen, Brandon Kane, who was actually 50-year-old serial pedophile Garry Francis Newman. In January 2007, Newman travelled from Melbourne to attend Ryan's 15th birthday party, posing as Kane's father. Sonya Ryan, Carly's mother, asked him to leave after he displayed erratic and inappropriate behavior. About three weeks later, Ryan was reported missing after not returning home the morning after a sleepover with friends. Her body was found floating in Horseshoe Bay, Port Elliot after being beaten, smothered with beach sand, and thrown into the ocean. Newman was arrested in connection with the crime and was found guilty of the murder in January 2010, when he was sentenced to life in prison with a 29-year non-parole period.[33][34] Sonya Ryan founded the Carly Ryan Foundation and successfully lobbied for Carly's Law to be enacted to protect Australian minors online.[35]

Thomas Montgomery and Mary Shieler[edit]

In 2007, Thomas Montgomery (screen name: marinesniper), a 47-year-old married man pretending to be an 18-year-old male Marine named Tommy, ended up in a love triangle with Mary Shieler (screen name: talhotblond), a middle-aged married woman pretending to be an 18-year-old woman named Jessi, and a co-worker of Montgomery's, 22-year-old Brian Barrett (screen name: beefcake). The situation resulted in Montgomery murdering Barrett in a fit of jealousy. The events were covered by 2009 documentary film and the subsequent movie adaptation, Talhotblond.[36]

Manti Te'o[edit]

On September 12, 2012, University of Notre Dame football star Manti Te'o announced to media outlets that his girlfriend, Stanford University student Lennay Kekua, had died of leukemia.[37] The cancer was supposedly discovered while Kekua was undergoing treatment for injuries suffered in a car accident.[38] Te'o did not miss any games for Notre Dame, saying he had made a promise to Kekua to play even if something happened to her.[39] The tragedy was heavily reported on during Te'o's strong 2012 season and emergence as a Heisman Trophy candidate.[40] On January 6, 2013, Deadspin published an article alleging that Kekua did not exist, pointing to an individual named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo as the perpetrator of a hoax relationship.[40][41] Pictures of Kekua that had been published in the media were actually of Diane O'Meara, a former classmate of Tuiasosopo.[42] On the same day the Deadspin article was published, Notre Dame issued a statement saying that "Manti had been the victim of what appears to be a hoax in which someone using the fictitious name Lennay Kekua apparently ingratiated herself with Manti and then conspired with others to lead him to believe she had tragically died of leukemia."[43][44][45] Te'o became a popular target of jokes and insults after the story broke, with Dan Wetzel claiming "he lost his confidence, his swagger, even his interest in meeting and talking with people in public."[46]

The University of Virginia rape hoax story[edit]

In 2014, a Washington Post article[47] alleged that the Rolling Stone University of Virginia rape hoax may have been an example of catfishing in which a young woman posed as a made-up upperclassman online to stay in communication with her love interest, a young man who did not reciprocate her feelings.[8][48]

Lydia Abdelmalek serial catfishing[edit]

From at least mid-2011 until her arrest in mid-2016, Lydia Abdelmalek of Melbourne, Victoria assumed the identities of Australian actor Lincoln Lewis and British actor Danny Mac online.[49] Her actions resulted in the suicide of one victim, who had attended primary school with the actual Lewis, a fact that was discovered and exploited by Abdelmalek. In 2019, she was found guilty of stalking six people and was sentenced to jail for one year and nine months.[50][51] In 2022, she failed to overturn her conviction and her appeal resulted in her re-sentencing to jail for four years, with a non-parole period of two years and eight months.[49]

Kirat Assi[edit]

In June 2021, the first successful civil claim relating to a catfishing scam in the common law world (Kirat Assi v. Simran Kaur Bhogal) was won in the United Kingdom. Assi, a British radio presenter discovered she was the victim of a nine-year catfishing campaign perpetrated by her younger cousin Bhogal, a former Barclays investment banker.[52]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Chandler, Daniel; Rod Munday (March 2016). A Dictionary of Social Media (First ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-180309-3. OCLC 952388585.
  2. ^ D'Costa, Krystal. "Catfishing: The Truth About Deception Online". Scientific American Blog Network. Retrieved 2024-01-07.
  3. ^ "I-Team: New data shows more young people are getting catfished - CBS Texas". www.cbsnews.com. 2022-12-16. Retrieved 2023-12-22.
  4. ^ "Where is Manti Te'o, NFL star and subject of Netflix's Untold, now?". South China Morning Post. 2022-08-25. Retrieved 2023-12-22.
  5. ^ "5 Celebrities Who Have Been Catfished". MTV. Retrieved 2023-12-22.
  6. ^ "Danielle Fishel Reveals She Was Catfished by Adult Man When She Was 12". Vanity Fair. 2022-08-23. Retrieved 2023-12-22.
  7. ^ a b Zimmer, Ben (January 27, 2013). "Catfish: How Manti Te'o's imaginary romance got its name". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2015-09-23.
  8. ^ a b McCarthy, Ellen. "What is catfishing? A brief (and sordid) history". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2020-11-11.
  9. ^ a b Harris, Aisha (January 18, 2013). "Catfish meaning and definition: term for online hoaxes has a surprisingly long history". Slate. Retrieved 2015-09-23.
  10. ^ "Why is MTV's 'Catfish' TV show called Catfish?". starcasm.net. November 26, 2012. Retrieved 2015-09-23.
  11. ^ Martin, Denise (21 May 2014). "Here's How MTV's Catfish Actually Works". Vulture. Retrieved 6 April 2018.
  12. ^ Smith, Lauren Reichart; Smith, Kenny D.; Blazka, Matthew (31 January 2017). "Follow Me, What's the Harm? Considerations of Catfishing and Utilizing Fake Online Personas on Social Media". Journal of Legal Aspects of Sport. 27 (1): 36. doi:10.1123/jlas.2016-0020.
  13. ^ "Merriam-Webster's New Words for 2014". Merriam-Webster Online. Merriam-Webster. May 19, 2014. Archived from the original on 20 May 2014. Retrieved 3 January 2024.
  14. ^ Cosman, Ben (19 May 2014). "Merriam-Webster Tells Us Why 'Catfish' and 'Yooper' Just Entered the Dictionary Together". The Wire. The Atlantic. Retrieved 3 January 2024.
  15. ^ a b c Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (2015-05-14). "Dating & romance". Scamwatch. Retrieved 2020-11-11.
  16. ^ Vanman, Eric (25 July 2018). "It's not about money: we asked catfish why they trick people online". The Conversation. Retrieved 17 December 2023.
  17. ^ "The Psychology of Cyberspace – Home Page/Table of Contents". truecenterpublishing.com. Retrieved 2020-11-25.
  18. ^ Lohmann, Raychelle. "The Two-Sided Face of Teen Catfishing". Psychology Today. Retrieved 6 April 2018.
  19. ^ Slade, Alison F.; Narro, Amber J. & Buchanan, Burton P. (2014). Reality Television: Oddities of Culture. Lexington Books. pp. 237–244. ISBN 978-0-7391-8564-3.
  20. ^ "Young women 'catfished' ISIS out of $3,300. Will they be punished?". Christian Science Monitor. 2015-07-30. ISSN 0882-7729. Retrieved 2021-11-03.
  21. ^ Olckers, Christine; Hattingh, Marie (2022). "The Dark Side of Social Media - Cyberbullying, Catfishing and Trolling: A Systematic Literature Review". Proceedings of the Society 5.0 Conference 2022 - Integrating Digital World and Real World to Resolve Challenges in Business and Society. pp. 86–71. doi:10.29007/qhl5. hdl:2263/91093. ISSN 2398-7340.
  22. ^ Corcione, Adryan (2017-09-17). "Catfished Meaning: 14 Signs You're Getting Catfished Online". Teen Vogue. Retrieved 2024-06-11.
  23. ^ a b "How to spot a catfish – catfish meaning and advice". Age UK. Retrieved 2023-09-18.
  24. ^ Lohmann, Raychelle. "The Two-Sided Face of Teen Catfishing". Psychology Today. Retrieved 29 March 2018.
  25. ^ Patchin, Justin W. (2013-02-07). "Catfishing as a Form of Cyberbullying". Cyberbullying Research Center. Retrieved 29 March 2018.
  26. ^ "Abducted, Enslaved—and Now Talking About It". Peoplemag. Retrieved 2024-05-07.
  27. ^ "Alicia Kozakiewicz – Innocence Lost". Investigation Discovery. Retrieved 2022-01-08.
  28. ^ Fuoco, Michael A. (5 January 2002). "Missing teen found safe but tied up in Virginia townhouse". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Archived from the original on 2015-04-02. Retrieved 2022-01-08.
  29. ^ Perry, Tony (2002-12-07). "Kidnap Suspect Kills Girl, 13, Self". Los Angeles Times. San Diego. Retrieved 2022-01-08.
  30. ^ "Kacie Woody Foundation". kaciewoody.homestead.com. Retrieved September 16, 2021.
  31. ^ Lauren Collins (January 21, 2008). "Annals of Crime. Friend Game. Behind the online hoax that led to a girl's suicide". The New Yorker. Retrieved January 10, 2022.
  32. ^ Zetter, Kim (November 20, 2009). "Prosecutors Drop Plans to Appeal Lori Drew Case". Wired News. Retrieved January 10, 2022.
  33. ^ Australian Woman’s Weekly (2017-09-07). "My little girl was killed by an internet predator". Retrieved 2022-01-08 – via PressReader.
  34. ^ "Man found guilty of murdering Carly Ryan". ABC News. 2010-01-21.
  35. ^ Brown, Dani (2018-07-05). "Full version of Carly's Law signed off at state level". The Times. Retrieved 2022-01-08.
  36. ^ Gryta, Matt (2007-08-21). "Love triangle killer takes plea deal". The Buffalo News.
  37. ^ "Manti Te'o overcomes tragic loss of grandmother and girlfriend". RantSports.com. October 5, 2012. Archived from the original on December 3, 2018. Retrieved November 21, 2012.
  38. ^ Hansen, Eric (October 16, 2012). "Manti Te'o: A career that has come full circle". Deseret News. Retrieved February 1, 2013.
  39. ^ Notre Dame Fighting Irish Athletics. "Manti Te'o Press Conference Transcript". Retrieved November 28, 2012.
  40. ^ a b Burke, Timothy. "Manti Te'o's Dead Girlfriend, The Most Heartbreaking And Inspirational Story Of The College Football Season, Is A Hoax". Retrieved January 16, 2013.
  41. ^ Auman, Greg (January 17, 2013). "Q&A with St. Petersburg man who helped break story of Manti Te'o's fictional girlfriend". Tampa Bay Times. Archived from the original on February 5, 2013. Retrieved January 17, 2013.
  42. ^ "Photo woman: Tuiasosopo confessed". ESPN. January 25, 2013. Retrieved January 15, 2013.
  43. ^ "Notre Dame, Te'o say linebacker was victim of hoax". Cbssports.com. Retrieved March 29, 2013.
  44. ^ Myerberg, Paul (January 16, 2013). "Report: Manti Te'o's inspirational girlfriend story a hoax". USAToday.com. Gannett Company. Retrieved January 17, 2013.
  45. ^ "Notre Dame Statement: Manti Te'o Was Victim Of A Hoax". Retrieved January 16, 2013.
  46. ^ Wetzel, Dan (17 August 2022). "A decade later, the real tragedy of the Manti Te'o story is how a victim was turned into the butt of a joke". Yahoo Sports. Retrieved 17 October 2023.
  47. ^ Shapiro, T. Rees (December 10, 2014). "U-Va. students challenge Rolling Stone account of alleged sexual assault". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2015-09-23.
  48. ^ Shapiro, Jeffrey Scott (December 15, 2014). "U.Va. rape accuser's friends begin to doubt story". The Washington Times. Retrieved 2015-09-23.
  49. ^ a b Pascual Juanola, Marta (October 25, 2022). "'Cruel and brutal': 'Catfish' sentenced to extra jail time after failed sentence appeal". The Age. Retrieved April 17, 2023.
  50. ^ "'Sickening': Lincoln Lewis warns of social media risks after impersonator exposed". ABC News. 2019-04-09.
  51. ^ Oaten, James (2019-04-08). "How a catfish posing as Lincoln Lewis built a web of lies to stalk women". ABC News.
  52. ^ "Tortoise launches podcast based on cat-fishing case". 5RB Barristers. 2021-10-28. Retrieved 2021-10-30.

External links[edit]

  • The dictionary definition of catfishing at Wiktionary