A 'catfish' is someone who uses the anonymity of the internet to create a fake online identity. Usually, the aim is to lure somebody into a romantic relationship; either to fleece them out of money, for personal gratification or simply to mess with their heads. It's a terrible practice that can lead to heartache and financial ruin. In related news, welcome to Evil Week!
Catfishing someone is a pretty awful thing to do, particularly if you're trying to hustle a poor unsuspecting person out of their hard earned cash.
This may sound odd, but I can understand catfishing to a certain degree. Not the swindling part of course, but the urge to masquerade as someone else - absolutely. Perhaps you have trouble being yourself, think someone wouldn't like the real you or you simply want an escape from your life. I can empathise with that.
Even when you take the fiscal element out of the equation, establishing a romantic relationship with someone under false pretenses is still horrible. But this IS evil week, so here are some tips if you want to emotionally manipulate someone online.
Alternatively, and preferably, take these as warning signs so you know who and what to avoid.
Don't target randomly
No one is going to believe you if you start talking to them out of nowhere.
Try places where you can build friendship and trust over time. Forums, social media interest groups and Tumblr are good places to start.
Anywhere with a fandom or shared interests is great because people there want to chat to like minded people.
Be patient. A slow burn will be more believable.
Most people have access to a camera phone these days, so not being able to provide pics can be tricky.
Only having one or two model-like shots that you've lifted from Google Image just doesn't cut it anymore.
A lot of catfishers get around this by stealing pics from a random person's photo-heavy social media account so they can pretend to be them. It's the gift that keeps on giving -- particularly if it shows them being out and about doing a variety of activities.
Make it difficult to meet IRL
You can avoid this by simply catfishing someone who lives really far away from you. It also solves some other problems that I'll get to in a bit.
If they do live too close, say that you live in another city. This will postpone requests for real life meetings. Better yet, choose another country. You can use the time difference as an excuse for when you're not around and/or catfishing someone else.
Just remember that if the relationship progresses, they may get more insistent on meeting face-to-face. You could say that you don't have the money to travel, but this won't work if they offer to come to you or fly you out.
It's best to establish early on that you have a demanding job or a sick relative which prevents you from getting away a lot. This could even be the "reason" you have been looking for online relationships.
As an extra precaution, use a VPN in case they trace your IP.
Make it difficult to video chat
This is harder to pull off because you can't really use fiscal limitations as an excuse.
Citing a crappy internet connection is probably your best bet here, or perhaps the aforementioned time difference. Whenever it's a good time for them needs to be a bad time for you -- say you're at work or messaging them in public. Invest a faux housemate who is a light sleeper.
These excuses can only fly for so long though. Another possible (and really awful) route is saying you have anxiety surrounding them seeing you -- this would also be a way to get around sending pictures of your face.
Fake Social Media Accounts
An easy way to spot a catfisher is by looking at their social media accounts -- low friend counts, very few photos, etc. This can make things tough.
It's really difficult to fake a Facebook account, and even worse if they live even remotely close to you. It's a small world and mutual friends are becoming more prominent. It's best to stay away from it altogether.
It may seem a bit odd, but you can possibly get away from it by saying that you're not a fan of Facebook or are taking a break.
Better yet, be a hipster about it. Say that Facebook is too mainstream and dated - you don't really want to be on the same platform as your nan. This will make you seem like a trendy influencer and perhaps shame the person into not asking about it again.
Twitter and Instagram are easier to falsify, but take some work. You may need to buy some followers and likes, as well as cultivate posts, well in advance.
It will be really obvious that everything is fake if you suddenly have 500 followers with 2 posts.
If you are planning on meeting people through a fandom or interest group -- follow these accounts on your social accounts and create posts around them.
If you don't have a lot of fake-person pics to post, make up for it with food, nature and city pics too. These "real world" shots will make your faux life seem more real.
Bank accounts and postage
If you do plan on going down the extortion route, you're going to get busted pretty quickly if you give out bank/PayPal account and postage details that don't match your fake name or location.
Postage is particularly tricky. You could set up a PO Box for your mark to send presents to, but that only really works if you've been honest about the city you're in.
As for money - you could set up a separate PayPal account, but you'll still need to use a real bank account for it to feed into.
There are more anonymous methods, such as PerfectMoney or Bitcoin, but their business models are based on being secure and anonymous which may raise some red flags.
If possible, get them to send you gift vouchers straight to your fake email address instead.
Lovehacker is a weekly relationship and sex column where our resident Agony Aunt answers your questions. Need help? Drop a comment below or email [email protected].
This post is part of our Evil Week series at Lifehacker, where we look at the dark side of getting things done. Sometimes evil is justified, and other times, knowing evil means knowing how to beat it. Want more? Check out our evil week tag page.