The dangers of internet relationships: What is Catfishing?

The dangers of internet relationships
The dangers of internet relationships

The dangers of internet relationships

The internet has taken over, connecting almost every aspect of our lives. And through social media, it is easier than ever to meet people all over the world. However, social media is not the only place to build these relationships. Online dating allows us to create personal or even intimate relationships via the internet. But as with any type of online activity, there are many threats that exist. Which is why it is important to understand the dangers of internet relationships.

There are literally thousands of dating sites online. These websites allow you to find love without even leaving the comforts of home. Users are able to create specific profiles tailored to their desires. And these profiles allow for filtered results according to race, gender, sexual orientation, and personal interests. Dating services allow for informal introductions. Thus, removing the awkwardness of face to face contact. Furthermore, they can even soften the blow that comes with potential rejection.

However, the anonymity created by the internet poses a significant risk to safety and cybersecurity. Social engineers can create fake profiles or entire identities allowing them to impersonate others. This is done through a technique known as pretexting. And these fake profiles can be difficult to detect until it is too late. Users can fall prey to an attack known as “catfishing.”

What is catfishing?

Catfishing is the practice of deceiving a specific user through fabricated profiles and pretexting. Simply put, catfishing is the process of chatting with or befriending someone through the use of a fake online identity. A “catfish” is a person who uses a fake online identity to deceive their target. Catfish often steal pictures and data from a third party. They use these to create a more appealing version of their true self. Most often catfishing takes place in the form of a romance scam. Catfishing varies from standard phishing by the use of targeted attacks. These attacks are generally spear phishing in nature, targeting specific users.

Through the use of OSINT, threat actors may spend weeks or even months performing reconnaissance prior to launching an attack. Catfish then use this information to engage in one-on-one interactions. The more information collected, the more effective the deception will be. The types of information targeted by catfish can include photos, personally identifiable information, financial assets or even medical records.

Information is often collected through the use of social media which the victim is already a member of. While not limited to any specific group of people, catfishing can happen to anyone at any time. Thousands of people every year fall prey to catfishing schemes every year. Even sports figures and celebrities can fall prey to catfishing.

Why do people catfish?

Catfishing can take place for any number of reasons. Catfishing itself is not a criminal act. Some users resort to catfishing as a result of low self-esteem or extreme loneliness. They view themselves as ugly or unlovable. As a result, they create a new identity based on the person they wish they could be. Others use catfishing to explore issues of gender or sexuality. In addition, law enforcement uses catfishing to catch criminals and predators. Catfishing can even be as simple as lying about one’s age in order to gain access to age-restricted content.

However, once used for harassment or fraud, catfishing becomes a criminal offense. A tool used by trolls and cyberbullies, victims are targeted for specific reasons. Following an attack, victims are often subjected to humiliation through the use of doxing. Catfishing can even be a tool used by cyberstalkers to get close to and monitor their victim.

But the real threat comes from the truly sinister side of catfishing. Social engineers use catfishing as a method to gain access to personal information and finances. The most popular method of catfishing is through an online relationship. Victims are often harassed and repeatedly asked to send money. Each year threat actors and social engineers use catfishing to defraud victims of nearly 200 million dollars.

But the greatest threat comes from the risk to physical safety. Sexual predators use catfishing to lure children and adults into face to face meetings. Victims are then physically assaulted or even kidnapped as a result. Human traffickers use catfishing as a ruse to kidnap the victim. Extortion is also another possible motive for using catfishing.

How you can protect yourself

There is no easy way to prevent catfishing since it is not technically a crime. And the dangers of internet relationships are very real. But the best method of prevention is through the use of common sense. Always ask for some sort of proof that the person is who they claim to be. Video chat is a great way to verify identity. If the person is reluctant to do face to face interactions, that may be a bad sign. Asking for money is another red flag. Never send money to someone you have met online.

Be cautious of someone who “falls in love” too quickly. Beware of relationships that move very fast. If the other person seems too clingy, that may be a sign of catfishing as well. Always meet in a public place surrounded by lots of people. Never allow anyone to meet you at your home.

Pay close attention to profile photos. Always look for any signs of Photoshopping or retouching. Perform a Google search of their profile pictures to verify authenticity. This can help you detect whether or not a user has stolen the photos they use. Especially when someone wants to connect that you do not know. Watch out for new accounts with little activity and few interactions between friends. Remember to always take advantage of privacy settings. Lock down your own profile from unwanted views and connections.

Above all, if it seems too good to be true, it likely is. Question everything you see online. And treat all online relationships the same way you would in-person relationships. Protecting yourself comes through diligence, learning about privacy policies, and proactive security practices. Following these tips can help you to avoid becoming a victim yourself.


IamThePatRatt – The Bipolar Hacker
Hack the Stigma. Hack the Planet.

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